Like None Of It Ever Happened
Being from a larger family has its good and bad points as does anything short of a tooth ache. I grew up fourth of five kids which was good when I wanted to fly under the radar but not great when I wanted to be noticed. We had a nice house, nice cars, good food, and I had clothes to wear. (I rarely wore anything that my older brother hadn’t worn first but it was fine by me). My parents loved me as did my siblings and we had a very nice life. My father was my favorite person in the world, he could fix anything and he knew everything. When it came to bragging about dads in the school yard, I had it easy, my dad was a pilot. That was like throwing down four aces. So even though I missed my dad often as he was almost always away, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. More than anything I wanted to be close to my father, I wanted to be exactly like him.
The breath from my nose would steam up the window of my bedroom as I would stand against it at night and scan the sky for lights. Behind the house jets would line up in trail for PHL. Later in life I would come to find that this was the pattern for arrival to PHL runway 27L. As the lights would pass from right to left across the sky between the large dogwood trees I would count them and make up stories as to where they were from and who was on them, but mostly I would wonder if one was my dad. As little as I knew about these lights that flew across the sky at night, I knew that they were special and the people on them were more special than a little boy with a 9 o’clock bed time. I was down here wishing I was up there with my dad and the special people in the sky.
So as time went on I lived airplanes and would ask my father questions about everything and he, being a pilot, would talk for hours about planes. We became close over talking about this stuff. My siblings were all academic stand outs, I was the one who got B’s. But I didn’t care about grades, I was going to be a pilot and work at my father’s air charter company. He and his business partner had a Charter company since the mid-1960s. It had always been a modest little company but it grew a great deal in the 70s and 80s. They had a flight school, maintenance hangar and a charter company with piston twins, turbo-props and even jets. I figured I could stay there for life. That was the dream.
By the age of 22, I had my Commercial Multi-engine License with an Instrument rating and my CFI. And I was finishing up college because my parents made me get a degree for my own good. Full time school, full time work, and flying lessons kept me too busy to party or even socialize between the ages of 16 and 22. With 4 years of working at my father’s company as a line guy under my belt he let me start giving flight instruction. He made me earn everything, I even had to pay for my flying lessons like everyone else. Plus I was still pumping fuel and towing/washing planes between lessons. I had nowhere else to be anyway. That was fair and he didn’t give me any breaks because he never wanted anyone to say that I was given anything. But even though I paid as much for lessons and worked there overnights by myself year round, everyone still said that my dad gave me my job. So much for that idea.
In time, I was in the right seat of a King Air 200. It was great, I had a degree and a job as a pilot so it was all going to be good now. At 24 I was working the line, instructing, and flying charter twenty some days a month. At this point I still had never tasted alcohol in my life, smoked a cigarette or anything that people smoked. But most importantly, I was flying with my dad. I was a light in the night time sky and all the missed youth was worth it.
At 26 I was a Captain in turbo-props, piston twins also, and beyond my greatest dreams, a Learjet co-pilot. I was flying all over the country and beyond. Things were going great. So I got married and started having a real life. I was happy. I did everything people told me to do and it all worked.
I flew with my father for the last time in January of 1997. He was 62 and he had cancer. I was the Director of Operations at his company by this point. I was trying to keep my home, the company and my father’s home together and I still never drank alcohol. In July my father past away. My life was changed forever. My father’s business partner threw me out of the company because his wife said it was best. So I found a new job flying a jet for a family elsewhere. That plane was always broken and I was away 15 days at a time, this was hard on my marriage.
The airlines seemed like a better idea so I got a job with a good regional. It was a nice job and my wife liked the travel benefits a great deal. Things were ok again. For a bit anyway. Then 9/11 happened and my airline was having financial difficulties and things were not as good. I was on reserve and not making enough money. My wife hated my career choice at this point. At the age of 33, on the road and my wife at home angry, I went to the bar with my crew and had a few beers. I felt light spirited and cheery for the first time in years.
My wife convinced me to change careers, so I did just that and went to work in an office. I discovered happy hour. I was drinking two or three times a week. This life wasn’t for me so I went back to flying after 9 months of office work. I took a job as a chief pilot at a charter company and quit drinking.
Three years later I was Director of Operations at work, my marriage was functional at best and my wife was pregnant. My child was born and I just did two things, work or watch my baby. I had no idea my wife had started an affair with her boss. I was continuously told that I didn’t make enough, our cute little, stone house was now too small. Nothing about me was any good.
I ended up divorced. Flew charter for years after. Drinking became a common thing for me. I drank most days and began to hate my life like no one should. I quit flying because my drinking was getting even worse and I thought a change was the answer. A new job, a new life, something. After months of not finding any kind of job outside of aviation, I went to work at a large training company and began teaching pilots. I quit drinking again. This lasted 4 months. Things were no different, my ex was remarried, I saw my daughter 2 or 3 times a month, I was alone all of the time at that point. And that job was a new low, I found myself doing whatever management told me to do and just make the paperwork look right. I started drinking again and just gave up on caring about anything. Until one day I forgot that I was supposed to work and I was drinking in a hotel room next door. So I took a shower, got dressed and walked to the training center. It wasn’t too long before a co-worker figured it out.
The rest of the story is nothing surprising. I was asked to surrender my license and medical and I did. 30 years and 16300 hours with no incidents or accidents, 78 check rides and never failed one, DOO of 2 companies, Chief Pilot of 2 companies, designated check airman at 2 companies and now it is like none of it ever happened. I still look at the lights in the sky and miss my father.