Born on his father’s birthday

Eric and Dad at the old Atlanta airport, sometime in the mid 1970's

Eric and Dad at the old Atlanta airport, sometime in the mid 1970’s

“He was born on his father’s birthday, a gift that keeps on giving.”
George F. Will, writing about his eldest son Jon

This month I pay tribute to the two men who, other than my husband, have had the most lasting influence in my life.  My father was born in April, and his first child was a son born on his birthday.  As George Will can attest, it’s a gift that keeps on giving.

Daddy had the good fortune to grow up right along with the aviation industry, first seeing a biplane during his childhood in the early 1930’s, learning to fly in the 1940’s, going on to train Air Force pilots to fly during the 1950’s, and eventually retiring as captain on a wide body airliner after over 30 years with Eastern Air Lines.  I really can’t think of any other job I’d rather my father have had; there were no down sides to it that I could ever see (other than occasionally having him gone on holidays).  I grew up listening to dinner table conversations about places he had been that day; New York or the Caribbean or the west coast.  More than once, we dropped everything (including school) to take off for a quick getaway.  The world always seemed small enough to be a friendly place and accessible enough to become familiar.

Although my sister, brothers and I are close in age, my older brother often took on himself the role of a second father to his younger sisters and brother. While this could be exasperating at times, it was also comforting.  No one was surprised when he followed his father’s contrails into the sky, first as an F-100 pilot, then as an airline pilot for Northwest.  As my father did, he gave me the opportunity to travel on passes (including the trip I wrote about here) but more importantly, brought back stories of his experiences that widened my world considerably.

I worked for USAir (formerly Piedmont) for five years, although I never served on a flight crew.  The airport gates and tarmac were familiar to me, the airline lingo a vocabulary I learned from birth.  I have watched the changes in the industry with interest and a bit of nostalgic sadness when I remember how special it used to be to fly.  It’s now almost universal to talk of airlines, and flying itself, with contempt; to complain about the many irritations that have been an inevitable result of deregulation and the harsh reality of global terrorism.

As for me, I will never completely lose the sense of wonder I had as a very young child, looking down on fluffy white clouds lit up with brilliant sunlight, thinking to myself, “my Daddy works up here.”  The next time you are on a flight, I hope you will be able to close your mind to the many irritations (crowded seats, full overhead bins, repetitious announcements and runway delays) and realize for a minute that you are able to do, often and without much thought, something your great-great-grandparents could scarcely have imagined.  For me, flight is a gift, one that keeps on giving.

53 Comments

  1. Julia, you have truly touched me with your tribute. A simple “Thank You” is all I can write here, but I want to suggest yet another touchstone with which you can identify – a musical one: Several years after the above photo was taken, you introduced me to a song by Dan Fogelberg. The verse that rang true throughout my own 30-plus year career was “My brother’s lives were different, for they heard another call – One went to Chicago, and the other to Saint Paul. And I’m in Colorado, when I’m not in some hotel; Living out this life I chose, and have come to know so well.” Let’s hope shared Birthday 2013 does not find “The Leader of the Band” too “tired”.Love, Eric

    • Eric, thank you for the reminder of that song. I always identified with the last verse most: “I thank you for the music, and your stories of the road; I thank you for the freedom when it came my time to go; I thank you for the kindness, and the times when you got tough; and Papa, I don’t think I said ‘I love you’ near enough.” There is another verse that reminds me of Jeff and his role as father to our sons: “He earned his love through discipline, a thundering velvet hand; his gentle means of sculpting souls took me years to understand.” For those who want to listen to this beautiful song, it can be heard at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qQmkoMZyvOQ

      Thanks for everything, Eric — I love you!

    • So very proud of my brother and my Dad! Many people don’t want their children born on their birthday, but I think it is quite special to share such an important day. (That goes for you and Jeff too, Julia)

      • Carla, did you know that Megan and Drew’s baby boy is due on Megan’s birthday? It always surprises me how often people in the same family have shared birthdays. Jeff takes the cake; his wife, younger sister and cousin all have the same birthday as his! He and his cousin were born within hours of each other.

  2. A heartwarming post. Glad to know more about your family and your association with airlines. We are awaiting the flight to our home country in July. I enjoy each (even the delays)moment of such journeys. This time I shall do it more gratefully, thanks to your thought-provoking words.

    • Thank you, Bindu. Jeff and I have lived thousands of miles from our homes for most of the years of our marriage, and I’m so grateful that air travel has allowed us to return. I hope you have a wonderful trip in July! And also I wish for you safe travels and no delays or hassles!

  3. merry

    Good morning, Julia. I share your wonder of the skies. I enjoy flying and the awe of being able to do so. Thanks for sharing picture of your dad and brother.

    • You’re welcome; thanks for being here and for your comment. I hope we will always appreciate how amazing it is to fly.

  4. Beautiful tribute, and I wholeheartedly concur.
    Thank you, Julia

    • Carla, you will be better able to understand this than almost anyone else! Thanks for being here and for being with me literally my entire life.

  5. this is a lovely post! it’s nice to glimpse your younger world, and what sweet memories you have! yes, flight is quite a gift, and to the triple power for you! z

    • Thank you, I am so happy you like it! Whenever I post something personal I always wonder whether anyone else will be interested, so I appreciate your kind words.

      • yes, i enjoyed it immensely, and i’ve also found the same reaction when i write about my childhood. it’s nice when nostalgia brings back sweet stories!

        • I saw a funny quote recently that said “nostalgia isn’t what it used to be” 🙂 but for me it just gets more fun as we age. For starters, there’s a LOT more to be nostalgic about! Thanks for being here!

  6. Ryan

    Thanks for sharing this written birthday gift to them my dear Aunt. I too, of course, an enthusiastic admirer of these two men.

    • Ryan, you are sort of the family celebrity since you were the first grandchild, but you’ve lived up all our adoring expectations yourself. Thanks for being here!

  7. Sherry

    I thank you, also! To have been married to your amazing brother for these 42 years has been a wonder filled journey for me. Most times, when he returned from a flight, along with telling me about what he had seen, he would say, “I’ve got to take you there!”

    Now, I am even more grateful for his career, when I get through the irritations of the airport and I am sitting in a window seat on my way to see one set of grandchildren or maybe both sets that live more than a thousand miles apart! Recently, It was rainy, cold and dark as we taxied, but after a few moments we glided through the clouds to the sunshine and those fluffy clouds you spoke about. Those clouds look ever so different on the top compared to below!

    Eric said in his card to his Dad, “Thanks for letting me share 62 of your 85 years!” Happy Birthday to both!” And, thank you for the tribute and the picture!

    • Sherry, you’re welcome. I’m so thankful you have been able (and willing :-)) to share these years with Eric!

  8. Sheila

    Julia,once again you have touched so many hearts. You have some incredible men in your life; all your life. I have always loved the comments here of both Eric and “Daddy” as you so lovingly refer to him. Many blessings abound in this special family! Love the photo….Sheila

    • Sheila, thanks so much for your kind thoughts and comments. No matter how old I get, my father will always be my Daddy. I’m sure Carla will agree! I think it’s sweet that my grown sons both call Jeff “Daddy” also. As the old saying goes, “Any man can be a father, but it takes someone special to be a Daddy.” Or maybe that’s just a Southern thing! Thanks for being here. Hope you and Bill have a lovely weekend!

      • Sheila

        We are “camping”…. Yippee! This special,personal blog has been just that, special. I listened to “Leader Of The Band” and it was like I was really hearing it for the first time.
        I wish a really good weekend for you and your guys,as well. Sheila

        • Thanks so much, Sheila – I’m so happy you were able to go camping! Matt has an outing with friends tomorrow so Jeff and I hope to get to go out to eat together. Weather is WARM and we are looking forward to a restful weekend. Thanks for being here!

  9. My son was born on my birthday. It truly is a gift and creates a special bond.

    • It is fun. I love it that Jeff and I have the same birthday. Our first grandchild is due on his mother’s birthday too!

  10. I wish I could embrace the joy of flying, I really do. Even though we travel often, I’m always a bundle of nerves. On one particular flight to Vancouver that had the plane tossed around for over 2 hours, I came very close (as did others I’m sure) to actually screaming in fear. My brain knows the chances of a fatal crash is unlikely, yet I totally get sick to my stomach days before flying. On our approach to Maui a year ago, after a really bumpy flight we were almost landed when with a sudden and very scary acceleration we took off straight up again. Apparently, wind shears had kept the plane up too long and made the runway to short for safe landing. Even my husband was rattled. I think I just have bad luck, because most people I know love to fly. It probably is like riding a bike for you, being that your dad, brother and husband are pilots. I wish I loved it too.

    • For years I never feared flying, even when Daddy would take us up in his old Aeronca (an old fabric-covered plane that you had to spin the propeller to start), even when he did stunts I just loved it and was never afraid. When I was little and we were flying, if I heard a funny noise or it got bumpy, I would watch Daddy and if he didn’t look alarmed, I knew everything was OK. But a bad flight can truly put the fear in you. While I was with USAir we were on a VERY bad flight where people were actually screaming in fear. Two hours of horrible thunderstorms and stuff flying all over the place. It took me years to get past that; for a long time I never wanted to get on a plane again, and it was worse because our sons were with us, but thankfully they were toddlers and didn’t know to be afraid. What helped me get over it was watching the video someone took in the cockpit of Daddy’s final flight before retirement. It’s a lot less scary seeing through the front windshield and hearing the tower communicating so closely with the pilots.

      One hint: for some reason, if I do Sodoku before and during a flight, it takes my mind to some non-linear place and I totally get lost in the puzzle and don’t get scared. Reading is too connected with everyday reasoning to do that for me, but Sodoku does the trick. The only time I ever do Sodoku, is when I fly, but I keep a book of Sodoku puzzles with me now in case I get anxious. Try it and see if that works for you!

    • Forgot to add – Jeff isn’t a pilot; he’s a dentist! He’s in the Air Force, so that confuses people, but he’s the director of an Advanced General Dentistry residency for new dentists just coming into the Air Force. They have to rotate through training in all the specialty areas in case they get sent to a base where there are only one or two dentists and no specialists. So Jeff has two resident classes he is in charge of every year.

      • It’s somewhat comforting to know that even a seasoned, experienced flyer like yourself has had challenges, thanks for sharing that story. I’m sorry you had to go thru such a terrifying ordeal and with your wee ones too, OMGosh, I can’t even imagine. I’m putting Sudoko book in my flybag, it can’t hurt. I’m a pretty fast reader, going to San Diego I almost finished my book but I get a little motion sick looking down for long periods of time. I’m sure the Flight Attendants think I’m a weirdo, I don’t eat or drink because I don’t want to have to get up from my seat. LOL. Thanks for clarifying Jeff’s career, I guess I made that assumption somewhere along the way…silly me 😀

        • Well it’s a natural assumption to make since there are way more pilots than dentists in the Air Force! I start working a Sodoku while I’m sitting in the gate waiting to board, so I get so absorbed in it I barely notice what’s going on by the time the flight takes off. I do always stop and say a quick prayer at takeoff, though. Growing up it was always “thank you” but now it’s more of a “please” 🙂 Just think how much fun you will have in California and it will be worth it!

          • That’s a good way to think of it, thanks Julia! You’re so darn wise xK

            • I’m very happy for you knowing how much fun you will have!

  11. Serendipitous 🙂

    • Thank you!

  12. A very nice tribute.

    • Thanks, I’m glad you liked it!

  13. Carlyle

    I join Eric in thanking you for our Birthday Tribute. It was a sweet touch of nostalgia; not only for our shared flying experience but the musical memories. Hard to believe I hung up my wings and stripes 25 years ago. The “Leader of the Band” is just grateful to still be on the scene.

    • As we are to have you here! We count ourselves very lucky to still have both our parents here with us. It is amazing to think it’s been 25 year since your retirement. Are we all old or what??!!!

  14. Maggie

    Will never forget your stories of your Paw Paw asking “Carlight” if he was still flying them planes!

    • Maggie, actually that was my “Grandpa,” (great-grandfather) who was my grandmother’s father. My PaPa would not want to be mistaken for him! 🙂 I have very few memories of my Grandpa, but most of what I’ve heard about him are funny stories that are no doubt somewhat apocryphal. What I remember about him is that he always wore overalls and sat in a rocking chair. I was just talking with Jeff about him today, remembering the same story you mentioned.

    • Maggie and Julia, It’s SO funny how “family jokes” can bring laughter to others as well. I am glad that friends like Maggie are “close enough in” to appreciate the memories that you, Julia, have shared through the years. A favorite of Eric and myself…”rain! rain!” Hope you are doing well Maggie.
      Happy Day After Tomorrow, Daddy and Eric! Love ya!

      • Carla and Maggie, Jeff and I were laughing about “rain! rain!” yesterday. That’s one of the few Grandpa stories where I was the actual witness, so I know that story really happened and isn’t just a legend. One thing about Maggie and me is that we spent enough time together over the years that we learned a lot of the inside jokes from each other’s extended families. Not to mention coming up with some new ones of our own to add to the repertoire.

        • That’s so great!!! I love inside jokes!

  15. Nancy

    And I add my congratulations too, Captains! I have such fond memories of the times in Atlanta especially during my college years. Happy Wonderful Birthdays to you both. I hope to be able to take my boys on a flight one day. They would be SO amazing!

    Nancy

    • Nancy, sometimes Southwest has fares from Nashville to Norfolk (nonstop) for as low as $39 or $49 – I’ll let you know next time I see one! 🙂 I’m so glad you were part of those very happy years. Sometime I’ll have to dig up some of the photos with you in them so I can scan them and send them to you.

    • Greetings Dear Friend! Hope things are well with you. Thank you for sharing the memories!

      • Just today I was looking through some old family slides and found several with Nancy in them. I’ll have to try to get some of them scanned so I can send them.

  16. Nice post.

    • Thank you, I’m so glad you liked it! I appreciate your visits here.

      • singleseatfighterpilot

        Talk about egocentrism! I had to revisit this site today.

        • Aw, it wasn’t egocentrism…you just wanted to read about Daddy again, right? 🙂 I’m glad you found it worth re-visiting.

          • singleseatfighterpilot

            No. I hung it on the proper nail.

            • It took me a minute to figure out this was an idiom. Because I see these comments separately from the ones to which they are responding, I sometimes can’t remember what they refer to. I was thinking, “Nail? I don’t remember anything about a nail.” 🙂 Sometimes I am as literal-minded as Matt!

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