This is the most important aspect of the first year of retirement.
When I looked at Joe’s calendar for the first two months after he retired, it was glaringly empty. I was faced with two choices: a) spend my days making breakfast, lunch, and dinner and providing entertainment to fill the hours in-between; or, b) suggest (hint at) possible alternatives to “a” that would appeal to him. Needless-to-say I chose “b”. A dear friend once gave me the following advice about marriage and retirement: "It's for better or worse but not for lunch."
For my last couple of years at work and during my time as a full-time student, I had either every Friday or every other Friday off and we always went to breakfast and a movie or a movie and then lunch depending on what time the movie was. That was a pleasant preview of what retirement would be like. But – you can’t go to the movies Monday through Friday.
I also didn’t want Joe to think I was kicking him out so I knew I’d have to deal with this problem one day at a time. Monday I knew would be the hardest to fill. If he was going to have any “withdrawal” from his life as a worker-bee, it would be on Mondays. I had spoken with other wives who said they first noticed their husbands’ depression on Mondays. (Back to that “men are what they do” statement – if they wake up on Monday and are doing "nothing"…well, you get what I mean.)
Monday was taken care of by a good friend named Jerry. He retired and moved back to California after years of living in Japan and Hawaii. Jerry had been in the Navy with Joe and kept in touch with a lot of former naval aviators that Joe hadn’t seen in years. There was a group of about 20 who met every Monday to play golf at MCAS Miramar (formerly NAS Miramar…in Joe’s mind it still is). Jerry invited Joe to join the group. Thank you, Jerry!
Tuesday was a little trickier. Joe had been a member of Rotary when he worked in the North County in the 1980’s. He enjoyed the people and remained friends with many Rotarians but didn’t want to be “tied down” by weekly meetings. Rotary is very strict about making up missed meetings or attending an out of town meeting if you’re on vacation. He worried about taking fishing trips or vacations and the meeting commitment. But, he attended a couple of meetings and decided he could handle making up meetings or paying the fine if he couldn’t make them up. Tuesday: done!
Wednesday was an even bigger challenge. The activity that presented itself had a meeting time of 7 a.m. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it yet, but the one thing Joe really, really looked forward to was “sleeping in”. Unlike me, he can wake up and then turn over, go back to sleep, and stay in bed for hours. But I knew if I could “suggest” he try this group, he’d be sold. The name of the group is Old Bold Pilots. I would link them, but they don’t have a web page. (I wish they did.) They are over 200 strong. They are former Navy, Air Force, Army, Marine, and even Luftwaffe pilots. There are members who never flew, but love talking about aviation. They meet at our local Denny’s every Wednesday morning at 7 and they never have an agenda. They welcome new members (so they can tell their “war stories” to new ears). On any given Wednesday there are 50 or 60 “Old Bolds” sharing their memories of dogfights, carrier landings, bombings, first flights, etc. The overarching theme of their get-togethers is patriotism. Wednesdays are a special day; he never complains about getting up early.
Thursday was empty for quite awhile. Then he was invited to fill in with a group of golfers (two were also in Rotary) when someone couldn’t play. Eventually, he became a “regular” with the group. In addition, he started taking “fly-tying” classes on Thursday evenings and he added a Monday evening twice a month for two fly-fishing clubs.
All of a sudden I realized that I might have created a monster. He had a full calendar. He wasn’t depressed. He had dozens of new friends. And he was never home. What had I done? I looked into the future and wondered, "what happens at the end of the moratorium on 'honey-do'?" I remember thinking, “He’s not going to have time to do anything on my list when I finally give it to him.”
And, like Scarlett O’Hara, I said, “I can’t think about that right now. If I do, I’ll go crazy. I’ll think about it tomorrow.”
Next post I'm going to give Joe a break and devote some space to what it was like to return to college as a senior citizen. There may be some of you out there who think you can't "fit in" or are reluctant to enter academia when it's been decades since you took notes or worried about test results (other than the kind the doctor orders).