In September 2017, at the grand age of 62, I was happily working on the 6th Floor of the Beehive for the John Key Government. In politics your world can change in an instant. And mine did. Winston decided he preferred a Labour Government to a National Government, and my near 30 year personal political journey came to end.
I had been working at my desk, overlooking the Parliament forecourt for years, as Senior Political Advisor to two National Ministers of Health. The best job. In big part I loved it because, in contrast, being a Cabinet Minister (a long time ago) you’re publicly criticised and I was a private person.
Now, my working life was over. How wonderful, I thought, to not have to rush to work each morning; no serious phone calls after 10 at night, or at 6 in the morning when my Minister was needing advice before his early morning TV or radio appearance.
Retirement for the first six months was great. I kept in contact with National in Parliament; and in my mind, I was expecting to be called back in, as I had many times over the decades, working near to twelve different Party Leaders. The realisation I was not needed anymore in the future really hit me. For a year I wondered; what to do with my retirement? What purpose is there?
Friends suggested this and that; but nothing impressed me. We are all different; what keeps many other retired friends happy, was not for me.
But by pushing hard, by persisting with searching, I found a purpose that proved to be more rewarding than anything in all my wonderful decades in Parliament. A new purpose not discovered by any talent I have; rather, from learnings from good people I saw around me.
From nothing, I was suddenly certain. I would become a Volunteer at the Home of Compassion in Silverstream Upper Hutt. What a challenge. What a reward.
Initially not easy, I would enter the 80 bed Rest Home, Hospital and Dementia Care Home and knock gently on the doors of residents to see if they would like a visit. I had a natural affinity to the Home of Compassion as a Catholic who had lived nearby. I found myself at Home.
Two years on I am currently unable to volunteer at the Home because of covid; but I will be back when this terrible virus is defeated. Sitting with the very elderly, mostly listening about their families and lives, including the last days of their life’s journey, is a privilege.
But retirement surprises were just beginning.
Soon after, I was asked by the Wairarapa Catholic priest if I would Chair their Finance committee; and implement the Cardinals necessary decision to close and sell a number of Catholic Churches in the Wairarapa Parish. This is necessary for a number of reasons; one of which is the reduction to just one priest from the three previously in the area. It is happening everywhere. While I had moved to beautiful Greytown for a quiet retirement, someone has to do this unpopular job, and so I have commenced this sometimes unpopular work.
However, another new joy has arisen in my retirement, and arrived with even more surprise.
It was a typical warm early spring Friday dinner in Greytown two days before Father’s Day over a year ago my eldest daughter Lis and her hubby arrived.
As we lifted our cutlery for dinner, Lis blandly pushed a small wrapped present in front of me.
I glanced at it. “Why the present tonight Lis? Keep it ‘til Sunday” pushing it back.
“No, open it” she replied unusually forcefully. “Just open it, Dad”.
It looked like a tie or socks or some such. “Why would you do this tonight?” I said, opening the small tie parcel. I try my best to look happy to have a new pair of socks or whatever.
I unwrapped the present. Weird; what is this? Looks like a ……oooh…; a tiny baby suit. “What is this ….” I whispered out loud…..as the penny dropped…..
Oh wow, oh just wow. Anna and I just surged to them; our first grandchild was on the way.
Just what a joy he has been ever since. They called him Ziggy. Can you believe that? We love him and his name. I never really appreciated grandparents’ joy in grandchildren, I had heard about it from others, but being a bit slow on the uptake sometimes, I had no idea of the geyser of joy they bring.
Is it not wonderful that we have the joys and toughness of life as we grow through our young and middle age years. Then, when it seems to be coming to a quiet end; grandchildren come along.
I think watching him grow, how it was surely only a few years ago that Ziggy’s mother Lis was doing these baby things.
Retirement; enjoying what we each have and have done, is as good as we make it. When I’m asked by friends about retirement; I tell them there really are exciting opportunities ahead for them; but you must prepare and plan for it.
Peter McCardle, author of Party Hopper, available and instores now