The other night I was driving with our son, Ethan. Out of the blue my eight-year-old boy said, "Daddy are you ever going back to work again?"
Startled, I said, "I just don't know. The stroke really did a number on me. I just do not know if I can work anymore. And that is sad for me."
He said, "Strokes really suck don't they, Dad?"
Then he said, "If you don't go back to work, what do you think you'll do every day?"
When my dad retired at 53, it was very hard for him. His identity was wrapped in the fact that he worked at Buttrey Foods and before that the B&B in Kalispell, Montana.
When Buttrey Foods "big wigs" told my dad that he would be "retired" (Actually it was a cost saving measure because his pension was getting too expensive for the company so they actually fired him), it was a major shock for him and our family.
Dad started work delivering newspapers when he was about 10, and he never stopped working.
So for 43 years he worked hard. Then, at 53 years old, suddenly he had no job, prospects, and no hobbies. He was devastated.
My dad's identity was "Stanford A. Dunham, Merchandising Manager for Buttrey Foods."
Something like "Jesus Christ, Carpenter."
Now he was just "Stan Dunham."
I suspect that my dad listed his “occupation” before "father." That was common in his era.
When dad was dying, he told me that one of his biggest regrets that he worked so hard to provide for his family he nearly lost his sons. He lost his wife, Dad told me.
I thought a lot about my dad lately. I started to work when I was 10 years old. I worked at my stepdad's furniture store, and I moved on to be a carpet layer and a carpenter with my brothers.
I went to college, and I got a great job: CEO of the Idaho Association of REALTOR'S. Through the years, actually I had several other professional high-profile jobs: Boise State University lobbyist and Interim Vice President of Institutional Advancement for Boise State. I opened a real estate school, and then the Vice President of the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry. Finally I was the Executive Director of the Associated General Contractors of Idaho. I was also elected to be one of the Trustees for the College Western Idaho.
My point about this, my identity was about my jobs. I was "Mark P Dunham, CEO and college trustee." I am a father but I didn't think about that as part of my identity really. “This is my job.”
But my stroke messed up my future and my identity.
Just like my dad, 43 years his job was his identity. Ironically, I worked for 42 years and then suddenly my job identity -- my job -- was gone.
It reminds me of a beautiful and heart wrenching song from Elton John "This Train Don't Stop There Anymore:"
"I used to be the main express
All steam and whistles heading west
Picking up my pain from door to door
Riding on the storyline
Furnace burning overtime
But this train don't stop,
This train don't stop,
This train don't stop there anymore."
I feel like I worked so hard for years, and in one instant, it was gone.
I wish that I had talked to my dad about his retirement.
I am now "period" rather than "comma."