Ned Miller looked up from his newspaper. A man about his own age was standing at his table, staring at him.
“Can I help you?” Ned said.
“I’ve seen you talking to women. I was wondering if you do men.”
“I’m an equal opportunity listener,” said Ned. “Would you like to talk?”
“Sure.” The man pulled out a chair.
“It’s the same price for men.”
“Oh. What’s the price?”
“One latte,” he said, pointing to his sign.
“Right. Okay, I’ll be right back.”
And he was, bearing the steaming fee in a styrofoam cup.
“Thanks. I’m Nick.” He extended his right hand.
“Robert,” said the man, shaking it and sitting down. He wore a brown tweed suit with a pastel blue shirt and yellow tie. The look on his face was of confusion or worry, or both.
“So what’s on your mind, Robert?”
“I’m trying to figure out what to do about retirement.”
“You mean when to retire?”
“No, I’m already retired. I haven’t figured out what to do with my time.”
“What was it you planned to do when you retired?”
“I didn’t have a plan. I guess I should explain that I was forced to take early retirement, so it came as a surprise and I wasn’t ready.”
“That’s tough,” said Ned. “Did you love your work?”
“Did I love it? I did in the beginning. Not so much the last few years. When I started out I was a software engineer. I liked that a lot. I liked developing new products and coming up with solutions to problems. That was a lot of fun! And I was good at it. Then I got promoted into management, and it was more about dealing with people. I didn’t like that nearly as much but that’s what I’ve been doing the last 15 years.”
“Maybe early retirement is a blessing. It gets you out of a job that isn’t much fun.”
“That’s what my wife says. That’s how I’d like to see it.”
“But you don’t?”
“Well, no. At least when I had a job, I knew what I was supposed to do every morning. I knew who I was. Now I’m not sure who I am, or whether I have a purpose.”
“That’s heavy, Robert. Maybe you should see a therapist.”
“I thought I would try you first and see how that went.”
“The price is right, but you may get what you pay for.”
“Got to start somewhere.”
“Fair enough.” Ned took a sip of his latte and thought briefly about where to begin.
“Tell me a bit about your life when you were working. Did you have any outside interests? Civic groups? Hobbies?”
“Not really. I’m a pretty dull guy. I went to work, came home for dinner, watched some tv, slept, went back to work.”
“How about on the weekends?”
“Cut the grass, watch sports. Church on Sundays.”
“You said earlier that you weren’t sure if you had a purpose anymore. Where do your ideas about purpose come from?”
“I know I’m supposed to say it comes from going to church, right? But honestly, I don’t get that much out of religion. It doesn’t seem to have much to do with my life.”
“But you felt you had a purpose when you worked?”
“Sure. My purpose was to work so I could support my family.”
“And did you?”
“I did. We did all right. Got both my girls through college. We probably have enough to cover two weddings, if they ever decide they want to get married. One of them might. The other, I’m not so sure.”
“So your finances look pretty good? You have enough to cover retirement?”
“Yeah, we’re good there. The company took pretty good care of me.”
“Good job, Robert!”
“What? What do you mean?”
“You met your goal – you provided for your family! Now you could even take a bow and celebrate. This is a spectacular achievement?”
“Aren’t you proud of yourself?”
“Well, yeah, I guess I am, kind of.”
“So celebrate! Mission accomplished!”
“ Okay, but that doesn’t answer my question. What am I supposed to do now?”
“You want to know what I think?”
“Yeah, that’s why I bought you the latte.”
“Anything you damn well want to do.”
“What do you mean?”
“What I mean is, you’ve lived a good life. You did exactly what you were supposed to do, and you did it well. Congratulations. Now you don’t have to worry about that anymore, it’s done and paid for. You’re a free man. Now the only question is, what is it you want to do?”
“Well, I don’t know. Obviously.”
“And this is the part where you need to find a therapist – or a coach, if you prefer – to help you discover what you want. Maybe there’s some secret ambition you always had, that you had to give up because it wasn’t practical. Because it wouldn’t support your family. Now might be the time to take it out of deep storage and give it another try.”
“My secret ambition was to play second base for the Yankees, but I think it’s a little late for that now.”
“Probably. But it might not be too late to coach a girls softball team, let’s say. Or to play in a mature league.”
“Does that mean old farts?”
“That’s the polite term for it, yes. Anyway, the point is, you’ve been the man for 40-something years. Now what about the boy? What can you do for him?”
“What boy? You mean me?”
“That would be interesting. Hmm.” Robert smiled. “I have to think about that.”
“You should. And don’t be afraid to ask for help. You’re not the first guy to retire without a game plan, and there are people who can help you think it through.”
“I like that. Thanks!”
“Happy to help. Good luck, slugger.”