Growing up, I didn’t see much of my Dad. The reasons were complicated (as family matters tend to be), but at least one of them had a lot to do with work: For many years, he got a lot more face time with the photos of his family on his desk than his family itself. So the lessons he taught me about health don’t have much to do with him feeding me carrot sticks or teaching me how to play soccer (although we did spend time doing active things like skiing and hanging out at the park). Instead, the biggest health lesson he taught me came in recent years, and that is that work-life balance is just as important as whatever time you put in at the gym, yoga studio, or cooking your own nutritious meals. And all he had to do to teach me is retire.
The payoff of his working years wasn’t all bad (he did, after all, get to retire a lot earlier than most people I know), but it took its toll on several areas of his life, including his health and happiness. It’s not that he became an obese desk-worker who never exercised, or that he turned into one of those hollow, workaholic villains so often portrayed in Hollywood. In fact, if you saw him back in his working days, you probably wouldn’t call him unhealthy at all; but watching my Dad go from upwards of 80 hours a week in the office to none revealed just how much healthier and happier someone can be, minus tons of stress and plus a better personal life.
Since retiring, his personal life has flourished, his waistline has trimmed down, and his face has a glow that was nowhere to be seen when he spent his time slaving over papers and lawsuits. While he certainly had his fun back in his lawyer days (he managed to find some semblance of a healthy personal life by playing the guitar, riding bikes, and even going to Pilates occasionally), it should come as no surprise that he’s having infinitely more now that he doesn’t spend his hours in an office at all.
And while this might not seem like much of a health lesson that most of us can apply — retirement is looking further and further away for most of the population — seeing his transformation from stressed-out and “doing well” to chilled-out and “doing great” is a better reminder than many that it’s important to step back and take care of your health and happiness, even if you do have a demanding job.
In a recent email, my Dad waxed poetic about his good fortune to have an early, active retirement:
I feel very lucky to have had the last few years to do something besides “work.” I know it must seem like the ultimate in selfishness to most people, but I only have this one chance to get things done that interest me, so I see no reason to turn back on my boho life.
His passing words have stuck with me, although he wrote them months ago, because they seem to reflect the conflict that so many of us feel when we’re investing in our own health and happiness. Leaving work left undone to make it to your yoga class in time feels sacrilege, especially when you’re the first one out of the office. Skipping out on work events because you haven’t seen your friends all week can seem like a sure way to hold yourself back from success. But my dad is right: We only have this one chance to get things done that interest us. And while hopefully, your work is one of them, it’s not all of them, so we shouldn’t busy ourselves worrying about how selfish people will think we are for taking a great vacation or leaving work early sometimes to go to yoga.
Until I retire, I may not be able to spend as much time sailing, skiing, or hiking as he does (and, in a sad kind of irony, I won’t be as tan or fit as him, either), but I can take his queue and make the time for all the things and people I enjoy. Time to take a vacation and book my tickets to visit him, even if it’s not on Father’s Day.