I found myself thinking about my father yesterday.
My parents were both chemists and met while working for IBM (International Business Machines to strangers, Itty Bitty Machines to its friends and relations) -- making me and my sister "IBM brats". Mom left the company in the late 1960's to become a homemaker. Dad ended up staying with IBM for 31 years. He retired in 1991 during the summer between completion of my undergraduate degree and my start of grad school.
I found myself thinking about my Dad's retirement party that summer. My Mom very much wanted by my sister and I to go. Neither of us did. I'm still divided on the whole issue, twelve years later.
On the one hand, as my Mom puts it, it would have been good to see the respect accorded to my Dad by his colleagues. He was evidently very well thought of by the people he worked with. I can see why; he is a steady, industrious man for the most part, with a measure of integrity that prevented him from stepping on others. That makes him the kind of man I aspire to be -- not the guy determined to be out front, leading the pack, but, rather the sort of fellow that is be backbone of every effective organization. It would have been interesting to see a side of my Dad's life that was otherwise opaque to me.
On the other hand, his world at work was largely opaque to me. My Mom and Dad did have friends they socialized with from their days together at IBM that I got to meet, but, most of these divorced, moved, or (in some cases) died by the time my Dad retired. What my father did during the day between the time he left for work and returned was an unknown to me, with the exception of the few occasions when I got to visit on IBM "family days." That began to change once I reached adulthood -- schooling as an electrical engineer meant I finally could understand what he did for a living in some detail, and, a summer spent working for IBM manufacturing (graveyard shift!) meant that I had a better idea about what his work world was like. Still though, that retirement party would have placed me in a room full of strangers who all knew each other and my Dad, but, knew nothing about me. I'm not always the best at cocktail party chitchat in such circumstances, and I'm not sure what it would have been like.
My feelings have swung back and forth on this issue. At one point during the mid-90's, I was feeling cut off from where I had come from and fuzzy on my own sense of self-identity. That made me think about all the things I didn't know about my father, and, how I'd not taken opportunities to know him better. Later, my sense of self was repaired and my desire to know more about my Dad became less immediate, and my attitude has been more "wait, see, and learn."
I thought of all this because my current work life is very much walled off from my non-work life. I work with a good bunch of people, but, we don't socialize together much. Most of the folks I work with are in their 30's with wives and 2-3 small children. Leaving work means running home to them, not out with "the boys/girls from the office" to have a drink or what-have you.
Does this mean that when I retire, my son/daughter won't go to my retirement party? I don't know... but that does seem karmically just somehow.
on 2003-05-08 at 3:34 p.m.
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