My Dad trained as a nurse back in the 1960s, when nurses were almost always women. I love his graduation photo – he is the only man, young and handsome, surrounded by dozens of women in their neat nurse’s uniforms. Mum always said he was “a bit of a dish” (thanks for that, Mum).
He worked hard, as all nurses do, and endured years of night duty and physically demanding work. Not to mention the emotional highs and lows of being a nurse.
We lived in a country town in northern NSW, and Dad worked his way up to Assistant Director of Nursing. His plan was to work until he was 65, and then retire. He wasn’t a fisherman and he didn’t play golf, but did love music and playing the violin, and he would have more time for music when he retired.
However, our family discovered first-hand that retirement sometimes takes you by surprise. Dad was diagnosed with Leukaemia in his early sixties. As so many of us know, a cancer diagnosis can throw a family upside-down. It was the beginning of years of treatment, hospital visits and procedures. During this time Dad was often extremely ill and always very tired. Working as a nurse was no longer possible, and so he retired … about five years earlier than he had planned.
Our family was lucky - Dad’s treatment was ultimately successful and he was cured by the time he was in his late sixties. It was exactly the outcome we all hoped for, and worked towards, for years.
But this experience taught me that you simply do not know what the future holds. We may plan for our retirement, but some things are outside our control. I’ve decided that instead of working flat out until I’m 65 and then retiring, I’m going to transition gradually. In my fifties I plan on working a little less and enjoy myself a little more (and I’m going to keep up the premiums on our trauma policies)!
The other valuable lesson I learnt from Dad’s experience, is that it’s never too late to have a career change. Once he felt better, Dad was able to focus on his music again. He began to play every day and really developed his love and knowledge of Irish music. He decided he would like to teach violin and he advertised in the local newspaper. Little by little students started to sign up for lessons, and over time this led to Dad teaching for about ten hours a week.
These lessons were conducted on the back porch of Mum and Dad’s home, and you were always offered a cup of tea and some of Mum’s home baking (she makes great cakes)! This “music family” became very important to my parents. As well as supplementing their retirement income, it gave my parents a sense of purpose and a great network of friends.
Dad passed away three years ago at the age of 80, and he was teaching violin right up until the last few weeks of his life. I’m glad he was so focused and happy, and I know he had a great sense of purpose every day.
I wonder what career change I can expect in my twilight years? I hope I can find something that I love to do, just like Dad - and it would be even better if people are willing to pay something for it!