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Crossing that bridge

January 21, 2013

About a month ago I finally pushed my albatross of a Christmas letter off on the postal service.  If you were fortunate (or unfortunate, frankly), you got the letter either the day before or the day after Christmas.  If it wasn’t to your liking, at least I hope you used it as kindling for your Yule log or perhaps birdcage liner.

In the last paragraph of this letter, I mentioned that I had made the decision to return to the line as a pilot.  In my world, this is big news.  This decision was not made in haste, nor was it as simple.

Since my second furlough, my airline merged with another and the resultant amalgam  of two very dissimilar companies has left them both with a hodgepodge of different operating practices, policies, computer systems, labor rules and general unrest–the sum of which continue to make headlines.  “Integration challenges”, as the company P.R. hacks call it.  Airline mergers look good on paper–for about 30 minutes–and only for the senior executives (and sycophant members of the board of directors) who stand to benefit the most from them.  In reality, they are a royal pain in the ass.

Why would I want to go back to work for such a dysfunctional place?  Good question.  It’s something I’ve been pondering ever since I knew I would be furloughed a second time back in 2009.  The answer is buried in my own dreams and goals–long ago that die was cast.

When one gets hired by a major airline, one knowingly (and willingly) takes his/her position on a seniority list.  This duly assigned number is yours and yours alone.  It’s your peck in the great pecking order that defines where and when you work, what aircraft you fly and ultimately how much you get paid to do so.  As long as you continue to measure up to the standards for justifying a paycheck, your position on the seniority list does not change–for better or worse.

Except when there is a merger.  Which totally screws up everything associated with this.  But that’s a tangent for another post.

The desk job I’ve been doing for the past several years was always considered “temporary”–by the company and me.  The company saw me filling a short-term need.  And I certainly didn’t see myself polishing a desk for any longer than necessary.  This symbiosis worked well, and I am very appreciative of the job opportunity.

Living near the world’s second busiest airport is a blessing if you love watching airplanes come and go.  It’s also a curse, to me, to see so many of them coming and going, their crews doing something I’ve dreamt of doing since I was a little kid.  Getting furloughed again in 2009 simply made the sight of those planes climbing into the sky a vivid reminder of what I couldn’t do–yet.  Nobody likes a forced exile.

As I mentioned, this merger thing happened while I was gone.  It shuffled many stacks of cards as they relate to my professional pilot career.  Finally, the card that said I could come back and fly was offered to me.  In fact, that card was slid my way about a year ago.  But instead of showing my hand, I kept this job offer close to my vest.  I had some considerations I had to sort through first.

That would be Alex.  My decision to go back to flying or not–and when–ultimately came down to Alex and what his needs were.  Not mine.

Now…I feel incredibly lucky to have forged a close relationship with Alex.  As some of you might know, kids with autism tend to be disinclined to interact with others willingly.  And non-verbal kids like Alex have that aloofness that amplifies that gulf between those that can more accurately and effectively decrypt his inscrutable ways.  I’m not saying I am some kind of “horse whisperer”, but my ability to decode how Alex is feeling or why he might be doing what he’s doing had been getting a good polish these past months.  If you’re curious, sometimes my hunch is correct–sometimes not.  But at the very least, I feel that Alex is calmer when I am present.  His extemporaneous hugs are glorious; his grasp of my fingers in his warm, dry hand as we walk down the sidewalk, sublime.  His frequent “dah-deeee” when he sees me after a few hours absence is ear candy.  I make him feel good.  He does the same to me.

He can also make me feel terrible, lousy, frustrated, manipulated, baffled, angry and resentful.  If you could get the answer from him, he’d probably say the same.  Whatever, though, it seems to help Alex when I’m around.  I am a (mostly) patient cypher for him.

This obviously benefits him, but it also helps my wife Kat, our other son Drew and just about everyone else who interacts with Alex on a daily basis.  I am happy to do it.  The trouble is–going off to fly again requires me to be gone for days at a time.  Not just hours, as with my former desk job.

This weighed heavily on me as Kat and I discussed my eventual return to the cockpit.  She knows Alex is a daddy’s boy, too.  And she works full-time, so she would need help.  After interviewing several prospects, we chose Precent, a patient, dependable, dedicated South African gentleman who could be Alex’s nanny (or “manny” I guess) while Kat was at work.  He would fill in those times in the morning that Alex needed to be dressed, fed, medicated, shuffled on the morning school bus and repeated in reverse order in the afternoon.

I’ve been referring to this whole process as “crossing the bridge”.  Each of our lives are journeys with many, many steps.  Lots of marching over metaphoric hills, chasms to span.  And today I set off to cross this bridge of being around Alex, the guy that seems to need me a whole bunch, and that family that need me too.  My training at my newly merged airline starts tomorrow.

I left home this morning, crouching down low to give Drew an extra hug and one more kiss to Alex.  And one more careful recitation of my plan to him.  Alex seemed okay with it, jumping up and down a few times, then turning back to poke at his iPad.  Or maybe he was just happy Precent was there again.  Sometimes I just don’t know.  And I don’t know how he’s going to be while I’m gone.  Or how Kat and Drew will be.  But I’ve prepared them as best I could.

I’ll be getting many updates each day I’m gone.  Hopefully the news will be good–that Alex will be his same reasonably content, giggly guy he is when I’m there.  And I hope he understands what I’ve told him.  Because I need to cross this bridge. For me.  For him.  For all of us.

One Comment
  1. Brian permalink

    Good luck with your training and welcome back to the pointy end of the aluminum tube my friend. The skies are friendlier with you driving them. Congratulations to you and Kat for finding a way to balance the demands that life has set before you. Stronger, kinder people I do not know.

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