By Dennis Minich
This week is a week of milestones. Each brings with it a different emotion.
The first is festive. On Monday of this week, my best friend officially retired. The best part of his retirement is, he can now stop asking my advice on whether he should retire or not. It’s not that I mind talking with him or sharing my opinions, but it was a tricky mine field because I never knew how he was leaning, plus whatever his decision, I didn’t want it to be held against me.
Retirement is a difficult concept. You spend most all of your working life zeroing in on that magic age when you can look the world straight in the eye and say, “Take this job and shove it.” But the closer you get to retirement age, the harder the decision becomes.
There are many advantages to retiring as soon as possible: being young enough to enjoy it, eliminating many of the daily hassles which create stress, and no longer having to worry about office politics, bad bosses or lousy coworkers.
There are disadvantages: a feeling of less purpose, fixed incomes, and maybe the worst- you don’t know when it is break time.
All too often, retirement is thrust upon people because of ailments or job pressures, so the sense of simply being able to quit on your own terms is taken away.
Others quit, only to find they miss working and head back to the old salt mines. My friend took the plunge, and he sounds like he has his future well mapped out and I am so happy for him.
This week also brings a very sad milestone. Earlier this week marked the five-year anniversary of the last time my late wife, Debbie, was able to leave the house. I remember that night very well, because it was the night of my son’s senior recital.
As a music education major in college, part of the graduation requirement was to have a solo performance highlighting his musical skills. Derek’s performance was on euphonium and Debbie, who was battling stage four cancer, was determined to live long enough to see him take the stage. She did. The printed program said the performance was dedicated to his mother and she sat with tears rolling down her cheeks, as did I, as she watched her son in the spotlight on his big night.
Afterward we tried to celebrate with ice cream and fun stories, but for all the family assembled, it was a melancholy evening. She made the trip, but never left the house again.
The final milestone actually occurs today. Today is Derek’s birthday. It is his last as a 20-something as this is the 29th anniversary of his birth. Nov. 14, 1990 seems like yesterday in my mind. So frozen is it in my memory, I can almost repeat every event, action and conversation of the entire day. Nothing in my life was as amazing as the moment they handed me my baby son. I had recently read the book “The Greatest Miracle in the World.” As I held this newborn, that phrase just kept going through my mind. I also knew my life would never be the same, and it wasn’t.
Through the years, things changed: I had a baby boy, then a little boy, then a little man, a young man and finally a man. Through it all, he was always my son.
I miss the days when he thought I was smart, those years when he could roll out questions like a human Jeopardy game. But now I have a friend in him with whom I can share adult conversations, and now he is teaching me things about the world I never knew.
He has had to overcome hurdles in life I would have never imagined, but has demonstrated a strength I don’t think I would have possessed.
This week has had milestones and, while my emotions to each are different, each tug at my heart.
To my friend, Art: Congratulations man, you made it.
To Debbie: Five years ago, we heard the most beautiful music of our lifetimes, we got to hear it together.
And finally, to Derek: Whether it is today, or 29 years ago today, you have been my inspiration and greatest joy. All I can hope is every day brings you even greater joy and that you know your mother and father will always be there for you.