Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A "split" retirement

Jack Malinowski and  Deborah Frazer
Two years ago, Jack Malinowski retired from a 35-year career at the American Friends Service Committee.  One year ago,  his wife, Deb Frazer, a clinical psychologist who is seven years younger, was offered an exciting new challenge.
And there you have a new American dilemma: 
Where once a couple’s retirement involved just one decision (that of the working spouse – typically the guy), now, with so many career women,  it’s usually two decisions. Often, they come down at different times -- sometimes  by choice,  sometimes  in this brutal economy, by layoff or arm-twisting of older workers to take a buyout.
How do staggered retirements play out at home?
“Every day is like Saturday for me,” says Jack, 71. “I can pick my spots.” He volunteers with a number of Friends groups, visiting inmates in a federal prison in upstate Pennsylvania; works with Friends Center City, which is trying to build an intellectual and socially-conscious community for older people;  attends lectures; serves on a board. He also does the grocery shopping, errands, and is slowly cleaning out the couple’s Mt. Airy house for their eventual downsizing.
“I try to remain flexible,” he says. “I’m always happiest if I have things on my list to do or I say, 'Oh, dear, how do I justify my existence?'"
But he yearns to travel more.  Since retiring, Jack has twice traveled alone to visit the couple's son, who is working abroad -- first to Korea, and then to China.  And Jack is raring to go at night, just when Deb is crashing.
“Jack has so much more energy than me,” says Deb, who is running the new Friends Foundation for the Aging, seeing private clients and testing a behavioral healthcare model for those in long term care. In the evenings, “he’s ready to go out to movies or the Curtis [Institute],”  she says. “For 40 years we basically did everything together. And now sometimes it makes more sense to do things differently.”
Jack’s trips alone to Asia were such choices. Deb admits she’d like to go somewhere for a month or two, but even two weeks “seems like a huge leap.” She’s unwilling to abandon her elderly clients for what could amount to three to four weeks, when her travel and patient schedules are factored in.
Deb sees herself gradually working less so their lives can be more in sync, but for now she’s hoping her income will help replenish their nest egg, crushed by a “horrible hit” in ’08. And they want to be supportive to their son, who has done several unpaid internships while looking for work, and may decide on graduate school.
She lives by placing bets on the future and hoping things actually turn out that way.  Now, Deb's making choices based on the probability "that over the next five years I”ll be able to work, we’ll both be in good health and our son will be more settled.”
As for traveling?  "I miss him when he's gone, especially more than a week."
Frankly, this not-in-total-tandem couple sounds happier than those who complain about being in each other's space all day.
So keep going to the office,  hubby!

No comments: