Teeing up retirement – ‘Make sure you have at least two hobbies, one away from the house’

Former Gallaher’s employee Frank Quaid made a big mistake on the first day of his retirement in 2000. Well used to eating out with clients as part of his former job, it was coming up to 1pm when he casually asked his wife Mai: “What’s for lunch?”

As an avid golfer, for Mai, a chip is a short shot on to the green, an apron is the trimmed area of grass around it, and lunch is something that might happen with friends after a morning on the links.

“So I looked him in the eye and told him: ‘I don’t do lunch. In fact, I don’t do dinner either.’ He looked shocked. I said, ‘Seriously, you’re expecting me to change the habits of a lifetime? It’s not going to happen.'”

The University of California quotes a number of studies showing that retirement strengthens marriages in the long-term, but as Mai and Frank know, the transition to a new routine doesn’t happen overnight. Like many couples, they found themselves going through an adjustment period before their relationship could move on to be even stronger than before.

“We moved from Dublin to a bungalow in Baltinglass, Co Wicklow, and got involved in Active Retirement Ireland (ARI),” says Mai. “I travelled around the country a lot, and Frank always wanted to know where I was. I know it was out of concern for me, but I’ve always been fiercely independent, so when I saw text messages that read, ‘What time will you be home?’, I mostly ignored them.

“I was national president of ARI for five years. I’m now regional development officer for South Dublin and Wicklow. I’m also the vice-chair of a local community development committee, company secretary of Wicklow Tourism, and on the secretariat of the Public Participation Network. Frank and I have both diverse and shared interests. He took up woodwork, DIY and got involved with the Golfing Union and ARI. We travel a lot and we’re both rugby fanatics.

“We get on very well, although we still have the occasional row. I think the key to a happy marriage is being big enough to say, ‘I’m sorry’. Frank is much nicer and more patient than me – some of our pals call him St Francis. After 59 years of marriage, we still never run out of things to talk about. He’s my best friend.”

Frank interjects to polish his halo before sharing his advice to other people coming up to retirement.

“First, learn how to cook – you might need to if you want to eat,” he says. “Then make sure you have at least two hobbies, one of which is away from the house, and one not weather dependent. Don’t think you’ll be spending lots of time with former work colleagues. You’ll see them maybe once a year. If you’re lucky, your best mate will be living with you. And remember to smile a lot – it really annoys those still working.”

While Mai and Frank are a typical example of a generation where the wife looked after the household and the husband brought home the bacon, Derek Bell, chief operations officer of the Retirement Planning Council (RPC), points out today it is different, with both spouses working outside the home in most cases.

“Usually the man is a little older, so he retires first and claims the home, which means that by the time she retires, he has a routine in place,” he says.

And so begins the transition period, during which couples need to navigate tricky role renegotiations. Those who do so successfully are likely to have put in some preparation by way of retirement planning courses, which are available through bodies like the RPC and Age & Opportunity. The RPC runs a two-day course and recommend that people do it 18 months to two years ahead of retirement.

According to Bell, common friction points after retirement are about who does what and how things are organised. “Some people think retirement is a chance to do everything together, but if you’re together 24/7, conversation will die,” he says. “You need to plan joint activities, but also individual ones. Have a purpose, keep yourself mentally challenged and have a social network – and I don’t mean Facebook. People get 80pc of their human contact through work and 20pc through family and friends. If work is no more, where are they going to get this? We need to get out talking to people.”

Active Retirement Ireland has vibrant local groups in or near almost every community in the country, while Age & Opportunity runs a host of programmes and events designed to encourage people to fulfil their potential in older age. Its Changing Gears course is especially designed to support people moving on from working life into retirement.

“It’s both a pre-retirement resource and a mid-career review opportunity,” says Ciarán McKinney, the organisation’s Manager of Active Citizenship and Lifelong Learning. “I believe the mid-50s is a good time to start planning well ahead for the transition into retirement.

“What we call a ‘Wheel of Life’ audit is a wonderful exercise to do as a couple once a year, especially in planning a smooth transition to retirement. Imagine the different parts of your life as spokes of a wheel – work, family, friends, work/life balance, recreation, spiritual values, finance and your physical whole. Rate your satisfaction in each of these areas. This helps people to identify parts of their lives that need more attention than others, and when they do, it’s very rewarding to look back and see how much things have improved.”

For further information see activeirl.ie, ageandopportunity.ie, rpc.ie.

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