Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Pilot Father

** Since today is Father's Day, I asked Steve to write a guest blog post about being a pilot and a father. 


When I look back to when I was a kid, I have very fond memories of summertime (as I am sure most of us do).  Aside from not having to go to school for 3 months, one of the things I enjoyed most about summer was our family vacations.  Every year my parents would pack my sister and I up and head down to Sanibel Island, Florida for a week or two of relaxing beach time.  Days filled with swimming, playing in the sand & even fishing on a charter boat for tarpon. Memories to be cherished forever; however, there was an even bigger reason I enjoyed our family vacations so much.  Flying!  Yes, the highlight of my summers was flying to and from Florida.  As a little boy, I was amazed with flight.  From the first flight I ever took, something captured me.  I could not get enough of it.  One time my dad took me to Pittsburgh to see a baseball game and all I wanted was to stop at the airport and watch airplanes.  Baseball games were cool, but the sound and sight of a Boeing 727 roaring down the runway taking flight was much more appealing to me!  I was going to be a major airline pilot!

For a short period of time, I considered studying architecture in college; however, when it came time for me to choose what I was going to do for the next 40 years of my life, I was drawn back to aviation.  In the fall of 1993, I enrolled in the Aerospace Flight Technology program at a state University.  The program is designed to take someone with zero flight experience to a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI).  Becoming a CFI built flight time which would hopefully lead to a job flying for charter company, corporate flight department or regional airline.  The program was very time intensive and could put a cramp on the college lifestyle, but I was focused on making flying my career.  In the spring of 1998, I graduated with a B.S. in aviation. 

In the summer of 1998 I began flying for a small corporate company in town close to the University I attended.  This was a great job.  I had 4 days off a week with most weekends and holidays off.  I was living the dream!  It was during this time that I met my beautiful wife Joanna (March 29, 1999 to be exact).  Soon, the dream ended when in July 1999, my boss called me and told me to start looking for work because the company was selling their airplane. As it turns out, the timing of my layoff was perfect because the regional airlines were at the beginning of a hiring spree.  By September 1999, I found myself flying as a First Officer for a large regional airline.  Only a year and a half later, I was upgrading to captain!  This job did not offer me the freedom of my corporate job as I had to work most weekends and holidays, but  it was worth the sacrifice because it put me one step closer to flying for a major airline!  On June 21, 2003, Joanna and I were married.  This is the day she became an airline pilots wife.  By September of 2006, I had been hired into my dream job at a major airline.  Now my schedule really sucked as I was at the bottom of the totem pole and I had to commute to work.  The schedule didn't bother me all that much, after all, this is what I wanted.  I knew going into the job that I would work every holiday and every weekend.  Life wasn't too bad!

In December 2006, Joanna called me while I was sitting reserve in my crash pad and gave me the best news I have ever received.  I was going to be a dad!  The next 9 months went by in a flash.  By May 2007, I had managed to be based at home.  What a relief!  On  August 5 around noon, just after landing in Newark, NJ, Joanna phoned me to let me know she was in labor.  She was only 37 weeks pregnant, so her calling me to tell me she was in labor was the last thing I would have expected from that call.  Thoughts of me not making it home for our baby's birth flashed through my mind.  I called my Assistant Chief Pilot and explained the situation.  He released from the obligations of my trip and sent me home positive space on the next available flight.  I landed around 5pm and bolted for home.  Joanna was still progressing through her labor.  We left for the hospital around 7pm and our son Ben was born at 12:31am (August 6, 2007).  Close call, but everything worked out!


I took Family Medical Leave (FMLA) for the next two months.  This was planned in advance.  I wanted to to be around for the first days of Ben's life.  I also wanted to help Joanna adjust to being a new mommy.  As it turns out, Ben had colic and would cry for what felt like hours on end.  Nothing but the sound of the bathroom vent fan would soothe him.  After two months of what seemed like endless crying, I was ready to get back to work, so in early October 2007, I was back in the air.

Over the coming months I grew more and more attached to Ben.  He was developing a personality.  He was becoming a little person.  Everything he did made me happy.  It seems as though he changed over night.  I would leave for a 4 day trip and come home to find him bigger or having learned something new while I was gone.  If I could only count the number of firsts I missed (thank goodness for video cameras).  But still, working weekends and holidays was not a big deal.  After all, Ben didn't have school or even know what a holiday was, he was just happy to bounce around in his jumper!

November 12, 2008, Joanna wakes me up to tell me the good news.  She is pregnant with our second!  Awesome!  This time, I decide I will start my FMLA earlier, just so I don't chance missing #2's birth.  Thankfully I managed to make it to my FMLA before Joanna went into labor!  The morning of July 12, around 4:30am, Joanna wakes me up again.  This time to tell me she is in labor.  I asked her how far apart her contractions were and she said 2 minutes.  What?!  The hospital is 45 minutes away, we've got to go!  Our neighbor watched Ben and we were on our way to the hospital.  We arrived at the hospital shortly before 6 am and our daughter Cecilia was born at 6:24.  We barely made it!

Just as with Ben, I took 2 months of FMLA.  I didn't want to miss the first days of Cecilia's life either!  CC was the complete opposite of the way Ben was as a baby.  She slept like a champ and cried only when she needed something.  The next two months went by in a flash.  This time at home not only let me get to know my new daughter, but it also drew me closer to Ben.  I didn't have to worry about when was leaving for my next trip!  Life was good!  Ben had developed into a little boy and Cecilia was a little sweetheart.  Going back to work was much more difficult this time around.

Now, Ben is almost 5 and Cecilia is almost 3.  Leaving for every trip is difficult.  Both of them are so much a part of me and I hate missing seeing them grow up.  Yes, my schedule is much better now, but I only have 3 days a week I am with them.  Not enough!  When I am home, I try to play with them and engage with them as much as I can.  I must take advantage of the time I have to spend with them!  I don't want them to grow up with memories of how daddy was never there.  When I come home from trips, I bring them chocolate treats from the airplane so they know I was thinking about them.  Holidays are also tough, but we manage.  For now the kids don't know the exact day a holiday falls on, so if I have to work, we just move the day to suite us.  That works for now, but sooner that later, they will figure this out.  Fortunately, my seniority has improved to the point where I get about 1/2 of the holidays off.  Hopefully by the time they know the actual days the holidays fall on, I will be senior enough to have them off anyway!

Sometimes it is tough when I get home from a trip where my body clock has been jerked through 2 or 3 time zones over 4 days.  My body is both mentally and physically exhausted.  I come home to kids that are so excited to see me.  All they want to do is be with me and that is very cool.  The love and energy they show towards me is absolutely amazing.  Most of the time I power through and all is good.  Sometimes, I just don't have the energy and I am a dud when I get home.  That sucks and I pray they don't remember those days!

I still love being a pilot.  I can not imagine sitting behind a desk for 12 hours a day.  My job offers opportunities to travel with my family all over the world.  Both of my kids have already had the pleasure of flying first class and they will soon have pleasure of flying to Poland to visit family.  All perks of the job. My job has also afforded my family the opportunity to live very comfortably.  I often ask myself if the job is worth it in the long run.  I still don't know.  Yes, I love what I do, but I love my family even more.  This is one thing they didn't teach me in college.  No one told me how tough this profession would be with a family and even if they did, I was so eager to fly, I wouldn't have listened.  Hopefully when it is all said and done, my kids will be none the wiser and will not resent me for being gone.  They say "reality is the world in which you live in".  I pray this is true and my kids will overlook the bad about this career and remember all of the good.  For now, I am optimistic.  My schedules are getting better and I am enjoying every second I can spend with my family!

Joanna asked me to write a special blog today, as it is Father's Day.  Yes, I was reluctant to do write this at first, but after a bit of pestering from her I finally sat down and wrote this.  I am happy to share with you how I got started in aviation, and how I have developed into the father I am today.  If there is one piece of advice I would give to the aspiring pilot it would be follow your dreams, but don't ever loose perspective.  Keep family your #1 priority and everything else will fall into place!  And to all the fellow pilot father's out there, give your kids all you've got, they're worth it!

Happy Father's Day!

5 comments:

  1. Happy Father's Day to you! It was endearing reading this from a pilot that is not my husband. Continue setting a good example for the kids and giving them all you have when you are with them...they will remember that for sure!

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  2. This was such a sweet post! It actually made me a bit teary-eyed. My husband is a pilot, and his dreams don't sound much different from yours. We don't have kids yet but we'd like to some day, and I know having a parent who is a pilot can be tough. It's nice to know that there are men out there who do miss their families, and think of them too, while they are gone from home. This post makes me 'slightly' less scared for when we do have kids some day! Happy Fathers day.

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  3. Ditto what Ashley said. As a pilot wife without kids yet, it was nice to read this from the pilot's point of view.

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  4. I come from a different perspective, the middle age son of a deceased pilot for a major airline. It worked out just fine, I think. When confronted with a question about what to do my normal analysis is “What would the Captain do?” Keep spending quality time with your kids. Take advantage of the ability to travel with them.

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  5. Thank you all for your comments and kind words. Since Steve wrote this post I didn't want to reply to his post, but I had to acknowledge everyone.

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