Richard Duhaime is a U.S. Navy veteran who grew up in New Hampshire. He initially worked as a photographer, then became a diver fixing submarines underwater. After his stint ended, he took 18 years off to raise his four children while working in construction.
In his 40s, Richard went back into the Navy Reserves as a carpenter, where he constructed buildings in the Middle East. After turning 50, he still worked as a commercial diver and slowly segued into being an instructor at an underwater welding school.
“I still substitute teach at that school, but I haven’t been diving for pay since I was 55. There’s a point when companies put you out to pasture,” said Richard. “You aren’t scuba diving with a tank on your back. It’s more like a fiberglass helmet connected to a hose while you work under container ships and oil tankers. Companies really want 20-year-olds doing that kind of work.”
When he stopped diving, Richard became a Workamper who traveled around America in his RV working short-term jobs for a season. Some of his favorites involved working at a Christian summer camp, but he also drove a train at a zoo and even operated a merry-go-round. He worked those jobs to give him an opportunity to spend extended time with his children and grandchildren.
“I have a 27-foot Class A motorhome and just drive wherever I want to go,” said Richard.
“I got the RV when I came home from Afghanistan. After getting divorced, I wasn’t sure where to live. I didn’t want to buy a home and I didn’t want to start putting down roots,” he explained. “My children were spreading out pretty far, so I went straight into the motorhome in 2014.”
Workamping offers variety
Workamping usually gives RVers a free space to park their RVs as well as some money to support themselves. But it also gives them tremendous variety in things to do and places to visit.
“You shouldn’t really be in debt and try to be a Workamper,” said Richard. “The jobs often pay minimum wage or are volunteer positions that come with a free RV site.”
The money he earns from his Navy retirement, Social Security and income he makes from Workamping, allows Richard to live a more nomadic lifestyle.
“When I worked at the zoo, my grandkids had a season pass and would come spend an hour and a half there some days, then we’d have lunch together and they’d go home,” he explained.
“Probably the best Workamping job, as far as making money is concerned, was working for the sugar beet harvest in northern Minnesota. I could make something like $6,500 in 19 days,” he added. “But it involved really long 12-hour days, and I was out in the wind and cold.”
Richard also made some pretty good money working on a lobster boat in Maine one year. But, he doesn’t like traveling just for the sake of traveling. He likes RVing to see friends and family as well as hang out with other people.
“At the summer camp, I was mainly their carpenter. If it was made of wood and broke, they’d send me to fix it,” he explained. “But I would also help with canoeing and swimming. At night, I’d tell stories at the campfire.
“I had to go through a background check so, if they were short-staffed, I might be assigned to guide a group of 10 little boys,” he added. “It’s just a great way to be with friends and still be part of something bigger than yourself.”
Connecting with his grandchildren
Richard said the best part about Workamping is being able to stay connected with his children and grandchildren throughout the year, and for extended periods of time.
“When I go over to their house, my grandchildren want to show me the newest thing they did or something they colored,” he explained. “I helped another daughter build a home.
“I know some grandparents don’t really know their grandchildren as much as they wish they did because they still have to work, or they are confined to a sticks-and-bricks home in a certain area,” he said. “In my case, with the RV, I can be really close to my grandkids and chase them around.”
Richard tries to connect with each set of grandchildren twice a year. He will live near one for a while and then try to find a job near the others. Around Christmas, he tries to get an AirBnB somewhere so everyone can spend time together.
Because Richard is a fabulous storyteller, he relished the opportunity to share stories of his exploits with his grandchildren, especially around campfires. In fact, he wrote a book to remind them of all the adventures he enjoyed by himself and with the kids.
“It’s titled ‘Grandpa’s S’moresmobile.’ It’s about my five grandchildren and I doing things together,” he explained. “I compare my motorhome to a turtle’s shell or a covered wagon that settlers used. It describes enjoying a popsicle, visiting the beach, going fishing, watching hot air balloons and, of course, making s’mores around the campfire.”
Smores are favorite treats to make when camping. They are basically graham cracker sandwiches with a melted marshmallow and piece of chocolate smooshed together.
“I wrote the book in hopes my children would read it to my grandkids to remind them of all the things we got to do last time grandpa visited,” said Richard. “I had a few books printed for my own family, and they encouraged me to sell them.”
After getting the book illustrated, Richard had the artist create a coloring book to go with it. That way, kids could read the story and color pictures about it later.
There is also a faith-based element to the book in that it talks about the need to connect to Jesus wherever people may be, even if it’s in a motorhome.
Richard recalls his father having regrets in that he worked as a mechanic because it paid the bills. But, in his heart, he really wished he worked as a carpenter.
“I asked him why he just didn’t do that, but he said he couldn’t take the risk to follow that dream,” Richard explained. “He had six kids to feed, so he worked at a job he hated. Then he died at 51, so my father never had any type of job satisfaction.
“My mother retired at 65 and died the next month,” he added. “That’s why I dedicated my book to my parents for encouraging us to follow our dreams.
“They always dreamed of going to the Grand Canyon, visiting Yellowstone, and buying a motorhome, especially one with big windows,” he explained. “But, they never got to do any of it.”
Richard said many older people deny their own dreams in order to leave a lot of money to their kids. He believes it would be a much better legacy to spend time with them and show what it looks like pursue your own dreams, so their children see what’s possible.
“All my kids are doing fine. Eventually, they will get an inheritance, but they don’t need one,” he explained. “We raised them right and they are doing good.
“A lot of us older adults worry about the future, but I say just let it happen, especially with the world being so crazy nowadays,” said Richard. “I am not waiting for anything. I’m going to do things now because we really don’t know how much longer we have, if we wait.
“I never want to be someone who tells my kids, ‘Oh, I wish I would have done that,’” he explained. “I want them to remember me as a guy who wanted to chase his dreams, and he did.”
Having personal space
Sometimes Richard wishes he had a homestead where everyone could visit him and spend time together.
“As it is, I have routes that I follow to visit everyone,” he explained. “The problem is that once I am down the road and they are in the rear view mirror, I’m just a fun memory.”
It is nice to travel to his grandchildren and spend extended time with them without being a burden by having to stay in their homes. Having his own RV gives everyone some space and his visits aren’t terribly disruptive to the family’s routine.
“When I was working in Maine, everyone in that little town worked on the ocean. They graduated from high school and went to work on lobster boats,” he explained. “They went to work and went home. My friends in Maine get to see their grandchildren all the time, and even go to their baseball games. So I miss that aspect.
“But, because my kids are in Arizona, Tennessee and South Dakota, they are spread out. So having the RV works to allow me to spend time with each of them during the year,” he added.
As a quasi-expert on grandparenting, Richard has some advice for seasoned citizens to maintain good relationships with their children and grandchildren.
“First of all, don’t preach at your adult kids. Rather, answer their questions when they ask,” he explained. “Most of the time, they’re succeeding and doing good. So don’t feel like you need to preach at them.”
It’s more important to spend time with children and grandchildren now, while you still have the ability to model behaviors and influence their lives, he added.
“I always think about having a stroke and how horrible it would be to not think clearly or be able to communicate what you’re thinking,” said Richard. “That’s why I want to do everything now so I don’t have those regrets.”
Richard has enjoyed a good deal of travel during his life, but he’s not done yet. There are a few things still remaining on his bucket list, and he’s adding more every year.
“Someday, I want to go to the Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque in October,” he explained. “The last two years, I have worked at the beet harvest, which takes place at the same time.
“But, I think it would be so much fun to just get up in the morning and drink coffee while staring at the balloons as they float through the sky,” he said. “Then, in the evening, they do those balloon glows where the colorful balloons are illuminated by flame coming from the heater to create hot air.”
Richard tried to get a job at the fiesta one year, but was told there were 1,200 volunteers who love being around hot air balloons. In addition to viewing balloons, he’d like to try his hand at stained glass art.
“I just like the history of old churches back in the day when they had stained-glass windows,” he explained. “I received a gift certificate for lessons a few years ago and I made a butterfly and a lobster boat. I’d like to revive that hobby.”
He also envisions writing additional children’s books, especially if they pertain to adventures people can enjoy.
“When I teach little kids at the camp, I tell a missionary story about a man named Marty McMissionary who goes around on a sailboat enjoying all kinds of adventures,” he explained. “One of the kids told me that I make him feel like he’s right there on the mission, too.
“I even had one young man tell me he was going to write a video game about Marty’s adventures,” said Richard. “I told him he could keep all the royalties because he would deserve it.”
It’s easy for Richard to come up with those stories after serving as a missionary in Ethiopia, India, Namibia, Central America and the Dominican Republic.
“Many of the trips were a few weeks or a couple of months. One year, I lived in a tent in Ethiopia,” he said. “My time in the Navy was almost like being on a mission, too.
“The hard part now is having to go through all the rigamarole, like getting vaccines, just to be admitted in the countries,” said Richard. “I didn’t finish college, and a lot of countries only want people with degrees. Their attitude is they already have laborers and need managers. In a lot of countries, you can’t stay longer than a few weeks without a degree.”
Advice for people over 50
In analyzing what to do after turning 50, Richard recommends starting with a yellow pad and making a list of what you’re passionate about.
“Then make some manageable goals regarding how to start chasing some of those dreams,” he said. “It’s more than just daydreaming. Making a list helps you think better and to plan ahead to help you check things off your list.”
After closing his business and enduring several painful years of uncertainty regarding what to do with his life, Greg founded Forward From 50 to help men and women over 50 to live more purposeful lives by pursuing things they are passionate about. A Wisconsin native, Greg currently lives in Arizona.