The Need to be Useful

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Last week my father retired — again! The first time he retired, he was in his 60s, but he just couldn’t stay away from his little Barber Shop on the edge of Stockton, California, so he went back to working just one day a week — on Tuesdays. He missed his customers and his fellow shop owners. He missed hearing the youngsters tell him about their sports and school activities. He missed the old men who barely had enough hair to cut. He missed all the jokes they’d tell and how their family members were doing. He’s cut as many as four generations from the same family!

This time he’s 82. The 45 minute drive and standing on his feet got to be too much. I think what he’ll miss the most is being connected and feeling useful. After almost every Tuesday, he’d drop by my house and slip me a little “milk money.” He has always been generous with all the family members, especially me. Working that one day a week made him feel he could keep on giving and making a difference.

Let Them Keep Busy!

Fourteen years ago, my daddy lost his bladder to cancer. The doctor’s didn’t have much hope that he’d live more than a year. He’s still living and enjoying life. The only time he gets really down is when he thinks he can’t work around the place or fix something that needs fixing. He has learned to pace himself and like he says, “I work by littles.”

It still makes him feel so good to go out and fix a sprinkler or mow the front field. As a child of the Depression, he was raised to work hard or be considered “a bum.” I do believe all of us need to feel needed and useful. Too often we try to stop our older loved ones from doing. To them it seems we’re trying to stop them from living because work is a big part of their lives and their self-worth.

How Long Should They Work?

When Social Security first went into place, people didn’t live much past 65. It made sense back then, but does it still? How many times have you heard of someone retiring, just to go home and die within a year or so? Working for many is their happiness. It puts a rhythm into every day. There’s a reason to get up and a reason to be tired enough to sleep well. Our physical health is strongly influenced by our mental health. Busy hands are happy hands. Our parents grew up on that saying.

When it’s Time to Quit

My daddy decided when it was time. Momma and I just told him to do what he wanted to do. That doesn’t mean he’ll sit all day in a rocking chair. Momma always has a “honey do list.” Staying busy will always be a part of who he is. Like most men from his generation, he wants to “die with his boots on.” I just want him to be happy and working is a part of his joy.

(This article was reviewed April, 2024 since it originally published October, 2016.)

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