Life After Work; or, Thoughts on Being “Retired” At 32

Most of the regular readers here know I quit my job in December to be a full-time dad to our new baby girl. (If you didn’t know, consider yourself caught up.) It’s now July. I’ve been *not* working for at least six months, am not seeking a job, and have no plans to seek a job in the immediate future. (More on that later.) In short, my professional marketing career is voluntarily over.

That’s retirement, right? When you voluntarily stop working to pursue other interests (even if those interests are raising children)? I think so. Maybe. I’m not sure.

The more interesting question: What’s it like to be retired by your early thirties?

In a word: strange.

Work and I Have An “It’s Complicated” Relationship

You meet some people, and you know right away they’re industrious. Work is important to them. I knew a guy in college who had worked and had an IRA since he was 13. (!) He never stopped working, even while going to college full time.

I’ve never been that guy. I’m …

… What’s the right word here?

“Lazy.”

The first “real” job I ever held, circa 2001, age 16.

Sure, I held my share of jobs in high school and college. I did the usual stints: grocery store stockboy. Retail on Black Friday. I also worked at a radio station as a DJ, and way back in 2005 I worked for an internet marketing start-up.

Sidenote: Consider that I worked for an internet start-up before YouTube was founded, two years before the first iPhone came out.

As LL Cool J said, “Don’t call it a comeback, I been here for years.”

Also: man, why couldn’t I have gotten on at YouTube in the beginning?

In my post-college career, from the time I graduated to the point I quit to stay home with my daughter, there were only 3 months I was not gainfully employed, 3 months out of a decade. There’s something not many millennials can say. But don’t misunderstand me: I have worked, but I was never a big fan. I didn’t get the satisfaction some people do from hard work. Sure, there’s nobility in accomplishment by the sweat of your brow, but I’d always rather automate that process and kick my feet up. You can have my nobility, I’ll have a beer.

My most recent employer, where I spent 6 illustrious years in financial services.

From that point of view, I was excited to be “retired,” to get away from the rat race and out of the cubicle. And honestly, I don’t miss corporate America. I’m well-built for that world: I’m conservative, strategic, patient, and appreciate the stability of a salary and an 8-to-5 schedule. But that doesn’t challenge me. That’s like being good at free throws and only ever shooting free throws, never learning a three-pointer or a zone defense or playing in an actual game. I think the corporate world taught me all it could very quickly, and after that I was just in stasis. I’ve often wondered if getting out of my “job comfort zone” would have helped me grow more, teach me more discipline and get me working harder. Should I have found something faster-paced, less structured, more people focused? Ad agency, recruiting, tech company, etc?

I suppose it’s all irrelevant navel-gazing now. Except that part about me not liking hard work, because:

Newsflash: Kids Are Hard Work

Not my own child, thank God.

Without hesitation, raising a child full-time is the hardest job I’ve had. Granted, I haven’t worked 12-hour days as a roofer or felt the pressure of an air traffic controller. My jobs have all been air conditioned, and mostly sitting on my butt. (Occasionally my most recent job paid me to fly somewhere like Scottsdale or San Diego, and socialize with people on the golf course or at an open bar. Tough life.) And for all the parents out there who already have spit up their drinks laughing at me (or who didn’t even get this far in the article because they have kids and don’t have time to read silly blogs), yes I was truly unprepared for how hard you work raising a child.

So the first part of “Hey, what’s it like to be retired?” is this: I’m not. There’s a big difference between retirement and staying home with kids.

Hear me now, and pay penance all you who are thusly shamed: don’t ever give stay-at-moms any ribbing about “not having to work.” I too was once an ordinary sinner, and let me tell you from the other side, me and the moms will take up arms against anybody who cops that ‘tude.

Which leads me to the next “What it’s like to be retired” point:

Hanging Out With Moms All Day

The ratio of Moms to Target Shoppers is like 1:1.

I’m not trying to be sexist. Even in the year 2017, “stay at home parent” is still a rare choice for a dude. According to Pew Research, the number of stay-at-home moms outnumber the dads about 21-to-1, with more than 8.8 million moms and just 420,000 dads.* If I go to the grocery store during the day, or run errands, or take my daughter to any baby activities, there are moms and then there’s me.

I knew that would be the case going in. I’m pretty secure in masculinity (or at least I think I am), but

My daughter’s face says it all.

it’s still super weird. I have more understanding (not a lot more, but some) how women feel in male-dominated fields like engineering, science or the corporate boardroom, and certainly greater sympathy. I also recognize that it’s probably weird for the moms, too. They’re accustomed to and expecting a homogeneous group, and then in walks a 200-lb 6-ft bald dude with a beard.

I will never fully be accepted by the moms. I’ve come to understand that. I’ve seen the way they are at baby activities, for example. A room full of full-time parents and caregivers, and I’m the only man. The bond between the mothers is instant. They’ve had a shared experience – an amazing, miraculous experience of pregnancy, birth and motherhood that I will never come close to fully grasping. No one is ever rude to me, or even cold. They’re all nice. Polite is probably the best word. They will talk to me if I talk to them. They’ll smile and ask what my daughter’s name is, how old she is.

But we both know I’m not one of them. No playdates are offered with his daughter. No invites to brunches or yoga classes. (Not that I’d do those things anyway.) I’m not bitter – the moms want the experience they envisioned, I’m not going to get in the middle of their mental picture and foul it up. I only hope, for my daughter’s sake, that she doesn’t miss out on opportunities to make friends and have experiences just because Dad’s at home instead of Mom, and Dad doesn’t get the invites to the Mommy & Me activities.

The Future of My Retirement

Obviously, what my life looks like now with an infant will look much different when she’s 3, or when she’s in school. I could go back to the job market at some point, but if I do it will be entirely because I’m seeking a specific type of work for the personal satisfaction. Like I said, I’ve done the rat race. My desire to battle my way up the corporate marketing ladder is about nil.

(Disclaimer: Obviously if anything happens to Alicia’s job or her ability to work, I would of course be delighted to return to the drudgery of Cubicleville, should any future potential employers be reading my old blog and happen across this less-than-merry post about their employment opportunities.)

Here’s what I “think” will happen, which is simply the current most likely of many likely possibilities. I think Alicia’s career will continue to progress well. I think Ellie will eventually get into pre-school activities (probably starting next year, about the time she’s 15-18 months) and then into school, and I will continue being Full Time Dad, shuttling her to school, practice, running errands, and so forth. Sooner or later she’s not going to need the 24/7 care she needs now. At that point, I’ll have a little more free time on my hands. In an ideal world (and we can play in that sandbox if I want to, because it’s my blog), I would spend that time working on my fiction writing, art projects, blogging, or other projects so fun and enjoyable and utterly non-moneymaking that it can scarcely be called work at all.

And that, my friends, will be a great retirement indeed.

-CM

*Note about the data here: The two studies cited include stay-at-home parents not working under all circumstances, including those who would like to work but can’t find a job; in school or vocational training; disabled and unable to work; etc. I’ve used the Pew estimates on those at home “primarily to care for family and home” and excluding all other reasons.

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