On Wednesday this week my father, who lives with mom next door to us in the home where I grew up, came over to ask if I wanted to go with him to fly indoor electric remote control airplanes in the gymnasium of an elementary school not far from where we live. I was pleased that he asked me to go; I was hoping we could spend more time together during my recuperation enjoying his flying hobby. Dad’s real passion, when the weather permits, is flying RC gliders and sailplanes from slopes or by towing them up with a small electric winch. It’s a miniature version of what I do in hang gliding. We frequently compare notes on how the flying was that day in each of our aviating worlds. Today, even though it was warm outside, was too gusty to fly outdoor model airplanes so the indoor variety would suffice.
Aviation of one form or another has been a part of our family life from my earliest recollections. Gas-powered control line and RC model airplanes pacified our interests until my brother’s desire to learn to fly launched him, Dad, and me into the world of full-scale aviation. We all earned our pilots’ licenses while I was in Jr. High and High School. I could legally fly an airplane by myself before I could drive a car by myself. My brother went to technical school after graduation where he earned his airframe and powerplant mechanic’s license. He’s now the chief mechanic and inspector for a jet charter service in Columbus. Dad owned several different small airplanes during the time that we were actively flying. At this present time, none of us has a current license to fly an airplane.
So, my father has been the primary inspiration in my aviation aspirations. He has followed my involvement in hang gliding with great interest, wishing he could take part himself, but restricted because of health reasons in doing so. I’d love to see Dad take a tandem hang glider flight with our club instructor – we’ll see if that ever transpires.
I belong to an international hang gliding online discussion board, hanggliding.org, which can be accessed from the sidebar menu on this blog. Many of the active members on the board shoot videos of their flights and share them with the rest of the board members. These are fascinating to watch because the viewer can experience, vicariously, what it is like to fly some of the legendary hanggliding sites in the United States and around the world. One afternoon in the early spring of 2008 I was watching a video produced by David Aldrich (screen name designbydave) which documented a weekend of flying that he and some buddies enjoyed at Big Sur State Park on the central California coast in February, 2008. It was a fantastic video shot with multiple cameras mounted on several gliders. Dave chose wonderful music to accompany the skillfully edited 31 minute long video which you can view by clicking here and choosing the icon on the bottom of the screen titled “Big Sur California February 2008.”
As I was enjoying the video on my new, large flat screen computer monitor, Dad came in. A segment of the video which commences at at 13 minutes 20 seconds, titled “David and John Dream Flight,” was just starting to play. Dad pulled up a chair and watched it with me. Dave and John launch at the same time and fly in formation to the landing zone near the ocean. The scenery, the in-air sequences, the sound of the wind and the music were mesmerizing. All Dad and I could do was to make comments like “Gorgeous! What would that be like?” I said “I’ve got to do that some day! I hope to have a chance to fly some of these epic sites before my hang gliding career is over.”
At the end of the segment, Dave lands and chuckles over and over again with glee at what he just experienced. I know it sounds corny, but I got tears in my eyes knowing just a bit the joy Dave was experiencing. I think it impacted Dad the same way because he issued a fatherly mandate to me that has embedded itself in my consciousness. He said “Kid, don’t do like I did. Don’t let your life go by without taking time to go places and have these kinds of experiences. You can do it and you should.”
My father has spoken. And in 2008 I started heeding his advice. That summer, Donna and I took a week long RV camping vacation to Niagra Falls (no hang gliding there, but what a magnificent sight!) and then to the Finger Lakes region of central New York state. I connected with another pilot on hanggliding.org, Scott Wise (screen name Wingspan34), who graciously acted as our “tour guide” during the time we were there. We stayed at an RV park that was 3 minutes from Scott’s home. Only one day was suitable for flying, but Scott and I got in a fantastic, 90 minute long, late afternoon flight at a site called “Katydid,” not far from Elmira. It was a great experience which I plan on doing again (lest you feel sorry for Donna, she stayed at the campground that afternoon where she enjoyed an hour long hot stone massage!).
I deeply appreciate and understand Dad’s desire for me to experience those dreams that he has not accessed during his life. I will do the same for my sons. I have found myself speaking more directly to them in “fanning the flames” of their deep motivations whenever possible. This, to a degree, illustrates the truth in the biblical Proverb that states “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). My dad’s love for flying of any kind embedded deeply in me during my childhood. This embedding happens in ways other than passion for recreational pursuits. Character qualities like kindness and honesty are also planted deeply in a child’s heart from day one, and we can take comfort in knowing that our children, with God’s mercy and grace, will not depart from the timeless truths we strive to instill in them from birth.
In the soundtrack from Jonathan Livingston Seagull is a simple song called “Dear Father,” the words of which are:
While we may
Who are we to need
While we wait
While we wait
– Neil Diamond
The appropriateness of these words is evident in context. If you click on the music video link for “Dear Father” highlighted just above, you will see a bruised and battered Jonathan as he convinces himself to pull himself together, in spite of his pain, to go back into the air and fly again after a crushing defeat. He searches for inspiration from deep inside to do so. Dad’s passionate mandate to me to grab for exceptional experiences while I can led me to a similar episode. I’ll explain in Part 3 of this series.
Thanks Dad. I love you.