I was living my pre-retirement life with a great misconception. If I had to reduce it to one word, it would be “victim.” In my mind, I was the long-suffering spouse who shouldered so much more responsibility both at work and at home, while my husband had the freedom to pursue life at his own tempo. Unfortunately, it was actually my husband who was the victim of my distorted thinking, even if I rarely expressed these feelings out loud. Although we had a fine marriage, my resentments were always an undercurrent.
Retirement has totally flipped this thinking. I’ve had a chance to see so much more of the larger world, and the people in it. Some work harder than I did, some do not. Some do jobs which might be interpreted as less useful than the “sacrificing teacher,” and some do more good than I ever did, for very little pay. Certainly the pandemic has made those unsung professions come into focus. However, the most important take away I’ve gotten from closer observation, is that my husband is a much different and better person than I could have ever imagined.
My main complaint, or jealousy, was the fact that he had his own business, and did not have anyone looking over his shoulder. He could set his own hours and have total freedom to do things his way, as long as his partner was in agreement. He didn’t have to do elaborate lesson plans, like his teacher wife, for every minute of his workday. He didn’t have to make arrangements for substitutes for a day of absence. He had the freedom to go to the bathroom, eat, and take a moment to reflect whenever he liked. My husband was not bound by semesters, calendars or the whims of children or graduate students. He could even set his own working hours either at home or his place of business.
The big reveal
I started to get a more realistic view of him, when I became his official bookkeeper. My husband and his partner were free spirits when they started their rare book business. Due to market changes, they now engage in the sale of historical photographs, documents and ephemera. Historically, neither was suited to the mundane tasks of running a business. Their expertise was their aesthetic talents and passion for old things. They built up quite a knowledge base of their subjects. Enter me, at retirement: the bookkeeper they always dreamed of – no experience, but no salary required.
My bookkeeping job allowed me to see every expenditure, every purchase, and more importantly, the flow of cash. This business was as fragile as an elderly lady crossing the street on an icy day. Unlike those in business for themselves, lucky me didn’t have to deal with the eternal question of whether the income for a particular month would satisfy all the fixed expenses. I was used to that reliable paycheck - health insurance, included! My taxes were deducted automatically, and usually exceeded the government requirement, resulting in a nice refund each year. Not so with this business!
My husband and partner had to be magicians, constantly churning new scenarios to cover their rent, utilities, taxes, insurance, cable, automobile, and their meager salaries. There were so many chances taken in purchasing archives and other materials, never really knowing if they would pay off. There were an infinite number of customer communications, strategizing where to offer the items, traveling to buy and sell, and researching – researching – researching to show each item in its best light. Debt and taxes were always glaring over their shoulders.
He is NO slacker!
Not only am I in amazement at my husband’s ability to keep this ship going for 35+years with a level of passion for the subject that rivals none, but I have been able to witness his modus operandi up close for the first time. Previously dismissing him as a “dreamer” with a flimsy set of “real world” skills, as I typed his spreadsheets and documents for the historical items, I saw how completely thorough he was, putting me to shame. There was evidence of attention to the most minute detail, days of researching a tiny sliver of history, knowing exactly which institution would benefit from such a purchase, and presenting the items in the most artistic, archival friendly presentation. I continue to be outclassed by this man on every project we complete together. My semi-perfectionism is regularly criticized by this king of fonts and presentation!
While my work world was fairly well contained within the walls of a school or university with a fixed set of players, my husband’s work world was practically infinite and always changing. When the pandemic hit and institutional budgets dried up and in-person trade shows vanished, his fixed expenses did not. Once again, his business creativity and resilience served him well. All of his colleagues were shipwrecked in their living rooms in front of their computers. I was able to witness and assist in this new business model which now included virtual trade shows and government small business loans.
If you are fortunate enough to be living with a significant other, I am sure you will find that you were too busy being you to notice this person. Once again, the speed of daily life and our need to self-focus is a relationship downer. Now that time is in your favor, please notice, savor, and appreciate this other person. He or she was chosen for special qualities that revealed themselves early in your relationship. I can guarantee you that these were just a sample. How fortunate you are now to be the beneficiary of a previously unknown cache of riches!