By every measure there is, I am now a senior citizen. So, why don’t I feel like one?
I turned 65 the other day. My paternal grandfather achieved the same age in 1967, and I remember thinking of him as an old man. My other grandfather died at 64. My own father had been retired for nearly three years when he hit the milestone. He didn’t seem like an old man to me, an indication that my perceptions, thankfully, had changed as I aged myself.
It used to be that people retired at 65, which was for years the official Full Retirement Age (or FRA, as we called it) for Social Security purposes. You could draw your benefit starting as early as age 62, but to get the full amount, you had to wait till 65. That’s since been boosted, in stages, up to 67. I’ll hit my FRA in January of 2023, four months past my 66th birthday. I could’ve waited till then to draw the benefit, but after 15+ years of advising claimants about their own benefit options, I was okay with the idea of getting the money earlier instead of later. It’s an easy calculation, really. If your monthly benefit at 62 is $1500, it’ll be $1875 at 66 (not counting increases for inflation). So, if you take it early, you’re passing on that extra $375/month you’d eventually get…but in the meantime, you’re getting that $1500 every month for 48 months. That’s $72,000 you’d have in your pocket by your 66th birthday. It would take you 192 months, or 16 years, to recoup that money at the higher monthly rate. You’re gambling, in other words, that you’ll live to be 82. If you don’t, well, you’re out of luck. What if, I asked my claimants, you decide to wait those four years, come in to see me on your 66th birthday and file, and walk out of here and have a heart attack? That money you could’ve been banking for the past four years is gone. My dad told me that generally speaking, it’s better to have money in your pocket than to not have money in your pocket.
Retirement has changed a lot since my Grandpa Tindell pulled the pin at 65, after working the final 20 years or so of his blue-collar career at a factory in Dubuque, Iowa, making pots and pans. I remember him talking about making the 25-mile drive every day from his home in Platteville, crossing the Illinois line to East Dubuque and then driving over the Mississippi on the rickety bridge. He and Grandma, who worked in the same plant, did this every weekday for all those years. Being four years younger, she continued the trek for two or three years after he retired. Gramp didn’t do much in retirement except fish and putter around his yard, and he watched a fair amount of TV. In fact, he was puttering around his yard on an early October day in 1978 when he had a heart attack. Grandma saw him go down and called the ambulance, which arrived in time to save him…at least for a few days. He passed away four days later in the hospital. I was in college at the time.
I think Gramp enjoyed the eleven years or so of his retirement. He always seemed a pretty contented fellow to me, even though he lived in a very small house and likely never had a lot of money. He never flew on an airplane in his life and never left the United States. Truly, James L. Tindell was a man of an earlier time, a simpler time…and I think it was, in many respects, a better time than now.
Staying engaged, staying active.
My own father, truly a child of his dad, more or less emulated him in his own retirement. When James J., my dad, retired in the summer of 1997, he was a few months past his 62nd birthday. It had always been his intention to retire that early, he told me, and for the next dozen years or so he lived a life of relative leisure. My mother joined him in retirement a year and a half later, and they spent a lot of time traveling and playing golf and enjoying the balmy winters (and tolerating the scorching summers) at their home in Arizona. On two occasions, my dad took us all on family cruises; the first, in 2004, was the very first time my parents ever had their three kids and six grandkids together. My dad, like his own, never went back to work, never had a real avocation or hobby beyond golf. And that became a problem, once he passed his father’s lifespan and entered into his late 70s.
Still, I decided to follow in their footsteps, at least to a degree. After twenty years in radio and another twenty in the customer-service profession, the majority of that at Social Security, I retired when I was five months past my 62nd birthday…just like Dad.
They say that you discover something about yourself in retirement. What I discovered is that I didn’t really like it.
Everybody told me that the key to a long, healthy retirement was to stay engaged, stay active, keep the mind working. For me, I found the best way to do that was to go back to work. It didn’t start out that way; for the first few months, I kept myself busy getting a new book ready for publication. But after The Heights of Valor came out in July of 2019, I found myself not all that terribly excited about starting up the next project. So when my old radio boss, Tom Koser, called me to ask about returning to the airwaves to do some football broadcasts that season, I didn’t hesitate.
Two years and two months later, I’m now employed full-time by the radio station. A handful of football games led to a full schedule of basketball and hockey, then a part-time studio position in the spring of ’20. Another football and basketball/hockey season followed, and then a full-time position opened up as of March 1 of this year. It was offered to me, and Tom and I quickly came to an agreement about compensation. Now, nearly eight months later, it’s hard to believe I ever left radio.
There were three basic reasons why I took the job, and they all have something to do with my outlook on retirement. First, I could think of no good to reason to turn it down. I was already working about 15-20 hours a week, plus my game broadcasts, so what’s another 15 hours or so? Second, the money comes in handy. Sue and I have been able to get some significant projects done around the house, paid for largely by my radio income. And finally–and most important–the job keeps me busy and engaged with people. Running a radio show, which I do five mornings a week from 6:30am-11am on WJMC-FM, isn’t as easy as the occasional TV show or movie makes it seem. Plus, the other half of my job is managing the production department, which covers all the commercials aired on our five stations. It’s not a small job, trust me.
I see people in their late 70s and 80s who are having a hard time of it, and it seems to me that much of their difficulties come from not having paid enough attention to their health during their younger years. The older I get, the more convinced I am that a person’s health–physical, emotional, spiritual–will determine how they handle their “encore” years. Will they be active, vigorous participants in the life of their community, their church, a business? Or will they sit around watching TV as their minds and bodies deteriorate? My father, alas, has fallen into the latter category. As I’ve told my brothers, one of whom is also in retirement and the other a few years away from it, our dad made a mistake when he retired. His mistake was that he had nothing really to do. He could’ve stayed working in his chosen profession, education administration, or he could’ve moved into something else. A man of his experience and skill set could’ve easily found something, at least part-time. Plus, he had no regular exercise regimen, something I nagged him about during every visit I made down to Arizona.
I decided that I wasn’t going to be like that. And as soon as I made that decision, it seemed that active, healthy, older seniors started coming out of the woodwork, so to speak. They were everywhere.
Active seniors are all around us.
Sue and I went on a cruise to Alaska in August, and when we checked in at the port in Seattle, it appeared to us that every one of the cruise line’s employees on duty were well past 40. Every place we shop in our area seems to have a significant complement of senior employees, if not a majority. And when we look beyond our immediate area, we see them all over the place.
The other night, while Sue was on the way home from a conference in Florida, I watched one of Clint Eastwood’s best movies, The Bridges of Madison County. He directed and starred in the movie, made in 1995, when he was 65, the same age I am now. A few weeks earlier we had watched his latest film, Cry Macho, released a few months after his 91st birthday. I can’t think of any better example of a person who has kept working, and working very well, long past the age he qualified for Social Security.
Hard-working seniors are everywhere. Last night we watched another movie star, Michael Keaton, more than holding his own with younger rivals in the new movie, The Protege. Keaton, who just turned 70, did a lot of the fight scenes himself (aside from those cuts showing him slammed into walls and furniture, presumably) and not only that, he had a bedroom scene with co-star Maggie Q, 28 years his junior. (And Keaton will be reprising his role-of-a-lifetime, Batman, in next year’s Flash movie.) Bob Uecker is still calling Milwaukee Brewers baseball games in his mid-80s. In fact, a lot of sports announcers are well past the standard retirement age. Wayne Larrivee, the radio voice of the Green Bay Packers, is in his late 60s. His colleague Brent Musberger, voice of the Las Vegas Raiders, is 82. Al Michaels holds down what is perhaps the most coveted play-by-play slot around, NFL Sunday Night Football on NBC-TV, with his 77th birthday a couple weeks away.
Pete Carroll, coach of the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks, is 70. Tony LaRussa, manager of baseball’s Chicago White Sox, turned 77 earlier this month as his team was battling Houston in the playoffs. And there are many examples outside the world of sports and broadcasting. Warren Buffett, advisor to presidents and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, is 87. President Joe Biden will be 79 next month. Donald Trump, who I’m sure hopes to move back into the White House fairly soon, will be 78 if and when he runs again in 2024. For that matter, my own maternal grandmother, Meta Carpenter, worked part-time at a hardware store in Platteville until she was in her mid-80s.
There are some professions where you can’t stick around that long, but plenty of people are pushing the limit as to what they can do at ages thought to be way too old for their particular field of endeavor. Fedor Emelianenko, the great Russian mixed martial artist, is retiring from the cage after his final fight this weekend, at the age of 45. Every football fan knows about Tom Brady, who won another Super Bowl ring last season at the age of 43, and is going for another one this year. And there are other people out there who still work in professions that can be physically demanding, even though their thirties, or even forties, are way back in the rear-view mirror. Arnold Schwarzenegger is still making movies and hitting the gym at 74. Sylvester Stallone filmed intense, realistic boxing scenes for Rocky Balboa at 60, and handled his own fight scenes in The Expendables 3 at the age of 68. Harrison Ford is filming another Indiana Jones movie at 79.
Men aren’t the only ones still going pretty strong as their Social Security and Medicare cards gather dust. Jane Fonda was 80 when she filmed Our Souls at Night with Robert Redford (then 81). Ellen Burstyn, one of Hollywood’s most renowned actresses, just starred in Queen Bees at 88, alongside Ann-Margret (80), Jane Curtin (74) and Loretta Devine (72). Oprah Winfrey goes to work every day at age 67. Ginni Rometti retired from IBM last year at 63 after serving as its CEO for almost nine years. Leslie Stahl still works for CBS-TV and is featured regularly on 60 Minutes at 79.
Figuring out when…or even if…to pull the pin.
The night after I turned 65, I was back in the broadcast booth, calling a football playoff game between Rice Lake and Medford. Our hometown Warriors won, and that means I still have a legit shot at calling another game at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, home of the Badgers, if Rice Lake wins three more to qualify for the Division 3 state title game on November 19.
My wife Sue is still working, of course, but she talks more and more often about when she’ll finally retire from the travel business. I tell her she’ll never really retire; she might not go into the office every day, but she’ll still do consulting work from home. She hears that and says, “Well, yes, probably.” She will always be very active, and not just with work; she has her yoga classes and her work with Rotary and our church.
There are some admitted downsides. I’m sometimes so busy at the radio station that I don’t have time to go to the gym or the pool, which throws a crimp in my ongoing desire to maintain a high level of fitness. That includes my twice-weekly training sessions at Brown’s Karate Academy in nearby Barron, where I currently study the Filipino stick-fighting art of arnis. Work on my next novel, The Man In the Arena, is progressing, but more slowly than I might like. So yes, there are days when I think that staying home the next day might not be a bad idea at all, especially with our new pup, Maisie, waiting there to play and then snuggle up next to me on the couch to take a snooze while I watch TV or read.
Overall, though, I’m glad to be back on the radio. Not a day goes by when I’m at the station without me thinking, at least once, “Man, I love this.” And it’s true, I do. On some days it’s like I never took that 22-year break from full-time, on-air employment. I had a talk with Tom and told him I was leaning strongly toward sticking around for another year when I reach my first “anniversary” of returning to full-time work on March 1. He was happy to hear that.
And, to be honest, I left his office with a good feeling about it. Radio’s been in my blood for a long time, since I was a kid down in Potosi, listening to great announcers like Eddie Doucette and Earl Gillespie. I always wanted to be one of them, and when I finally made it, I found that I couldn’t give it up for good. Who needs senior discounts, anyway?