Five Years Ago
Exactly five years ago today I hopped in the car and went to police headquarters. I went up to the personnel section—now Human Resources. I handed them my lieutenant’s star, hat shield, and department ID card. In return, they handed me a new ID card and star both marked retired. As a parting gift for having played the game, they gave me a plastic pen with the department logo on it.
I wasn’t alone that morning. There were a lot of other officers of all ranks pulling the pin along with me. I was happy for that. As a result, it helped to take the edge off the feeling of melancholy I had and helped put an upbeat spin on the morning. I was leaving a career I loved after thirty years.
My dear friend Deb, had driven me to headquarters that morning and insisted on taking me out for lunch. We dined well, accompanied by a bottle or two of champagne. It was a glorious day.
The next morning, I slept in. It was the first time I’d not needed to set an alarm in years. The first month seemed like a normal furlough what with the holidays. There were parties and retirement celebrations to attend. It was a busy time. In January it slowed down.
I remember when my father retired. He kept busy during the warm weather months. There were several other men in the neighborhood his age and retired as well. One of them was always working on some home repair or improvement. Each morning the men would gather in the alley and tell the one doing the work how he was going about it wrong. I remember he said the only time he didn’t like retirement was in the winter. That was when he was bored and lonely.
Before I was a police officer I became partners in a small store. My father lent me the money as much for himself as for me. Each day he stopped by for coffee. He chatted with me and my partner and helped keep an eye on customers when we had our hands full. Each day he made our bank run for us. It was only a couple hours a day and it was all he needed to keep himself occupied and happy.
When I retired I left because I had burned out from my job. At that time, I was off the street and had a pretty nice administrative assignment. I had also recently finished six years as the president of the Lieutenants Union. The pressures of running a unit with about 250 officers along with the union business had worn on me. I needed to leave when I did.
I should have planned for retirement better. Moreover, I knew the issues my father dealt with and it was no surprise to me when I became bored and lonely as well. Toss in a serious bout of sciatic pain that left me in misery for more than a year and I was feeling down and out.
One day I stopped for coffee with a friend. He was telling me about the book he had recently published and the process he went through to get it on the market. We had worked in the same district for a couple years. I thought to myself “If Larry can write a book then I sure as hell can.” It was a little snarky but at least I didn’t tell him that until many months later.
Since that time, I’ve written and published a cookbook, five Sci-Fi novels, a short story, and many articles for Law Enforcement Today. I’m going to start on the sixth novel soon.
I get up each morning, go downstairs, put on the coffee and sit down at the computer. Most days I’ll spend six or seven hours either writing or marketing my work. That’s seven days a week. I’m working more hours than before I retired. I’m waiting for my recent book to come back from my editor and since I can’t do anything more until I have it, I’m going nuts.
The nice thing about this field is I can keep doing it as long as I want. I have no delusions that I am a literary star. I don’t ever expect to win a Pulitzer Prize or even be an NY Times Best Seller. I’ve been told by enough people that they enjoyed my books to convince me that my work is entertaining.
I’ll probably never make enough to buy that drug lord mansion I so desperately want, but it means steak instead of burgers and nice Christmas presents for my sons. More importantly, it keeps my mind active and my spirits up even in the dreariest time of the year.
For those of you officers who are still working but are nearing the end of your career, you need to give some thought to what you plan to do with yourself. If you plan on sitting on the porch and chatting with passing neighbors or tossing a line in the lake looking for the big one or even have a sweetheart job lined up, make sure it’s something you will do with a passion. Make sure it’s something you’ll enjoy doing. You’ve worked hard, suffered hardship and injury. You missed holidays with your family and missed time with your kids. You deserve to enjoy your life once you retire. Make sure you do.
Robert Weisskopf is a retired Chicago police lieutenant. In thirty years, he rose from police officer to sergeant, to lieutenant, serving every role in patrol with 18 months detailed to the Department of Housing and Urban Development leading a team for narcotics enforcement. He became a member of the Lieutenants Union and served as its’ president for six years negotiating two contracts. He also served as vice president of the Illinois Police Benevolent Protective Association. He’s a divorced father with three sons.