Empty Nest to Entrepreneur

Many years ago, I read about a sociological ‘crossover’ effect in relationship lifestyles. Now I see evidence of it around me (and in my life).

The phenomenon can be described as follows: Women tend to start adult life more interested in ‘nesting’ than in career, while men tend to start adult life with a strong career orientation. About midlife, a crossover can be seen in that men become more involved in nesting activities, while women are moving out into the world and developing a career.

For example, when there’s a divorce, men may marry a younger woman and when there are babies in this new marriage, the dads determine to do it differently this time. That is, to be involved with the children rather than focused only on career. Frequently, they can afford to do this because of the success from earlier career focus. In other couples, the man is staying home for health reasons. Since his wife is out building her career, he tends to do some of the homemaking.

I grew up in Muskogee, Okla. As a divorc8Ee, my mother was a single parent, and our income was sparse. My grandparents were entrepreneurs, and Mother worked in their caf8E. I graduated from high school at 17 and was determined to go to college. Fortunately, I won a scholarship to Oklahoma City University. Bob Stauber and I married in the ’50s. While he completed medical school, I became the breadwinner for the first five years, working for Shell Oil Company as a seismograph computer. (I didn’t work with a computer, I was one.) Our first child was born during this time.

When Bob finished his internship and began his tour of duty in the Air Force as an aviation medical examiner, I became a full-time homemaker. Instead of math and science, I made a home, tended to children and did church and community volunteering. We had four daughters by the time Bob was building his private practice in Crystal City, Texas.

When we decided to divorce, I moved to San Antonio and started back to school. My children were teenagers, the youngest 14. Still interested in solving problems, I found that math and science bored me. I wanted more variables, so I began the study of social work and, eventually, psychology. Simultaneously, I was building a career, first as director of the Bexar County Women’s Center, then in private practice as a psychotherapist/psychologist.

Bob Stauber had never really been out of my life. (If there are children, I’m not sure there are any true ‘divorces.’) When our oldest daughter was very ill, we both spent time with her and gradually drifted back together. In time, his emphysema forced him to a medical retirement. He was then a stay-at-home husband, while I continued in the practice of psychology. We had household help for the cleaning tasks, and he did the ‘homemaking.’ He did all of the grocery shopping and much of the cooking and cleaned up after the meals.

He said we failed at our marriage and then we failed at our divorce. This was our version of the sociological crossover phenomenon.

Phyllis Barnes Rosberg has a story with some parallels to mine. Her mother was a single parent, too, a widow. Her father had been a veterinarian who turned entrepreneur in the insurance business. He was one who practiced what he preached, so they were much better off financially than my family was.

College was part of the plan for her at the outset. She also graduated from high school at 17 and attended college at the University of Montana and then the University of Texas. World War II came along, and she abandoned college to work as a messenger at Fort Sam Houston. This was her version of ‘Rosie the Riveter,’ who personified the women who held down the vital jobs at home as the men went off to war. She worked her way up in the system and became a salary and wage analyst. She worked in Hawaii for a while and then went to Washington, D.C.

She met and married Robert Rosberg in the ’50s. Bob was with Hough and Co., which was later absorbed by International Harvester. After a start in Illinois, they moved to San Antonio, where her family lived. Bob was sales representative for Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and New Mexico and traveled in his job. Phyllis was a homemaker, caring for their two daughters and volunteering in the community and church.

As her nest was emptying, Phyllis wanted more in her life. On one annual visit to Illinois, where Bob’s family lived, she read an article in the Chicago Tribune about Madame Wellington “scaring hell out of the diamond business.” Madame Wellington was selling fake diamonds set in 14kt gold. Phyllis was fascinated. She went to Madame Wellington’s business to see it firsthand. She decided she wanted to do something similar.

When she came home, she went to Hammond Company, figuring she could count on them to assist her in her business because her family knew them. They were resistant. She wanted a first-class salon approach in which the customers sit comfortably as the staff brings jewelry pieces to them. She wanted the stones to be set in 14kt and 18kt gold and platinum. People told her she was crazy to put fake diamonds in such settings.

The fake diamonds are actually beautiful cubic zirconium, man-made stones which approach diamonds in hardness but not in cost. In spite of discouragement from many people, Phyllis persevered. In 1971, she opened Diamontrigue. She had convinced Hammond Company to supply the settings.

Diamontrigue is a study in counterpoint. It’s an elegant salon with a family atmosphere. Most of the staff have been there for years. Martha Schmidt, the corporate secretary, has been there since the business opened. Jackie Blanchard is a sales representative and has been there for 25 years. Robyn Hines, Helen Carmichael and John Schermer range in years of service from four to 12. Keith Seidenberger, president of the corporation, buys the stones and takes care of quality control. He is trained by the Gemological Institute of America and very picky, with an 85-percent rejection rate. He insists on only the best. Andy Seidenberger is the new kid on the block.

Bob Rosberg left IH because of his health. He didn’t do the nesting that Bob Stauber did, and he was able to operate some small businesses. After Phyllis started Diamontrigue, he opened a second one. They had His and Hers Diamontrigue stores for a while. Bob died eight years ago, and Phyllis and her staff have carried on.

Phyllis told me, “What got us where we are now was the courage of our convictions.” At that point I realized that while this story started out to be about the so-called crossover effect, it became more of a story about how we women learn to trust our instincts. We have a hard time with that, especially women who married in the ’50s. Women had shown that they could take care of the home front during the war. Then, when the men came home, the propaganda in Ladies’ Home Journal and other sources aimed us at being full-time homemakers. The men needed their jobs back.

The social conditioning not to trust ourselves includes — and is not limited to:
“Be nice” injunctions,
“Sugar and spice and everything nice”— adult disapproval for girls being too sure of themselves,
Employers who belittle their female employees, and
Propaganda to save the jobs for the men who have families to support.
The time has come for women to put the sugar and spice on the shelves and follow trails blazed by Phyllis Rosberg and others.

Author: Rosemary J. Stauber

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