As I write this, it’s midnight at my parents’ house. Normally, midnight in the middle of the week wouldn’t be a big deal at all, but this midnight is different because I know that my father, who would normally be in bed, is awake–probably playing on the internet. Maybe he’s watching television. Maybe he’s reading a book. This is his favorite Friday night pattern. Stay up until all hours toodling around the internet and the house until, at about 3:00, crawling into bed with the wonderful feeling that Saturday is ahead. He gets to stay up all night tonight, on a Tuesday/Wednesday, and I’m thrilled for him.
He gets to do this because after 51 years of work, he gets to enjoy the rest of retirement.
I wish I had something poignant or clever to say, but I don’t. I just know that I am deeply happy for him. He started working when he was 16 and, with the exception of the year when he looked for work after he completed his service in the Air Force, he has always worked. Always. When I still lived at home, I would sometimes hear him getting up early to go into work. He had a habit of showing up hours before the day started to get a head start on the day’s work. This meant he went to bed early and left before I was up, but I could sometimes smell his cologne in the hall, long after he’d gone.
Forgive me while I wax nostalgic for a sentence or two. My father came of age in a work force where it was possible to support a family on a single salary. It wasn’t a magical time–the military still paid decent salaries and offered full benefits to active duty members and their families–but it was a time when money matters made a bit more sense than they do today. So a young Airman who managed his money wisely could support a wife and daughter. And support us he did. My mother has worked for much of my life, but she’s always said that she felt blessed that she didn’t have to work. I “worked” in college but at the kind of jobs that college students used to have to help pay for books, gas for the car, and pizza. I don’t think I even knew how much my parents paid for my tuition. Talk about privilege. In my senior year, when he retired from the Air Force, I had to take out a student loan (that’s right a single student loan) to pay for my last semester. I think I had to borrow $1800. That’s because my dad worked.
My mom and I have been hoping for this for the last year or so. She retired last year and has been so happy, and she wanted him to be happy too. She’d say to him, “Bill, just think, everyday can be Saturday.” But he’s good at his job, and his boss couldn’t bear to let him go, and he didn’t want to leave her hanging. So we waited, and we hoped, and mom pined (quietly…mostly quietly).
And then he decided it was time. When he told his boss, she cried. My mom and I did too, but for different reasons. My mom said, “Now every night can be his Friday night.” What a wonderful reward for a man who has worked so hard for it.