If you had asked me about our plans 3 months ago, I would have said that we aim to finish up work in Johannesburg and return to Australia to be closer to our children and their growing families. Yet now we’re planning to go to Malta for a couple of years, or so. So how did that happen?
I have to tell you that as much as I am excited about the prospect seeing more of our children, and as much as I feel that seeing more of children and grandchildren is inherently “right”, I’m scared of stopping work. I’ve been working for thirty years, and my current role has been the most enjoyable of my career. The intellectual stimulation, the affirmation, working with highly talented people towards various goals, the cut and thrust of business. It’s what I know, it’s how I tick, it mobilises me. And in so many ways it defines me. And yet we can all be so much more than our work. I know this.
There’s an additional dynamic in our case. My career has been an expatriate one since our three boys were around 10 years old, and we (our nuclear family) have really been grown by that. It meant that my job was not just my job, but that we all experienced change in seismic shifts, as we moved from Melbourne to Fiji, from Fiji to Sydney, and from Sydney to Toronto. I remember as if it were yesterday when we transitioned from a hot Sydney summer in December 2009 to Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, in Canada. We boarded a plane in 32 degrees Celsius, and we deplaned 18 hours later in minus 28 degrees Celsius. Amazing! We loved it!
When we left Toronto, our empty-nest phase arrived unexpectedly, a hazy prospect on the horizon hatched suddenly by an unexpected (yet welcome) phone call from Dallas. One day we were a happy family living in our house; husband, wife and three sons in university, and four weeks later Jen and I were once again “just the two of us”, back in the buzz of our beloved Jozi (Johannesburg). Not quite the classic empty-nest template: we, the parents, abandoned the nest with our fledgling boys still in it, and then we sold it out from under them and evicted them to residence at University! Honestly, they were delighted, but we lost the opportunity to process what just happened; the significant change in our family overshadowed by the distraction of an international move and the exciting demands of a new role.
Our boys graduated from their various courses in Toronto, our youngest Ben finished first and went to Perth, Australia for an internship, and over the next two years, his two brothers joined him there. Our family had never lived in Perth, but when one raises children who are global citizens, one should not be surprised if they change cities and move countries as easily as some people take the bus. (And just quietly, Jen and I love the fact that the brothers are so close that they follow each other around the world).
Why is this relevant to this story? Well, not only have we been blessed by my rewarding career, but it has been characterised by exciting changes in our surroundings, and after so long on the road, we don’t have a place to which we feel we should return. For us, home is wherever we are.
I’m afraid to retreat to the relative banality of suburbia
And I’m afraid to retreat to the relative banality of suburbia. I’m scared of being bored. In essence, I’m terrified of transitioning from the Managing Director of KFC Africa to being the Managing Director of our home. (It’s a brilliant plan, what could go wrong?)
Through the counsel of good friends and those who have gone before us, we realised that going from “100 to zero”, downshifting from a highly stimulating leadership role, will require a transition, some unlearning and perhaps a literal interim chapter in our book of life. As I move out of work into something else, I am unlikely to remain the same. I am going to become more, or I am going to become less. So Jennifer and are hoping for a chapter of our lives where we see more of our children, where we invest thoughtfully into our 30-year marriage, where I dig deeper into my Christian faith and make myself more available to God. And where I grow into somebody more, rather than retreat into somebody less.
We identified that this crucial phase should not be around the corner from the children, in the suburbs of Perth, nor where we are now in Johannesburg (where both Jen and I are inevitably defined by my role), but somewhere neutral. We explored moving to the Central Coast, north of Sydney, where we have spent several holidays, but when we visited with a view to potentially moving there permanently, we felt like fish out of water. And then a friend suggested we consider somewhere like Mauritius, halfway between South Africa and Perth, it could be a nice in-betweener.
It was a halfhearted exploration on my part, more vague curiosity than avid interest, and as I enlisted the help of my research assistant (Google), I quickly discovered that there are a number of countries in the world like Mauritius, which have property-linked residency investment programmes. And Malta is one of these countries. Simply put, we can rent a property there, and be granted Malta and EU residence for a while.
And so it was that we explored, we prayed, we sought counsel from others, and we ultimately landed comfortably with the idea that Malta will be a perfect base for us for now. On the one hand, we’ll be downshifting, as I stop work. On the other hand, we hope to create a new shared adventure as we recalibrate how we live. I can’t wait to change things up, to explore Europe with Jen on my arm, to read, to write, to grow and to be. We still plan to see much more of our children in Australia, given that we’ll have more time. And I’m looking forward to studying a Masters in Christian and Classical Studies on the very island where Paul was shipwrecked en route to Rome (Acts 27:31).