Yesterday, 4 days shy of his 65th birthday, my father worked his last day, and started his retirement. After 38 years working a blue-collar job at the same company, a metal shop, he is finally hanging up his coveralls.
That’s a pretty big deal.
He took this job all those years ago because he wanted to marry my mother: he needed a steady income so that they could build a life together. He was good at working with his hands and found himself hired at this shop. He believed, they both believed, it was a temporary job, until something different, possibly more interesting, came along. In those days, my mother worked: she seemed to live under a lucky star, with many careers offering themselves up to her, as her intelligence and charm made her able to conquer the world. Together, when my parents married, they faced a rosy future. Fast-forward a few years into their marriage, my mom’s health suddenly and permanently deteriorated, making it impossible for her to hold a job. My father therefore considered his unionized job at the metal shop as a blessing, and worked hard to provide for his family (my mom and baby-me).
Throughout the years, that shop has gone through 3 different owners. My father has worked weeks of overtime, and during some very difficult times, 3-day weeks. Through his hard work, and my mom’s financial planning, we lived a middle-class lifestyle. House in the suburbs, private french high-school, years of orthodontics. My parents never took a vacation (except once, for their 25th wedding anniversary they booked a hotel in downtown Montreal, and played tourists), and owned 1 car – my father took public transportation to work everyday, so that my mother could have the car.
I grew up hearing him tell stories about his job, and his co-workers – like any job, sometimes the work conditions and the coworkers caused frustration. But he never seriously considered leaving, since he was aware that it would be difficult to find similar unionized conditions elsewhere. There must have been days where he was bored out of his mind, or felt trapped by his responsibilities, staying at a job he sometimes hated, so that he could provide for his family.
After I moved out 10 years ago, he worked to provide for the future retirement years he would spend with my mother. Money would be tight – they had ensured that I lacked for nothing growing up – but like always they were prepared to face their challenges together. They faced many scary challenges, as my mother’s health was progressively and inexorably deteriorating, but what else to do but to try save as much as possible for that scary future, and keep faith?
And then, 2.5 years ago, my mother died in her sleep.
My father lost his wife and the future he’d been working towards for 35.5 years.
It hasn’t been easy for him to find his feet and build another future to work towards. Many times he wanted to quit his job, as he didn’t see the point in continuing. But he worked through those emotions gradually, and patiently, clocking in and out at the job, going through the motions which were both a comfort in their familiarity and a reminder of what he’d lost. As the moment of his retirement approached, he came up with a game plan that will give him purpose, happiness and contentment.
That’s a brave papa, right there.
The heroism of everyday life
We celebrated last night. I missed my Ma terribly. I think she would be (is?) proud of my daddy and what he accomplished these past 38 years. Especially the grace with which he faces this retirement that is not the one he envisioned or wanted.
There is a heroism to facing everyday life, and my daddy sure has shown lots of it.
I’m proud of my old man.