On our way back from Vermont to Arizona in early January, we were able to stop and say hello to our son, now living in Gallup, New Mexico, and briefly visit his home, shared with another attorney, and his office, soon to be vacated for a move to a new public defender office building, conveniently placed next to the court and the jail. But we did not get the opportunity during this brief stop to really visit and talk so I looked forward to a weekend trip to Gallup I had planned in early February to really spend some time with Conrad and watch the Super Bowl with him before returning to Scottsdale.
I arrived on Saturday in early afternoon and after having lunch with Conrad and his girlfriend, went with him to his new office where he had to do some Saturday work to prepare for the following week. I finally got an opportunity to see his new building and office, say hello to his colleague Jamie and meet his boss Steve. So after visiting for a bit, Conrad started his work and I sat down to stay out of his way and quietly read my book.
During that afternoon while reading my book I was struck by some unusual feelings which I eventually hoped to describe in written words. There was my son, a newly graduated and employed lawyer, sitting at his desk reviewing some cases and making notes for his attention when meeting with clients on Monday. His office was nicely decorated – Navajo rugs, framed diplomas and some pictures on the walls. Two comfortable office chairs served his needs while sitting at his desk or at his work table. Also a large couch along one wall served quite well for me as a comfortable place to read my book while he worked. So there we were – Conrad working and I reading in his Public Defender’s office in Gallup, New Mexico.
At that moment the reasons for the unusual feelings struck me – our situations were completely reversed from the last time we both sat in an office together. The last time we met in an office, it was mine, also adorned with the accoutrements of achievement and power – the framed diplomas, the pictures, the Navajo rugs and my son killing time and waiting for me while I made some last minute calls and made some notes for tomorrow’s duties. And now, retired and powerless, without the slightest bit of influence, I had to sit and kill time by dutifully reading my book while my son worked amid all of his accoutrements of achievement, power and influence.
Why was this experience and realization so powerful? Perhaps because I realized finally that I was done, finished, with the accumulation and exercise of power, that I would not work again, that my office decorations would ever be randomly heaped on my humble desk at home, that my office work would be limited to merely paying bills and filing receipts for tax time, writing some letters to friends and relatives, downloading some new music and the like. Now my son had the real desk, the real office and I did not.
I suppose that this is but one more example of the inexorable passage of time – the old person finishing up the profession and the young man starting out and eventually replacing him. But the realization was traumatic and stunning – comparing my diminished stature with my son’s exalted stature, his power with my powerlessness, my limited future with the long life ahead of him, his prospects and hopes with my sense of finality and resignation.
I knew I had retired and, although it had taken some time, I finally accepted it. I was busy with many activities – going through my books, reading a few, keeping up with NFL games on television, catching up on correspondence, turning up the frequency and the variety in my exercise program, seeing my specialists in Arizona to check the numbers on my health and getting the vehicles serviced and repaired.
But it had not dawned on me that I was truly finished with my professional life until I was there with my son observing his energy and enthusiasm for practicing his chosen profession, wistfully remembering the energy and enthusiasm I had in my first teaching position, my first principalship, and my first superintendency, and realizing that I would never be there again.
This experience was not as much disheartening as revelatory. I finally realized where I was in my life and where my son was in his. At my age I was right where I belonged and at his age he was where he belonged too. I needed simply to finally accept this new state and reordering of affairs.