A rough week, early retirement, and my dad

September 10, 2023

I’ve had a pretty rough week. My dad passed away from lung cancer.

He was first diagnosed six weeks ago, so it all happened very fast. It feels surreal, of course.

Dad was 64 years old. I mention that because the official retirement age here in The Netherlands—the age when you receive your government pension and the pension you build up through your work—is 67. Most people work until that age.

Dad worked at a variety of banks throughout his career, usually in payment processing. While his work was sometimes rewarding and at times socially engaging, he also spent many miserable years going to the office five days a week and feeling like he wasn’t contributing much. Feeling like he was wasting his time.

If he hadn’t decided, seven years ago, to “retire” early, he’d have been working right up until the last few weeks of his life. Fortunately he did make that leap, when almost nobody else he knew was brave enough to do so.

Because he quit his job, my dad was able to dive deeply into his passion of nature photography. He’d often get up at 2:30 am, meet a friend, and drive for hours to photograph birds or butterflies or other wildlife at dawn. Then he’d drive back and, by the time I’d wake up around 9 am, he’d be sitting at his iMac, editing some of the thousands of photos he’d taken that morning. He’d eagerly show me which ones came out particularly well. Last year, he made the trip of his life to Kruger National Park in South Africa, where he photographed the “big five” as well as countless other beautiful animals.

Because he “retired” early, he was also able to volunteer at our town’s “PC help desk”, where people from all walks of life came to ask him and his colleagues for help with re-gaining access to their email account, with setting up their new iPad, or with recovering a lost document. He was the resident Apple specialist.

Because he didn’t keep working until when he was “supposed to”, he was able to babysit my nephew—his grandson—1.5 days a week for the first 2.5 years of his life. He was an incredibly proud grandpa and told everyone so.

Dad was also able to spend a lot of time enjoying comic books, the latest Apple technology, nature programs on TV, and countless other things that made him who he was.

And, perhaps most importantly, in recent years he was able to spend lots of time with my mom, exploring the British countryside, or the mountains of Austria, or their favorite Dutch national park.

I know many people are not in the financial position to “retire” earlier. Then again, many people are. And many other people could be, if they changed their spending patterns.

It’s not my place to judge whether you’re saving enough or whether you have the ability to. But I wanted to share my dad’s story to remind you that life is short and may not go according to plan. Enjoy it while you can.

And speaking of enjoying, here’s a photo my dad took in the woods near our hometown in the fall, his favorite season. I hope you appreciate it.

Tall, leafy trees line a lane that is also covered with leafs. The leaves have fall colors.
A fall scene in the Spanderswoud, ‘s Graveland, The Netherlands.

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