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On The Fly: Finding Vic A Hobby

Aug 29, 2013 | Updated Oct 29, 2013

The really tricky part about retirement -- once you get past whether you can even afford it -- is figuring out what you actually do with your time every day. My husband probably spent every day of his work life dreaming about a retirement where he sat in his easy chair watching endless baseball games on TV with a remote in one hand and a can of Diet Coke in the other.

He is standing over me right now, looking over my shoulder, and just said I should correct that last statement. "I drink regular Coke. I hate diet soda. Don't you know that about me?" he just asked.

And that, my dear readers, is the problem. If left to his own devices, my husband would keep looking over my shoulder and making corrections. Fortunately, nobody in this household ever intends to let that happen.

When Vic first retired after 32 years as an editor at the Los Angeles Times, he dabbled in owning racehorses. It's a gentleman's hobby for sure -- a rich gentleman who I don't personally know. And then we got a couple of Golden Retrievers who honed his tennis ball-throwing arm, followed by a couple of kids we adopted who honed his fourth-grade homework math skills. Vic spent much of today teaching our now almost-16-year-old how to drive. She is already going to college fairs and her little brother isn't far behind her. Before we know it, I told Vic, it's going to be just us again.

I suppose we could always get a few more Golden Retrievers, but frankly, it's got me a little worried. The National Institutes of Health reports that men who are used to deriving their identities and self-worth from their jobs, often slam into retirement and wind up depressed. It's one reason why how we define success and our self-value needs to be re-examined.

Our parents' hobbies aren't our hobbies anymore either. Mid-lifers today with an eye on retirement expect to be able to continue doing what they love longer -- and that includes some physical pursuits. Staying fit, traveling, seeking spiritual enlightenment -- are high on the list of things the baby boom generation said it wants to incorporate into retired life.

I suspect I will be fine in retirement because all I need to amuse myself is someone to listen to my stories. I will write until the day I keel over at the keyboard and then I'll probably still find a way to bend someone's ear. Vic? He's not like me. He's a big teddy bear kind of guy who epitomizes the Cubs fan that he is: an optimist in general, a realist when he must be, and someone who can live happily in the place called Denial. He's also partially deaf, so if you can bear me stretching the Cubs thing a little more, he is someone who literally never hears the jeers coming from the stands. Until he got his hearing aids last year, he had lost the ability to participate in conversations. Deafness, when not addressed, can put you in a very lonely state.

All of which is to say I have embarked, with the kids, on finding Vic some hobbies. We started with astronomy because for the decades I have known him, he wakes up the entire household in the middle of the night about a dozen times a year and makes us go outside to look at something. Meteor showers, whatever. Half the time, I don't think he actually knows, but he always assures us that this event won't happen for another million years.

"Didn't we see this last year, Dad?" our son, Simon, once asked him. Simon can be a spoilsport sometimes.

We bought Vic a telescope and a book about the stars. The telescope got knocked over by a Golden Retriever chasing a tennis ball and the book about the stars fell into the great abyss where socks that enter the dryer and the top to last year's swimsuit always go.

Next, we tried bird-watching. We bought him a birder's diary and a book identifying all the birds that frequent Southern California. I really thought we had nailed it with this one because about the only household task Vic ever remembers is to keep the bird bath full of water. I'm less keen on creating birds as dependents and suspect that they and I would have a better relationship if they'd stop pooping on my deck furniture.

Vic claims he went on a birding walk one day with the Sierra Club when I was at work and the kids at school. I think this is one of those "yes, dear" moments where he tells me what he thinks I want to hear. If anyone is a birder and can attest to his presence, shoot me an email.

I think he is secretly content just naming the birds that visit us and not all that interested in what kind of bird they might be. A-Rod crashed into one of our windows last week and my husband gave him a proper burial.

I suppose for the time being, as long as the kids need someone to set soccer refs straight and teach a coach a thing or two, his time is occupied. And besides, someone needs to look over my shoulder to make sure I get things right, don't they?

"Glad you added the hyphen in A-Rod," he just told me.

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