Not the Retiring Kind….. by
(71 Stories)

Prompted By Retirement

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My long-standing default mode, for better or worse, is smart ass (“SA”).  Thus, I was tempted to only write in response to this week’s prompt something to the effect of, “Look, as I write this, I’ve been retired for a grand total of five weeks, half of which was spent on an incredible cruise in and around New Zealand.  So I really don’t have a clue about retirement yet.  Run this prompt again in a year or so, and then I’ll give you my brilliant thoughts.”

But I knew that such a terse SA posting might earn me a metaphorical rap on the knuckles from the Retro administrator. That is something always to be feared but, even more so, I realized I could at least offer up my tentative thoughts at this point.

In brief, though I put my retirement from my firm in place two years ago, as a result of some careful succession planning with The Powers That Be, I have been very worried about it. In particular, to the extent that one’s way of dealing with retirement is hereditary, both of my parents give me significant concerns.

My father was an orthopedic surgeon in practice for many years. His various efforts at retirement can best be viewed as one step forward and two steps back.  First, in his 70’s, he decided to step back from the rigors of surgery but continue his general practice in New Haven.  That lasted a few months and then he realized how much he woefully missed doing surgery. So he resumed it for a few years, but then finally re-dropped it.  A few years later, he decided it was time to retire completely, and he and my step-mother moved out to Marin County to help seal the deal. My father loved it out there, but hated the retirement.  Somehow, he re-opened his practice in New Haven and “commuted” between both coasts for a few years. Ultimately, he developed Parkinson’s and had no choice but to finally, finally retire in Marin (albeit with some consulting work for Kaiser Permanente) until his death at age 90.  Simply put, he just so defined himself as a doctor that he could not happily not be one.

My mother was a life-long retail businesswoman and volunteer — though she generally hated doing the latter, as she felt volunteers were never taken seriously.  She was in charge of the gift shop at Yale’s Peabody Museum until she turned 75, when she was forced to mandatorily retire (as could be done in the 80’s).  She immediately opened up her own museum-style gift shop down the street.  The featured image is part of an article from the New Haven Register in 1989 about her and her shop.  (Unfortunately, I couldn’t figure out a way to either print the whole article or find a link to the Register’s archives for it.)  As my mother noted in the article, “I live alone.  I like people….I wanted to do something I wanted to do and this is it.” My mother is pictured in the lower right.  The Daimura (Japanese god of strength) mask at the left I bought myself and I always kept hanging in my office, both because neither of my wives particularly liked it and because I thought it was a clever way to intimidate opposing lawyers who dropped in on me.  Since retirement, it has been hanging up in my basement, primarily as an incentive for me to push harder on my elliptical machine. In any event, my mother died fairly suddenly at the age of 80 while still running her shop, six years after she started it. She was never going to retire.

So there’s the genealogical background for my retirement. I’d like to think that I do not define myself as a lawyer to the extent my father defined himself as a doctor.  And my wife, also a lawyer, has said she has seen too many lawyers “die at their desks” and was adamant that her husband not be one of those.  I do have a good number of non-profit boards that I am involved in and intend to become further involved in with my extra time. Plus, it looks as if I will be doing some law school teaching soon.

That said, having finally readjusted from New Zealand time (18 hours ahead of EST, for the record) and taken care of a bunch of transitional projects I wanted to get to, I am already starting to wonder what the hell I am going to do every day and, more fundamentally, am I doing anything that is “worthwhile?”

The bottom line is the obvious point I made above: it is just too soon to tell.  And the one bit of pre-retirement advice I heard from a lot of retirement “veterans” and am trying to follow is to not over-commit too soon for fear of having nothing to do. So, with the exception of starting to play pickle ball a few weeks ago — and I can already see it becoming a “thing” — I am trying to be patient and see how this all plays it.  And if the administrator/goddess, in her infinite wisdom, runs this prompt again in a year or so, I’ll let everyone know how it’s going. In the meantime, all advice is welcome.


p.s.  And I can’t help but include one photo I took in beautiful New Zealand.  I am sure that THIS is what retirement should be like:


Profile photo of John Shutkin John Shutkin

Characterizations: moving, right on!, well written


  1. Good luck John, you’ll surely find your way in the strange new terrain of retirement-world!

    My dad was a GP who loved his work, although he did have hobbies – he was a self taught classical pianist, a primitive-style painter, and constructor of found objects – today he might be called an ‘outsider artist’!
    But he ever wanted to give up his medical practice.

    My mother had been a teacher, had retired years earlier and was always begging him to retire too so they could take a year-long trip around the world , she had the itinerary already planned..

    This issue was a constant source of friction between them until the day my father died, “with his boots on” , at 82. My mother out-lived him only a few years, telling me time and again that what she missed most were the little gestures, and the sound of his piano..

    She didn’t regret that never-taken trip around-the-world. She had had a wonderful marriage and she knew it.

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    Patience, John. You are very active in your boards, your family, your exercise, your alma maters. I know you like being busy, but you will find ways to fill your day. As you said, it’s only been 5 weeks.

  3. Marian says:

    Great conclusion, John. I’ve found that, when you are retired, opportunities and activities often find you. Being on Retrospect gives me the chance to do the great “work” of writing without it feeling like work.

  4. Suzy says:

    Nice story, John, and glad I didn’t have to give you a metaphorical rap on the knuckles! Great to learn more about your mother and father, and why perhaps your DNA was resistant to retiring. I must say that the thing I appreciated the most about retirement was never having to set an alarm clock again! Sure, sometimes I still wake up at 7 or 7:30, but it is because my body is ready to wake up, not because I have been jolted out of sleep by a loud noise. So take the time to savor that. And to stay in bed for a little while after you wake up if you feel like it. And to spend all morning doing a NY Times crossword puzzle if the spirit moves you.

    Bottom line: not everything has to be “worthwhile” or “productive.” You are entitled to hang out and do nothing sometimes! You’ve earned it!

    • John Shutkin says:

      Thanks, Suzy. I am still getting used to the no alarm clock thing — or rarely, there have been a couple of early appointments and meetings. And I also do the Times crossword puzzle most mornings, but still feel I need to rush through it to get on to work. Old habits die hard, methinks.

  5. Laurie Levy says:

    I just love the paragraph about the Daimura mask, John. It may be SA, but it made me laugh. My husband and I are living your parents’ model of retirement right now. He couldn’t cut the cord on his practice and completely retire, so he has stepped back. And I am busier now than when I worked. So, your point about over committing is a good one.

    • John Shutkin says:

      Thanks, Laurie. And it is always safe to assume that I am in SA mode. Along with the mask, I also gave myself the nickname “Mad Dog,” albeit with dripping irony. And it caught on with my professional colleagues.

      I’m also delighted to hear you’re busier than ever. I’m still hoping my concern about not over-commiting nonetheless gets me busier. Early times.

  6. An honest and heartfelt description of conflict and uncertainty. My parents, both civil services employees, relayed two different messages to me. My Dad eased happily into retirement but my mother resisted leaving her beloved position.. She was only forced to retire because, in the late ’70’s New York State employees were not allowed stay on past the age of 70.

  7. You sent me to Google with “pickleball,” John…I’d never heard of it. And now that I have, I can expect to see it popping up all over the place. Funny how that happens.

    My mom “retired” at 74, then went on to run my brothers’ business while doing volunteer work at the hospital until she had a stroke at 84. If she could have walked on her own, she would have kept working. Retirement age is just so arbitrary as each of us is unique.

    I look forward to hearing your next installment!

  8. Good story John. And you’re absolutely right: things change in the course of retirement. I’m now almost two years into it. And . . . it’s different from the way it was at the outset and I’m sure it will be different from how it will be two years hence. And you know what? That’s a good thing.
    Have to laugh: your physician dad and mine obviously went to the same school of retirements. My dad went from general surgery in upstate NY to emergency room practice in Fl then retire, then back to ER, then retire, then work for a public health clinic then retire then go back to public health clinic and then retire once more and remarry to make it stick.

    • John Shutkin says:

      Thanks, Tom. And, yes; I’m trying to keep an open mind. As to your dad, I think that doctors — at least in our fathers’ generation — just so entirely viewed their being as that of doctors. As a lawyer of this generation, I still feel plenty “lawyerly,” but not entirely so.

    • My dad was a old-school GP who delivered babies and took out appendixes and never wanted to retire.
      But after a car accident my mother convinced him. . In fact they sold their Bronx home-office. and moved to a beach community in the Rockaways were they had both grown up.

      He hung out a shingle, started a new practice, and worked happily until he died at 82 with his boots on.

  9. Loved this….and resonate with the wonderings around how to feel “productive” Loved your SA, as well!

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