Family to the Fore

The number of conversations I’ve had with people about the Tapas Life in recent weeks blows me away.  I keep running into folks who are contemplating what to do with their next 2-3 decades of life.  I find it heartening that a goodly number of them realize that they will be living into their late 80s or early 90s — and that poses the obvious challenge of “what to do.”  This is much better than the folks who are still a number of years from ending their long career and figure “they’ll play golf and travel,” without realizing what that really means when placed against the backdrop of their life expectancy.

Meanwhile, this time I’m writing about Family.  It’s the end of the school year, and that marks the progression of a certain cadence in our family.  It means that my wife, Carole, is wrapping up another year of teaching, submitting quarter-end grades (after reading and providing feedback on a zillion pages of papers), having meetings with a bunch of students and alums who want to connect with her, and preparing for Graduation ceremonies.  She was once again invited to do a so-called Last Lecture this year, and hers is a fine one, indeed.  And then we’re into summer.  Aaaaaah.  To be sure, she’s teaching a goodly chunk of Exec Education sessions/courses, and that will have her busy for a bit, but the pace is calmer, and it feels like summer.

At the same time, we have the treat of our son, who just completed his first year at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, having moved home for the summer today.  He’ll be working in the area this summer and he and his roommates for next year sublet their house for the summer (several will be out of the area), so he’s home until Fall quarter (not counting his vacation time).  After he lived in DC for 7 years, it is really great to have him here.  He is a good guy, fun to have around, and an excellent customer at dinnertime!

So one of my Tapas over the last couple of months has been the latest stage of updating the house after 20-odd years, as I’d mentioned.  Just in time, we finished getting the new “Guest Bedroom” ready this week for his arrival.  It’s painted, has new bed/bedclothes, new furniture, new art, new lighting, and some space liberated in the closet.  Since it’s such a treat to have him home, we wanted to make sure he’d be comfortable.  And, of course, same for actual guests, once he’s back in school.  It’s been a fun project and the room looks great.

As it happens, my Life Coaching Tapa has been in a bit of a coma lately, and that made some time available for the project.  I have one client who’s got a fair amount of turmoil in his life at the moment, and so he’s gone radio silent.  Another with a sick elderly father who’s caught up in caregiving and also radio silent.  Anew one who said she’d be starting and then pursued some career counseling instead.  Another with whom I’d completed a coaching engagement and who came back to start another round and then got swept up in her life and went radio silent.  I’ve got broad enough shoulders and good enough client feedback to know that it’s not me, but it is frustrating to have this very meaningful Tapa in hibernation.  Well, at least I interviewed a new client last week and he will hopefully choose to get started.  Even though he was ready to get started, I encouraged him to talk to one or two other coaches to be sure he had the best fit for himself.

Continuing on the Family front, the other fun thing I’m really happy to have time for is a new shared interest with our son:  Golf.  I’ve been working to bring my game back to life after giving up my 11 handicap (if you’re not a golfer, know that that’s passably decent) to raise kids.  And while I’d taken him to the driving range a number of times over the years to hit some balls, now that he’s in business school, the bug has really bit him hard.  He told me today that he’s hit 150 balls a day for the last 10 days — and that’s a serious case of golfitis.

Today was something I’ve waited 60 years for:  we played 18 holes of golf together.  I’ve been giving Nick some lessons and he is a natural athlete, so he’s picked the stuff up in a hurry.  And you probably know the end of this story:  he cleaned my clock on the back nine!!!  When else in life can you lose miserably to a newbie and love it??

When exactly, one wonders, would this happen during my long career?  Had no time, no energy.  Was all squeezed out like an orange at breakfast during those years.  So it’s a precious part of life to now be able to experience the Family Tapa to its fullest.

It’s also been my pleasure to be available to our daughter Molly to help with some DMV bullshit paperwork.  And resumé editing.  And fun conversations and outings.  And to provide good champagne for her roommate/landlord’s company’s acquisition celebration. And to share our unusually warped senses of humor and the language.

Fine times with a fine family.  This is the Family Tapa, and there’s no better!

 

Connection

One of the most important things of all, if you wish to have a happy, healthy post-long-career life, is human connection.  Life quality and length are both badly impacted by a skinny or non-existent social network (not talking Facebook here, but I suppose that counts, too, to a degree), and that conclusion has been reached in study after study.

When I hear about people ending their long career and deciding to move to a city where they know nobody, I always think to myself, “I hope they’re gregarious,” or “I hope they’re joiners.”  Some people, no doubt, will make a fine new set of friends and acquaintances wherever they go, but it’s not so easy for everyone.

While I know a lot of people, I tend to make a few deep connections, and those are the people central to my social network.  Sure, I meet up with other folks sometimes, but I do have a smallish core group.

And I’m not a joiner.  I’ve never joined any group, other than our synagogue — and that was for the benefit of our kids’ (and it turned out our) upbringing.  For those who are drawn to joining groups, well, one call always join service groups (Lions, Rotary, etc.), churches, clubs, or a variety of special interest groups (e.g., the group who gets together Friday nights in Palo Alto to watch a movie in French and practice their French language conversation).  There must be a lot of other types of groups to join, but I’m so group-challenged that I don’t even know what they are!

Yes, one really needs the human connection of close friends and family to nourish one’s wellbeing.  So it was important to me to stay put after my long career — here, I know some fine people and enjoy deep relationships of long standing.  OK, and my wife works here, so it was a foregone conclusion.  🙂   We also like this neck of the woods and will most likely continue to be planted here as and when my wife’s latest career (she’s on her 5th or 6th) is completed (actually, unimaginable to me — she loves it so much!).

Wherever you are, though, you need that social network.  So be thinking about that as you contemplate life after your long career.

Well, I lied.  I actually joined a group a couple years ago, much to my amazement, and am still part of the group, perhaps even more to my amazement.  I wasn’t seeking to join a group.  I merely signed up for a Leadership course with the same outfit where I studied to become a Life Coach.  I wasn’t even interested in Leadership (whatever that word means), but rather really liked the experiential learning and wanted to continue the personal growth spurt I had going.  The course was two 6-day and two 5-day retreats, spread out over 11 months, mostly up in Sonoma. Very fascinating stuff.  And I really grew attached to the other 23 students.

At the end of the course, I was sitting with a couple of my peers and noting that “I’m not a joiner, so you most likely won’t see me again if there are any reunions or such.”  And I was wrong.  Innocently enough, we continued some weekly calls where we supported each other in our quests to get to where we want to be.  And pretty soon, I found that I really wanted to be on those calls — it wasn’t just an objective-related task.  And when a reunion was announced, after little deliberation, I signed up.  Stunning — and totally new to me.

Perhaps you’ll find, or have found, groups to which you have a similarly strong affinity.  Or perhaps you’ll be groupless, as I have been until now.  However it works for you, be sure you assemble friends, family, whatever human connection you can have plenty of, because it’s so important.

That’s the “do.”

The “don’t” is to be the person who ends their long career, had their entire self tied up in it — and finds themself with no-one and nothing.  Those are the ones who drop into a sad downward spiral.

Human connection — so important!

 

Service to the Family

Family’s my most important value.  They always get first dibs at anything and everything.  I sub-optimized my long career in order to be able to be home for dinner every night, to not have to work on the weekends, and to travel very little (at least for a Marketing exec).

Once I completed my long career and became house-dad to our then 13- and 15-year-old kids, family was my primary activity, and nothing vied for that time.  This was delightful for me, and perhaps even for them.  It was really hard when our youngest went off to college and the “raising the kids” years were substantially over.  And it took a while to figure out what Service to the Family would look like going forward.

One thing that didn’t change is that I had become the family’s hunter-gatherer.  Whatever anybody needed, I could get it for them.  Whatever was broken, I could get fixed or replaced.  Clothes to/from the cleaners?  Check.  Set up appointments?  Sure.  Travel agent and vacation mogul?  Yup.  And so on.  This was all in addition to hunting and gathering (shopping for) dinner each night, and then cooking it up;  and taking care of the household.

As time passed, the kids really didn’t need me much anymore (although it’s always gratifying when they ask for some parental/old-guy advice), but Carole was immersed in her work, and I gradually became her life-support system.  This made it easy for her, and was perfectly OK with me:  I’m a bit of a pleaser, and so this fits my persona well.

I also found that I had the time to try to be a better brother.  My niece has done a fine job of getting my siblings and me together once or twice a year, and it’s terrific to have the time to do that.  I also enjoy long phone conversations with my sister, and occasional meet-ups with my brother (usually in Tahoe, as he is a top-notch skier).

Along the same lines, I love visiting out-of-town and in-town family (cousins, aunts, uncle) and it’s been a joy getting to know them all better (and to learn some more about our family history, such as it is).  Participating in the building of family community is something I relish, since I grew up far from family, seeing relatives only rarely.  In this season, Thanksgiving is a real treat, as the family get-together always results in a ton of laughter and fun.

I’ve done what I can to be helpful to nieces, nephew, and cousins, and look forward to my time with them.  My dad died in ’82 and my mom in ’05.  While she was still alive, I made it a point to visit her more often than in the past, and phoned her regularly.

I send birthday emails or make birthday phone calls to much of the family, as a way to let them know that they’re always in my thoughts.

For our atomic family, I’m also the bookkeeper, tax accountant, and financial planner.  Important work.  More on that in a post about Finances.

Blood is thicker than water, they say, and the benefit of that is that all the ways one works to be of service to the family build the family, and we are all better for it.  You might ask yourself, “Now that I’m able to dedicate more time to it, how might I help build my family?”  Who are the family members you haven’t had time for?  What are the relationships that could use some more attention?  What are the messy relationships that you may now have the time, energy, experience, and inclination to clean up?  What have you got to offer that can be useful to other family members?  This is a brilliant opportunity for good — and very lasting good, at that.

Oh, and if you you’ve got grandchildren, what could be better?