"Why don't you give your blueprints to the phone company?" my 12-year-old enquiring mind asked.
My grandfather replied, "I'm going to retire in a few months. The company doesn't care about my ideas once I leave."
I was surprised to hear his answer. Surely, a man who had been with Ma Bell since the early 1900s was an invaluable asset. They had to have some respect for his vast knowledge.
Granddad Hansen made the comments to me as he proudly displayed his ideas. It was 1957. He had designed an entirely new switching system that would modernize phone company electrical connections.
I thought Granddad was just being modest. If he would just push his ideas with the telephone brass, I was certain he would be recognized. However, he refused and insisted that no one would care.
At that point, I made up my mind that whatever profession I entered in the future, I would be invaluable to others after retirement. I would spend a lifetime acquiring knowledge about my job and help those who followed in my footsteps long after my departure.
I entered the field of psychotherapy. I received advanced degrees in the subject and postgraduate training in psychopharmacology. I teamed up in private practice with a well-respected psychiatrist and two psychologists in the area. I constantly kept up with continuing education via various university courses, as well as those sponsored by the California Medical Association. I was an oral examiner for the state boards. I even had faculty appointments in two graduate schools. I testified as an expert witness in civil trials. The experience of thousands of hours in clinical work would certainly be useful to younger therapists, once the decision was made to take down my shingle.
Then retirement came in 1995. There was no fanfare, no tears, no "We need you," or "Please stay in touch as a resource." It was as if I had never existed. In the 17 years since, only one practicing colleague has consulted with me. The only other phone call received was a request for records from a patient seen back in 1988.
Maybe Granddad had been right all along. But on the other hand, maybe it was just me.
So I asked a couple of physician friends who had also retired. One was an ear, nose and throat specialist, and the other was a pediatrician. Both had extensive professional backgrounds. Both told me the same story. Once you walk out that door, nobody cares about knowledge acquired from those many years of practice or what you can teach others.
My father, who died in 1993, had a global reputation as an oral pathologist. He was a department chair at the University of California, San Francisco. Dad also testified in numerous civil trials and had published over 200 professional papers.
Recently however, while doing a Google search, I found only a small sample of his work.
I don't think retired professionals are asking for accolades, awards or even formal recognition. We had our day in the sun, and we certainly welcome younger folks who follow in our footsteps. But what I knew in my field then versus what I know now is like comparing a Ford Pinto to a Shelby Cobra GT 500.
It just seems unfortunate that the resources of millions of experiential hours, belonging to thousands of retired professionals in so many settings, go quietly unnoticed and untapped.
Steve Hansen is a Lodi writer.