Not quite the same thing as a mid-life crisis…
But it will do.
I’m at the 23 year mark in the Navy this spring. Having just made captain last summer, I must spend three years (two, with a waiver) as a captain to retire at that grade. Which will neatly mesh with the last longevity pay step at the 26 year mark. And, I’m up for orders soon, orders ashore most likely. Three-year orders, in other words – the first shore duty orders I will have received since 1996.
They will quite possibly be my last set of orders in the Navy. Oh, I could go on to 30 years, eke out another four years of duty, max out the percentage points. But even on a 30 year career, I’ll have to find work again – seven years from now the Biscuit will still be in college, and the Kat will just be starting. It will be no time to walk the beach, growing a pony tail. And 26 years makes good sense, if you’re going to start a second career – there’s a big difference, I am told, between starting a job hunt at 47, and starting one at 51.
It seems impossible to believe – I can scarcely comprehend – that the life I’ve known since I was I was 17 years old is coming, if not to its end, at least to the beginning of the end. The next job I take will very likely be the last job – it will either set the stage for all that comes after, or it will not.
Now, there are places in the US where a family could live quite comfortably on a captain’s retirement. San Diego, however, is not one of them. And yet, my little clan of neptuni has found a home here in San Diego. We have so often moved, the children have so often left their friends behind. These are the psychic costs of service – costs that do not seem so burdensome when you are in your twenties and thirties, when life is very much an adventure of discovery, but which start to accumulate with interest as the moss starts to grow under your feet. When you become comfortable.
When, suddenly, it stops being about you.
Son Number One had lived in two countries, eight cities and 12 houses by the time he was 14 years old. He’s gone on now, in order to demonstrate that children, however much they are loved, will leave home. But for the girls at least, there’s a part of me that wants to make the rest of their lives while they’re still at home as much like “normal” peoples’ live as I can, at this late point. Neighborhoods and friends, like I had. Stability. Predictability.
If I had someplace to go, someplace important to be, I think I’d still go there – but I’m past the age for service on the battle line. My days of combat are over, I have seen the wolf (under arms) for the last time. It’s staff work, from now on. A job, like other people have.
When I was young, before I’d made any of the really big choices, I used to wish that I could split myself each time I came upon one of those either/or decisions: College, marriage, career – I would go both ways, over and over again. And at the end of the day, we would all meet up again at the retirement home and talk about the paths we had taken, the things we had seen, the lives we had led.
But you don’t get to do that, so you make the best choices you can, informed at each opportunity by researching and soul searching. As Yogi Berra famously said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
If it were just up to me? I’d take a job at the Naval War College, or at National in D.C. – I’d get a master’s degree, and stay on to teach for another three years or so. In that time I’d find a way to get a doctoral degree, and upon retirement I’d set myself up as a professor or mid-level administrator in some small, private college with a modest reputation. Bowdoin, for example. I can see it now: Holding forth at length with great erudition and uncommon insight. A tweed jacket with leather patches at the elbows. A meerschaum pipe. Single malt scotch. Co-eds.
Did I say that out loud? Excuse me. No internal monologue.
But that’s unlikely – I sense that I am a bit out of favor with the company, being as I am ineligible for major command at sea and having declined the opportunity for major command ashore. A long story, with which I shall not burden you except to say that while there are some who would, like Milton’s anti-hero, prefer to rule in hell than serve in heaven, your humble scribe no longer counts himself among that set. And it would mean another move. And that would break the girls’ hearts.
Which I decline to do.
Another part of me wants to settle back and write my book. The Good American Novel. It’s all locked up inside my head, ready and waiting to be released. It’s just that I don’t have the key, and haven’t the slightest idea where to find it, and can’t afford to spend much time looking for it. So that’s out.
I had researched a job here in San Diego with a part of the acquisition force – a trigger-puller buying weapons systems, what a novel concept. But despite an initial flare of interest, that particular souffl?