I originally wrote this post two years ago, but it remains my most popular. It also generated the nastiest comments. Today, I post it again for new readers. I rewrote it and added an update for those of you who may have read it before.
When I share my early retirement dreams with people, the most common argument I get is this: “If you retire, you’ll die. Your life will lack purpose and you’ll whither away to nothing.” Normally, I dismiss this advice as jealousy or incomprehension, but recently I realized that this is exactly what is happening to my parents.
Retirement is the worst thing to happen to my mom and dad. I really believe it is going to lead them to an early death. First, dad.
Dad Forced into Retirement
When the Great Recession hit, my dad was laid off. He was in construction and jobs were nowhere to be found. He received unemployment compensation for a couple years and then gave up and took his retirement pension. His mental health started going downhill rapidly when he realized he wasn’t going to work again.
My dad had always validated his existence through his work. Without work, he felt useless and empty. After retiring, he sank into a deep depression, often staying in bed for up to 20 hours a day. He gained weight and became withdrawn. A doctor put him on some anti-depressants that made things even worse. During his waking hours, which were few, he was far away. My mother had no idea how to deal with it, so she did nothing. I didn’t live near them, so it was difficult for me to help.
To get him out of it, my siblings and I took action. I called his psychiatrist and explained what had become of him. We then filled his life with activities. We encouraged him to start volunteering, which he did for a while at Habitat for Humanity. One sister taught him to cook, which to everyone’s surprise, he enjoyed. He has since stopped volunteering and doesn’t cook much, but at least he’s not sleeping 20 hours/day anymore and has a personality.
Full Time TV Watcher
My mother still has a part-time job, but it should be full time. Hours not spent at work are filled with TV and going out to eat with my dad. Really, that’s about it.
When I was a child, my mother was a disciplined, hard-working person. She would to go to bed at a decent hour and wake up at 7 or 8 am. No more. The other week I called my mother at 11:00 am and quickly realized that I had woken her up:
- Me: Mom, are you asleep? It’s 11 am! Are you feeling OK?
- Mom: Yeah, I’m still in bed. I’m fine. I stayed up late last night watching some shows.
- Me: Ummmmmmmmmmmm, what time is late?!?
- Mom: 3 am or so.
Two Wrongs make an even Bigger Wrong
When I go for visits, I notice how far I’ve drifted apart from my parents:
- Me: I’m waking up at 5 am tomorrow to go for a hike to the top of Turtlehead Peak.
- Parents: Are you nuts? 5 am?
- Me: Ummmmm. Do we have plans for later today?
- Parents: Well, not really.
I think it’s crazy that with all the time in the world, my parents choose to do nothing. Very little travel. No exercise. No hobbies (Is collecting cats a hobby?). Not much socializing. Poor hygiene. Not much more than TV and unhealthy meals.
When I visit, it really hits home. Half of the conversations start out with, “Did you see what happened on this or that TV show?” Nope, I just don’t have time for TV*. Their life the path of least resistance and it is horrible.
My mother recently had a minor heart attack and the doctor said it probably wasn’t the first. I was hoping this would be a wake up call. It wasn’t. Cheeseburgers rule the dinner table. Exercise is a foreign concept. I don’t understand.
I’ve come to realize that retirement requires work and planning. You can’t just stop working and expect life to come to you, especially if you don’t have friends or family near and participate in few activities.
All of this scares me a little bit. After all, at the core, this blog is about Financial Independence and leaving work. I still haven’t figured out exactly what I’m going to do, but I have some pretty good ideas. Right now, I never have time to do everything I want to do during the day. Here are some things that I’ll do when I don’t have a full-time job:
- Exercise: I love biking and hiking. Wouldn’t it be great to start off every day with a 50 mile bike ride or a good hike into the mountains?
- Write software: My full-time job is writing code and I do like it. However, if I didn’t have a job, I could make time to write the software that I really want to write. I have loads of ideas floating around in my head; I just don’t have the time.
- Kids!: My job is pretty flexible and I’m able to go to many of my children’s activities, but not all of them. As my kids grow older, their activities will increase and I want to be there for them. With no job, I’ll be free to attend everything.
- Read: I love reading and I have about 10,000,000 books that I’m waiting to dig into.
- Travel: The kids will be in school for 9 months out of the year. The way I see it, that leaves 3 months for epic adventures! We’ll be hitting the open road and the blue skies.
The more I think about it, the less I worry. There is a huge world out there with possibilities everywhere. While our family is scattered, we have lots of great friends close. I’m not sure where retirement will take me, but I’ll be free to do anything. It’s really incredible to consider the possibilities.
One thing I won’t be doing though is watching more TV.
Update (8/30/2015): My dad is doing well. One sister moved back to their town and she keeps him occupied. He is probably the best he’s been in years. My mom is still the same. Despite the heart attacks, she sees the doctor’s orders to eat less red meat and fried junk as a personal affront.
The thought of a heart attack is completely terrible. Think of it. The heart never gets a rest, pump, pump, pumping away. I’m seeing to it that I take good care of mine. I wish my mother felt the same way.
*I’m not one of those pretentious types who brag about not owning a TV. I actually own two of them. I just don’t have time to watch them much. (Mrs. 1500 note: He HAS the time to watch them, he just chooses to do other things with his time. There have been shows we have watched in the past, like Lost and Arrested Development, but most TV shows are crap, and why waste time?)
**My dad is staying with us now to help with electrical work. After about a month of being here, my mom told me over the phone that dad was upset that we hadn’t hooked up the TV yet. With our recent move and a lot of stuff going on, we hadn’t bothered to take it out of the box. We noticed that my dad instantly went from reading books to spending every free minute in front of the idiot box, re-watching entire series on Netflix. RE-WATCHING, meaning he has already seen then entire thing, and chooses to view it again. Sigh.