Monday, April 28, 2008

Defined by Major Life Trauma

I'm still getting over that Santa Claus thing, forty-three years later. Why oh why did I have to press my mom on the issue?

I'm still getting over the breakup of the Beatles, thirty-eight years and eighteen days later. Should I blame Paul, Yoko, or both? It's killing me.

And then there's that clown/Satan link, which I'm just sure is somehow tied to J. Edgar Hoover's fondness for wearing women's clothing.

Please now, be nice and do not forward this to the Federal Aviation Administration's Aeromedical Branch. I don't want to have to answer additional questions when I renew my medical certificate . . .

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Barack Obama's Nefarious Plan for White People

I stepped out of the shower a couple of mornings ago to hear Rhonda laughing hard. She told me that it had to do with Jon Stewart's recent interview with Barack Obama, shown on the morning news.

I don't think I'd want to play poker with Mr. Stewart.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Parenting, and Love on a Broader Beam

My friend and former coworker Bob Barbanes' latest post is titled "Good Parenting." He mentions my blog, and how many of my posts deal with my relationship with my seven year-old son, Dylan. He writes, "His stories always tug at the heart a little, sometimes a lot. But, aside from being the same age as Hal. . . I have absolutely no desire to be a father. I know that I would not be good at it."

Bob goes on, "And don't give me that line about how you never know what kind of parent you'll be until you actually have your first child, and how being a parent 'changes you.' I don't wanna know, and I don't wanna change."

People have emailed me or left comments on my posts, pointing out what a "wonderful parent" I must be. I'm not. I think I'm a good dad. Sometimes I'm a very good dad. Sometimes I'm only a fair dad. I'm not bad, and I'm not wonderful. If how much you love your kid ranked you in the "wonderful parent" stratosphere, I'm confident that I'd be there. But loving your kid ain't enough. There's a whole lot more to it that that.

One thing I've noted in conversations with other guys who've become dads later in life. It's a certain realization: "My God, I could have missed this." Many of us guys sort of take an "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" attitude about changing the makeup of our families. My wife Rhonda says that if the choice of whether to have kids was left strictly up to men, the human race would face extinction.

So, while I liked kids, I never had a burning desire to have one of my own. Part of it was that "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" thing. More than that though, the fear of responsibility weighed in. I'd made a hobby out of avoiding true adulthood, which meant that I'd largely avoiding being responsible before my marriage to anything or anybody save my job and my Harley.

And then, there was the real crusher: the fear of loss. I've known friends who've lost children. I've seen what it's done to them; I've felt that pain radiating from their souls. It always seemed that having a child was tantamount to putting your heart out there and daring life to stomp on it.

Okay, I admit it: when it came to the idea of parenthood, I was one big damned chicken.

When we learned Rhonda was pregnant, I was really, at first, more happy for her than for me. But then came the sonogram halfway through the pregnancy. I could see Dylan darting around in there--he'd later get so rambunctious that he dislocated one of Rhonda's ribs--and the doctor announced that we had a little boy. Immediately, tears came spilling out of my eyes. That was my child. That was my son. By the time he came into the world and I first held him, he already had my heart wrapped around his little finger. (Don't think the little rascal doesn't know it, too.)

So, I've been where Bob is. The reasons that I didn't want to become a father may or may not have been different, I dunno. Everything changed, though, when I became a dad.

It was strange to note: when I'd walk around with Dylan in my arms, I felt like I'd joined the world's largest secret club. Men and women would strike up a conversation with me because we now had something in common. (Rhonda suggested that I liked taking the baby Dylan out in public so much because he got "lots of attention from the chicks.")

The feeling of belonging was both strange and wonderful. But it brought forth the thought: "Does this mean that before Dylan, I didn't belong?"

I thank God that I was blessed with the chance to be a dad, in spite of being such a chicken bastard. But does that mean that if I'd never become a parent, that my life would somehow be less worthwhile, less meaningful, less valid?

I don't think so. I don't think it was true of my life before Dylan, and I don't think it's true of folks like Bob. You see, for all of the positives that have come into my life since Dylan arrived, I must admit to some negatives as well.

My life's scope has become more provincial. My grasp of current events and world affairs has weakened. And, I'm less willing to give my time to friends and acquaintances. That bothers me. I've done good things in my life. I've done bad things in my life. I've spent lots of time skating around in gray areas. But, if there is one thing I'm proud of in my life, it's that I've taken the time to try to help people feel better about themselves and their lives. I was a good listener. Now, not so much. Two people are the focus of my energies now.

With most gains come losses. I wouldn't give up my experience of being a dad for anything, and yet in a small way, I miss the me that was more out there before fatherhood. That's the way life goes. We cherish and we regret, and we work to reconcile the two.

Bob, it seems likely, will never become a parent. Some people might view his life as incomplete as such. I don't. I think we need people like Bob.

Bob is one of only two "blogging buddies" that I know in, well, "real life." (The other is Uncle E.) A couple of years ago, a fellow pilot and his wife put me up in their home during the helicopter pilot strike at PHI. On their refrigerator were photos of family: kids, brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews. There was also a photo of Bob Barbanes. Bob had been gone from PHI for several years at that point, but his picture was still there. To me, that spoke volumes about Bob as a person and a friend.

Bob wrote in a recent post, "I love my friends." My love might be focused mainly on two people now; I no longer live in the "out there" so much. Folks like Bob give their love in a broader beam. That doesn't make their lives any less valid. Those of us in the "secret club" of parenthood should remember: We need men and women who live as uncles and aunts and brothers and sisters at large.

We need those broader beams too.

Monday, April 21, 2008

An Offer from an Angel

Before our son Dylan arrived on the scene, I suppose I was a typical guy in one regard: I wasn't much into babies. I liked kids, yep. Babies, however, were just little squishy things who cried and pooped a lot.

But also like lots of guys, my view of babies changed forever once I held our little guy in my arms. Changing diapers was no big deal when it came to Dylan, whereas in life before Dylan, I'd practically run from a room when a baby's butt got put on display.

It was a magic time when Dylan was a baby. It could be tiring, yeah, but when I think about that first smile, the first words, and the first steps, I'm so thankful for those memories.

Dylan will be eight in a couple of months; he's plainly past what child development cognoscenti term "early childhood." He calls me "Dad" instead of "Daddy" now, and he hasn't asked me to carry him from the car for months.

You might say that I've been feeling a little wistful. The time is going by. One day he'll be grown, and I'll wonder how that time could have flown by so ruthlessly.

I had a dream a couple of weeks ago that an angel appeared before me. She let me know that I could have the chance to go back in time to Dylan's birth if I so decided. The catch was that the Dylan of today would be gone, replaced by a Dylan molded by a dad's knowledge of what was, back in the future. She told me that I had two weeks to decide whether to take her up on her offer.

Wow. What an offer. To see that first smile again. To see him sleep, nose-to-nose, with his mama again. To play guitar for him, while his butt air-dries on the changing table again. To hear those first words again. To see him first throw a rock across the creek again. To have that first wrestling match again. To watch him on his first merry-go-round again. To have those early-morning conversations again. To take him on his first boating trip again. To carry him down the driveway to feed the llamas again. To take him to Kids' Kingdom park again.

When I flew home from Louisiana last week, I arrived in San Francisco to learn that the flights had been delayed due to weather. I looked on the departure monitor and noticed that the commuter flight prior to the one I was scheduled for had been held up for an hour. I ran across the terminal to get on the standby list for the earlier flight. I landed at Redding airport a full two hours before my scheduled time.

I called Rhonda at her office to let her know that I'd pick Dylan up from school. I made it to his school just minutes after the kids had left class for the day. I spotted him across the quad, playing with other kids waiting to be picked up by parents.

Funny thing about Dylan: he's always known when I'll be getting home, and he usually acts sort of matter-of-fact about it when I walk in the door. Instead of getting wildly excited, he'll often resume a conversation we had before I left. It's always tickled me, and it's always been sort of strangely reassuring.

But on that day, Dylan had no idea that I'd be getting home early. When he spotted me, he shrieked "DADDY!" (not "Dad") and sprinted toward me. I got down on one knee to greet him, as I usually do. Too late, the realization came that Dylan was still sprinting, was showing no inclination to slow down, and that he wasn't a toddler anymore. Nope, now he weighs eighty pounds. BOOM! He crashed into me, and I came really close to getting knocked on my ass.

My eyes watered. I'm not sure whether it was due to sentimentality, or the fact that he was squeezing my neck so hard that I couldn't breathe.

I think tonight might mark two weeks since the angel made her time-traveling offer. If she appears in my dreams tonight, will I take her up on it?

Nope. No way. I'm staying right here, and right now.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

More Heliport Wildlife

Heliport, or wildlife refuge? PHI's Morgan City, Louisiana base is a bit of both. For more evidence, read here.

Bald eagles have made quite a comeback in south Louisiana. Flying in and out of our Morgan City heliport, we often see them on the wing. Now and then, I'll see a lone eagle on the ground on our heliport, but fellow PHI pilot Danny Cumbee caught three of them on the back row of helipads.

Danny said he was under the impression that our visiting eagles were a mom and two young. The photo file he shared with me was titled "Training Day." Thanks, Danny.

It appears that the mama eagle is on the left, with her two young on the right.

It appears here that the mom is giving instructions to the kids.

Oh yeah, she's barking orders. If Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy.