As some of you — especially those who follow my Instagram feed — may be aware, my wife and I welcomed a healthy, happy little boy into the world six months ago. He’s been an absolute blessing and the center of our universe for half a year now.
For most of my adult life, I was unsure about the idea of having kids. While I understood how wonderful and adorable they can be, I was also acutely aware that they demand major, long-term sacrifices of time, money, and effort — at least, if you’re going to do it right. And if there’s one thing I know about myself, something that I’ve inherited from my own father, it’s the philosophy that anything worth doing is worth doing properly, whether it’s making a sandwich, flying an airplane, or starting a family.
That mindset doesn’t fit very well with the concept of having kids, because nobody ever has enough time, money, or energy for them. Not with the demands modern life places on all of us. There’s only so much you can shed in today’s world while keeping the lights on and a roof over your head. Economic, personal, and societal factors are in constant flux, which doesn’t help.
I’ve always been of the opinion that raising a child is not something any parent can afford to get wrong. You can screw up a lot of things in your life — your career, your finances, your education, your personal relationships, your health — and the collateral damage will generally be limited. But I’ve seen first-hand what happens when people don’t raise their kids well. It sets up a repeating cycle of failure and dysfunction which can extend for many generations. Kids are a big commitment, one I’m not sure most parents appreciate prior to the fact. Perhaps that’s for the best. Overthink it too much and nobody would ever take the plunge.
Eventually humans reach an age where you either jump in with both feet or risk having Mother Nature make the decision for you. Sure, modern science makes it possible for even 70 year olds to have kids, but that can cost tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars. It comes with increased risk of birth defects and abnormalities. My own parents were on the older side (nearly 60 in my dad’s case!), and I was orphaned at a very young age. While my father was an exemplary parent, that’s not a fate I’m interested in foisting on my own progeny.
For my wife and I, the decision to wait was no decision at all, because we didn’t start dating until our mid-late 30s. By the time you get through the engagement, wedding, honeymoon, and get your lives set up, a couple more years have gone by… and the clock keeps ticking.
Obviously we did decide to start a family, and I have to say it’s incredible how seven pounds of flesh can change your life. I’m at least somewhat adept as a wordsmith, but I’ve been staring at the screen and beating on the backspace key for the better part of an hour trying to express what it feels like to see your son’s little face for the first time. I certainly wasn’t prepared for the emotional impact or how, like a bolt of lightning, it instantaneously changed my priorities and became the defining moment of my life. This may not be evident to those who know me. After all, we still live in the same place as before. We do the same things, have the same friends. Yet everything is different.
I really miss my little copilot when I’m away. It’s especially hard because “being away” is a major, permanent part of my job rather than something which will abate in a few months after some consulting project winds down. My boy’s already grown and changed so much; it leaves me sad about every moment I’ve missed. But someone’s gotta earn the money, right? Even those with typical 9-to-5 jobs (do those even exist anymore?) are gone a lot, often leaving early in the morning and not returning home until baby’s bedtime.
As always, the struggle is for balance and sustainability. From pauper to tycoon, that seems to be the one thing we all have in common: a constant search for the best possible trade-off between time and money. That’s one thing I learned as an instructor: student pilots almost always faced a dearth of one or the other of those resources while pursuing the dream.
Speaking of flying, my employer has been wonderful during the whole pregnancy and birth process. We’ve been through all sorts of genetic testing, added ultrasounds, doctor appointments, and so on. They’ve been very supportive. I know that’s not easy for a charter company to do, especially one that’s growing rapidly. The charter business is a tough one because you never know when a broker or other customer will suddenly demand service. Sometimes the company has only a couple of hours to arrange an aircraft, crew, hotels, rental cars, catering, fuel, landing permits, maintenance and flight releases and the other things that go along with it. How’s the weather? Is the airport adequate? Are the crew members up to date on their recurrent, international, company, emergency, and other training? It’s not as simple as turning the key and starting your car.
With the company’s cooperation, I managed to string together nine weeks off from work. That’s more than any other person I know has managed to take off — and I’ve asked a lot of people! I normally get about a week of “hard” time off each month. To this I added two weeks of accumulated vacation and six weeks of Paid Family Leave. Since our son was born via Caesarean section due to his being oriented backwards (or “breech”) in the womb, the time off was useful not only for bonding with the baby but also helping care for Kristi. A C-section is major abdominal surgery, but sometimes the mother’s recovery ends up taking a back seat to the new infant.
One of the most commonly asked questions by friends and family is if Daddy’s Copilot has been up in the air yet. He hasn’t. I can almost hear the chorus now: “What kind of father are you?!” Early on we were worried about his hearing. Wee ones are more susceptible to hearing damage from extended exposure to high decibel levels than adults. Plus we really want his first flight experience to be a positive one. Much like clothing, it turns out that infant hearing protection ($30) is far less expensive than the full-size version ($1,100).
The primary stumbling block has been figuring out how to fit a car seat into a cool enough airplane (read: tailwheel) to be worthy of his first flight. I’ve got access to a four-place 1946 Stinson 108, but the lower cushion of the rear seats are supported by what’s essentially a canvas sling. A clever, lightweight design feature. But fitting a modern car seat into that contraption would be challenging at best. Would it be safe? I don’t know. Even if it was, infant seats face aft, so he’d be looking at nothing but the rear bulkhead. I suppose once we were airborne, he could come out of his seat for a look around. Sudden stoppage in mid-flight is not something which is likely. Or likely survivable it it does happen, regardless of how well one is strapped in. As long as he’s belted in for taxi, takeoff, and landing, I think it would be both legal and as safe as reasonably possible.
On a side note, did you know kids who are less than 24 months old are not legally required to wear a seatbelt at any time in an aircraft? See: 14 CFR 91.107(a)(3)(i). They aren’t even required to have a seat at all. In the industry, they’re referred to as “lap children”. They’re also human projectiles if something goes wrong during takeoff or landing. No thanks…
Next question, will he be a pilot? I don’t know. And I don’t really care. Mommy took him to the ballroom and he loved being out on the dance floor. She then brought him over to the airport where he cried while I was showing him the Stinson. To be fair, it was a windy day and the roar of 737s departing at John Wayne Airport didn’t create the most baby-friendly environment.
Honestly, I don’t plan on being one of those dads who insist that his son learn to fly. I remember seeing student pilots like that. They weren’t there for their own reasons, but rather because dad arranged the whole thing. What a waste of time and money! Of course, I certainly won’t discourage my son if he’s inclined toward aviation. But flying is my thing — it’s what I do, what I love. He will have to find his own passions and activities. If they happen to be the same as mine, I will joyfully share them. But it doesn’t matter to me what he does as long as he’s happy. My hope is that he will find his footing in this unstable world, and that his presence on Earth will make the world a better place, not a worse one.
I was serving on a criminal jury at the Orange County Central Courthouse in Santa Ana last week. The hundreds and hundreds of jurors called each and every day for duty there are testament to how many little boys and girls end up as a detriment to the community. I also noticed how many homeless people are camped out in seemingly permanent fashion around the federal buildings, courthouses, and other civic edifices. While ambling back from lunch one day, it struck me that these ragged 50 year old guys, mumbling to themselves while fishing rotten chicken bones and sticky aluminum cans out of public trashcans, were once exactly like my son: someone’s sweet, cute, fresh-smelling little pride-and-joy. A clean human canvas. And now? It’s sad to think there are parents out there who tried to raise a kid the best way they knew how, and this was where they eventually landed.
But it was also an excellent reminder that whether or not daddy’s copilot really does become a pilot is not an important thing. What matter is that he’s my son, the foremost element of life, the one whose big smile and crinkly eyes brighten every morning and remain in my heart wherever wings may take me.