It is not surprising that I can relate to Dan Padgett’s frustrating dilemma. After all, he and I have a lot in common. During the final years of his long career in municipal government Dan had nursed his dreams of a mobile, nomadic retirement---including a well-equipped motor home that would serve as the primary residence for him and Nell as they went off to see the world.
As his retirement date drew near that seductive possibility was harder than ever to resist. In the end, however, his nagging wanderlust---the lure of “places-to-see” and “people-to-meet,” while visiting the remote corners of the US and beyond, had only complicated things.
As the story I call Family Matters opens, Dan has concluded that his carefully constructed dream is a perfectly reasonable vision of what retirement ought to be. The truth and the attraction of it was so self-evident---at least until he realizes that Nell has created her own, very different notion of their Golden Years. For decades she had followed her husband all over the state, from job to job. Every few years she had been forced to establish a new home in a new town. Finally, after half a dozen such moves they had returned to Tanner, where their odyssey had begun all those years before. To her way of thinking they were finally home. More to the point, she was determined never to move again.
So while Nell looks forward to the permanency of their Tanner retirement, Dan continues to dream his “on-the-road” dreams---of going off to see the world, unimpeded by the anchoring limitations of a permanent home. The logic of it is so clear to him. But in the face of her objections why would he continue to dream that dream? Why is he so eager to dismiss her desires for a very different future? What could he possibly be thinking? I believe I’ll ask him.
(Me) “Tell me Dan, why does it look like you’re walking all over your wife’s dream? I learned a long time ago that’s not really a good idea.”
(Dan) “Believe me, I don’t mean to be putting her down. I just keep hoping that she’ll finally come to her senses---to realize how great it would be to see all those places we’ve dreamed of seeing and do the things we’ve always wanted to do.”
(Me) “What makes you think that both of you have ‘always dreamed’ about seeing those places and doing those things? Could it be that you’re trying to turn your dream into her dream? If that’s so, what if she doesn’t claim your idea of retirement? What happens then?”
(Dan) “I suppose you could say that is what’s happened---at least up to now. She’s just so darn stubborn. I’m offering the perfect way for us to get out from under all the stupid stuff that comes with owning a home---the housekeeping, and yard work, and gardening. We could put all that behind us. We’d be free to go wherever we wanted to go, for as long as we wanted. Can’t you see how great that would be?”
(Me) “It doesn’t matter what I can see. This is about Nell. And I’m guessing that what you’re describing doesn’t appeal to her? It’s not the way she wants to spend her retirement. Right?”
(Dan) “You can say that again. She says that she’s actually looking forward to the gardening, and all her silly clubs---all the stuff that keeps us here in Tanner. That’s what she wants. Can you believe it? The very things I want to get away from---the day to day chores and upkeep, the meetings that never seem to end---are exactly what she wants more of.”
(Me) “Why do you suppose that is?”
(Dan) “I don’t have a clue. I keep asking her to explain, but she can’t---at least not in a way that makes any sense to me. It’s like she’s living in some other world.”
(Me) “Would you mind if I took a guess---a slightly different take on what you might be dealing with? I may be wrong, but I’d like to hear what you think.”
(Dan) “Go ahead. God knows I’d like to find someone who can sort it out for me.”
(Me) “Well then, how about this? What if the two of you are bumping heads because you don’t agree on what each of you means when you talk about ‘home’? Maybe the word means something different to her than it does to you. Could that be the ‘other world’ you talk about? (As you might guess by now, I’m prone to playing the pseudo-wise guru.)
(Dan) “What the hell does that mean?”
(Me) “You tell me. If I backed you into a corner and forced you to define ‘home,’ how would you do that? What does it mean to you? How would you describe it?”
(Dan) (I won’t include all his false starts---the hemming and hawing that proceeded his final reply.) “It seems to me that when you get right down to it, home can be anyplace we want it to be---wherever Nell and I are together. It’s not about a certain piece of land or some special building. It’s a matter of being happy together wherever we are. That’s what makes full-time RVing so appealing to me. We could go anywhere we wanted, and still be home.”
(Me) “So, how about Nell? If I asked her to describe ‘home,’ would her answer be the same as yours? Would she agree with your ‘home can be anywhere you are together’ idea?”
(Dan) “Not a chance. Her idea of home is right here in Tanner. It’s the house we live in now, along with her friends, and gardens, and clubs, and church. For her it’s all about this particular place and everything that goes with it. Every time I try to explain that it doesn’t have to be like that, she throws all her Tanner stuff back in my face.”
(Me) “So the real hang up, what has you two at each other’s throats, is the notion of ‘home,’ and what that means to each of you. You simply don’t agree about that. Right?”
(Dan) “I suppose that’s it.” (He paused a moment, before asking his question.) “If that’s true, how the heck do we get past it? Can you see any way for us to do that?”
(Me) “Oh man, I don’t know. I’m pretty sure it’s wouldn’t be easy. It would be a complicated thing. I’ll bet I could write a whole book about that. In fact, I think I have.”
There you have it. The scene has been set and the Padgetts’ frustrating dilemma has been spelled out for everyone to see. What if it was you? How would you define “home?” Can you imagine how their Family Matters story will play out?