Role models - family

Posted by on 4 February 2021 | Comments

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Roles models – Family

 

Catherine Marsh and Katie WattsWhether or not we're consciously seeking role models, the way things were done in our families inevitably becomes part of our perspective. Sometimes we intend to follow our parents or grandparents in specific ways, other times we firmly decide to do something different.

Thinking about the later years of the elders in my family, the first thing I notice is that we're long-lived, especially the women, and not just due to modern medicine. There's a family group photo from 1916 which includes our great-great-grandmother in Victorian widow's weeds, aged 90.

Beyond longevity, I'm not so sure about the message. My grandparents led very different lives, from mine and from each other. My father's father died aged 70, from a heart attack I think. He was a jeweller and watchmaker and on our 10th birthdays he gave each grandchild a watch he constructed out of spare parts. He had had one leg amputated due to polio contracted in his youth. This was a source of wonder to us kids when we took in his morning tea and contemplated the pink-painted metal leg leaning against his bedroom wall with his trousers, braces, sock and shoe still attached. Our grandmother worked in a knitwear factory and they lived in a cosy rented flat surrounded by the plastic flowers and glass animals she collected. Both retired at 60 and to my young eyes seemed to do nothing much after that, even though he lived another 10 years and she nearly 30. But they were good to their children and growing numbers of grandchildren and we all looked forward to holidays with them and the Christmas gifts of books and sweets.

The other grandparents eventually owned their own home, which was not easy after a hard life of low-paid manual work. My mother's father was a bullock driver, owning a team of 12 oxen which hauled loads of logs, firewood or wool bales in Hawkes Bay. In the hard times of the 1930s he was forced to sell the beasts he had cared for and it broke his heart to see them mistreated in other hands. He was a farm labourer for the rest of his working life and died at 75 of an enlarged heart. Our mother's mother came from England in 1920 and bravely adapted to a pioneering lifestyle where she worked alongside her husband and raised eight children. She lived to her late eighties.

My father retired after 40 years in the public service, when he was only 56. He had a heart attack soon after and during his convalescence took part ownership of a small yacht which gave him great pleasure. My mother, who had only recently taken a job in a chemist and camera shop, was also forced to retire which must have been frustrating for her. They were still young and, once my father had recovered, reasonably fit and healthy. They made their house and quarter acre section beautiful and then, thanks to my mother's canny investments, were able to travel and see the world, which was adventurous of them. For exercise there was my father's sailing (my mother hated the water but went along sometimes), square dancing which they did together and line dancing which my mother did alone. But when those options came to an end in their later years, no amount of persuasion could get them to keep up any exercise that did not involve housework and gardening, not even a walk around the block. Even so, they lived into their 90s, only moving to a rest home in their last few years.

Looking to these family role models there seems to be little I can take from them. My circumstances are very different. I travelled widely in my twenties and took the children to England and Nepal when I could, so I don't have a great urge to see the world, even if I could just now. My work felt very worthwhile and interesting, but I was quite happy to retire at 65. I imagined I would find some voluntary roles to fill my time and be useful but I discovered a sunny retirement town like Nelson has more than enough grey-haired volunteers. Most of the feelers I put out brought no results and those that eventually drew a response were not what I could feel drawn to. I belong a few small committees and do what I can. When I'm not busy in my garden or practising the piano, my time mainly revolves around exercise – swimming, walking, a little biking and a weekly run – and spending time with friends.

I think about the way my parents and grandparents spent their later years and suddenly the differences are not as great as I might have thought – home, garden, family and friends, entertainment where possible. Is this enough? Am I still useful? Do I need to be?

Whether or not we're consciously seeking role models, the way things were done in our families inevitably becomes part of our perspective. Sometimes we intend to follow our parents or grandparents in specific ways, other times we firmly decide to do something different.

Thinking about the later years of the elders in my family, the first thing I notice is that we're long-lived, especially the women, and not just due to modern medicine. There's a family group photo from 1916 which includes our great-great-grandmother in Victorian widow's weeds, aged 90.

Beyond longevity, I'm not so sure about the message. My grandparents led very different lives, from mine and from each other. My father's father died aged 70, from a heart attack I think. He was a jeweller and watchmaker and on our 10th birthdays he gave each grandchild a watch he constructed out of spare parts. He had had one leg amputated due to polio contracted in his youth. This was a source of wonder to us kids when we took in his morning tea and contemplated the pink-painted metal leg leaning against his bedroom wall with his trousers, braces, sock and shoe still attached. Our grandmother worked in a knitwear factory and they lived in a cosy rented flat surrounded by the plastic flowers and glass animals she collected. Both retired at 60 and to my young eyes seemed to do nothing much after that, even though he lived another 10 years and she nearly 30. But they were good to their children and growing numbers of grandchildren and we all looked forward to holidays with them and the Christmas gifts of books and sweets.

The other grandparents eventually owned their own home, which was not easy after a hard life of low-paid manual work. My mother's father was a bullock driver, owning a team of 12 oxen which hauled loads of logs, firewood or wool bales in Hawkes Bay. In the hard times of the 1930s he was forced to sell the beasts he had cared for and it broke his heart to see them mistreated in other hands. He was a farm labourer for the rest of his working life and died at 75 of an enlarged heart. Our mother's mother came from England in 1920 and bravely adapted to a pioneering lifestyle where she worked alongside her husband and raised eight children. She lived to her late eighties.

My father retired after 40 years in the public service, when he was only 56. He had a heart attack soon after and during his convalescence took part ownership of a small yacht which gave him great pleasure. My mother, who had only recently taken a job in a chemist and camera shop, was also forced to retire which must have been frustrating for her. They were still young and, once my father had recovered, reasonably fit and healthy. They made their house and quarter acre section beautiful and then, thanks to my mother's canny investments, were able to travel and see the world, which was adventurous of them. For exercise there was my father's sailing (my mother hated the water but went along sometimes), square dancing which they did together and line dancing which my mother did alone. But when those options came to an end in their later years, no amount of persuasion could get them to keep up any exercise that did not involve housework and gardening, not even a walk around the block. Even so, they lived into their 90s, only moving to a rest home in their last few years.

Looking to these family role models there seems to be little I can take from them. My circumstances are very different. I travelled widely in my twenties and took the children to England and Nepal when I could, so I don't have a great urge to see the world, even if I could just now. My work felt very worthwhile and interesting, but I was quite happy to retire at 65. I belong a few small committees and do what I can locally. When I'm not busy in my garden, my time revolves around exercise, keeping in touch with family and spending time with friends.

I think about the way my parents and grandparents spent their later years and suddenly the differences are not as great as I might have thought – home, garden, family and friends. Is this enough? Am I still useful? Do I need to be?


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