Pilot's Voice

This is a new section for our pilots where my husband will write about his perspective on this life we share. It seems very one sided if there are the wife's points of view shared but the other half does not have an input.

What's on my back

For almost half the year, I live in a lovely two story brick colonial with my wonderful wife and son. I have a garage full of tools, a library full of books and a bar full of beer. To make things all the better, I even have a beautiful, sexy woman that loves to cook and clean for me. Who could ask for anything more?

                However, the other half of the year, I live out of a backpack on oil rigs. I never know where, when or what I will be eating next or where I will be sleeping. Everything that half of my life owns is in that backpack, clothes, hygiene, laptop, and maybe a book or two. No beer, no woman. So needless to say, that backpack is very important to me. It might not be much, but it is my other home.

                A close friend of mine recently told me that he would love to live like that, just once. O.K. I will grant him that it is pretty cool, the first few times. But after a while, the shine is off the turd, so to speak. Sometimes I just want to go for a drive, or a walk. I’d like to play with my son, see my friends or have a beer. Sometimes it would be nice to have some “alone” time with my wife. But I can’t. All I have is what is in on my back.

                I’ve had the same overstuffed pack for ten years and it has served me very well, but time and abuse has finally taken its toll and it is now time to replace it. The strap is worn -through and about to give, the mesh pockets are more holes then mesh and it likes to open in places where zippers were never installed. Seeing as most oilrigs are at least one hundred feet above the water and possibly as much as three hundred feet, any backpack malfunction would likely dump all of my possessions into the deep blue Gulf of Mexico. It is time to shop for a new home.

                My patient family and I spent two days searching the Houston metro area and world-wide-web for something of just the right fit. My wife spent a lot of time teasing me about how anal-retentive I was being and how much time it was taking. She does not know me as a man that can be that picky about much of anything, so this gave her a real giggle when she was not overcome by frustration at having to leave another store empty handed or occasionally returning to a previous store, receipt and rejected pack in hand.
                Well, after all was said and done I did end up with a new pack. Now she marvels at how excited I am about my purchase. I bought a new tactical pack from a military surplus store. Large enough to hold anything I could want but it snitches in to save space when it is not fully loaded. The large suitcase style main area has clothing straps and interior mesh sack, it even folds all the way open like a suitcase. Secondary compartments are organized for tools and supplies with multiple outside pockets. Very tough and well-built with strong canvas but no steel frame that could harm the skin of my chopper like a hiker’s pack. All in all, I love it and expect to get another ten years out of this one too.  But the best part of all was that through all of this shopping and buying and packing and unpacking and returning, is that my wife got an unexpected insight and appreciation for the half of my life that she never gets to see.

 A supportive Family
             It’s hard to feel like a good husband and father being away so much. And I know I get more time with my family then most men, but there is a certain amount of helplessness I feel when away. The universes grand plan doesn’t care if I’m home or not when it sends my little boy a stomach-ache, or cold. I can’t plan my life around my wife’s sore back or rough day. I want to be there for my family when these things happen, but tough. Even though my wife understands this and generally never pressures me to come home, I feel like that is what I’m telling her, “tough”. Because that’s what circumstance is telling me.
            There’s more than the obvious ailments to worry me. I was born a worrier, probably because I was born in the north east. What if her car breaks down (which it has three times), or the A/C stops, plumbing problems, power outage, gets locked out, gas leak, falls down the stairs, the list goes on and on. Until I get to the biggies, break-in or fire. Then I have a minor panic attack and call her. If she doesn’t answer, major panic attack. It is stressful living like this. I also spend a lot of time where I am not reachable which only adds to the stress.
            On to the boy. He’s awesome. Born into this lifestyle he accepts it better than we do. But a boy needs his daddy sometimes and I can’t even fulfill that basic “good father” requirement all the time. Even if his reason for needing me seems like non-sense to us, his world is much less complex than ours but his emotions are just as real. As strange as it sounds, I like the fact that sometimes he doesn’t want to talk on the phone because something else is going on. Don’t get me wrong I love talking with him, but it tells me I’m not needed and he’s not missing me. Oh, and I can’t wait to start missing soccer games and school plays.
            So this is the odd mix of guilt and paranoia that pilots live with most days. And there are only two ways other than booze that I know of on how to fix, suppress, absolve, and/or restrain these lovely little emotions.
            First, take full advantage of the time I have with them. Make every day a good one, enjoy each other, wife and child. Do things, get up and get stuff done. This will also easy my paranoia of crap breaking when I’m gone, I try to leave with everything in perfect order. Any time not spent fixing stuff, play, again wife and child. I know that this leaves little to no time to rest and recharge but I usually find a way to slip that in (this is usually where the booze comes in).
            The second thing is outside my control but way more important. Having a supportive family is critical. My wife is amazing at this. She doesn’t like being on her own this much and I know that, but she is very good at being independent, or at least faking it. She weighs a given situation before she decides to tell me about it when I’m away because there is nothing I can do anyway. Why stress me out needlessly. I realize this is unfair for her to shoulder such burdens but tough, that’s life. It’s not fair that I live in constant guilt and worry. That’s our compromise. She’s very proud of what I do and never, and I mean not once, uses it against me that I’m not there or mentions that I should do something else for a career. To her, this is our life, not mine.
            I know a lot of wives bitch and complain about it and it’s not easy so they are entitled to it, but don’t do it to the husband. Robert Downy Jr. once said “there’s nothing lower than a grounded pilot”. This is true. If a man is forced from aviation due to family pressure, he will feel very resentful and unsatisfied. I know I would. I’m sorry to say that if aviation is threatening a marriage, I know of no solution. A strong foundation can take a little shaking, a weak one can’t. For example, I know pilots get a bad rep as cheaters. This is simply not true, I personally only know two pilots from my generation that have ever partaken in extra-marital relations, and I know A LOT of pilots. That being said, I believe a cheater is a cheater and not a character flaw found in pilots. Being gone a lot simply makes is easier to get away with, it doesn’t give you a drive to do it. As difficult as this life style may be, don’t blame it for a bad marriage or cheating husband.
            Sorry if I got of track a little. The point is, that my wife is right (as usual). This is our life and not just mine. The whole family reaps the benefits of my career, so why not share in some of the burden. Which means the family should be as supportive as possible and not spite-full or angry. It makes the whole thing a lot easier on every one when we are all in it together.

What it’s like
The excitement of what is about to happen builds
Almost like no one else gets to know this beauty
Everything is perfect and ready
I enter smoothly without flaw
The silence in the air accentuates every whisper of a noise she makes
All of this power and energy has become kinetic
This is happening, I have no choice but to see this through
I know just what she wants me to do
I know how to respond to every move she makes
But I’m older now, more mature
This is not my first time
I’ve grown more confident, even a little cocky
I’m no longer along for the ride, grateful for a good time
Now she responds to me, feels what I want
And she responds with beauty and grace
The peace makes me immune to all distraction
It’s just me and her, and its mutual
I trust her to carry me through this
She trusts me to be gentle
We’re guiding each other to something indescribable
Almost over, my favorite part, the point
Two bodies closing together by nothing less powerful then gravity
My final decision, should I slide, or just pound
There is so much pleasure in getting this right
So much danger in getting this wrong
I make the last push forward
Almost against my will
Like I’m a passenger in my own body
I feel every move I make but control none
Is it instinct or something less describable
There it is, its over, the adrenaline fades with a slow exhale
My muscles relax as my smile grows
And I can’t wait till I get to auto rotate a helicopter again

On the lifestyle from the Pilot himself

It took a long time and a lot of hard work to get where I am. I’m very proud of my accomplishments as a pilot and truly love what I do. With that in mind, it comes with a lot of unique challenges for someone that is also family oriented. The first thing I noticed when starting this career, was how difficult is it to relate my experiences with my wife. Every body likes talking about their day and pilots are no different. But we need to use discretion to not scare our loved ones or bore them with details only another pilot would understand and appreciate. As our family grew, my priorities changed so did the challenges of this life style.
 I love having a career that my son admires and is proud of. He has known nothing other than this life style so he handles it great. But I don’t. I miss him when I’m gone, I don’t feel like much of a father and I don’t like parenting over the phone. I know I get more time with him then any nine-to-five father, but that’s hard to rationalize when I’m away. 
At first, my wife was slightly jealous that I got to leave the house. I will admit, its nice to lay back and read a book with out the family clawing for attention. It’s also nice to commit myself to my job. As a workaholic, problems with family life appeared long before aviation that are no longer there because I’m away. Not only does my home life not interfere with work, but my work life doesn’t interfere with my home life.
My wife was surprised to discover that my work life is not free of family stresses. When I’m away I worry about my wife and son more than when I’m at home. Awhile back, she called me to ask “How do I put the chain back on the chainsaw?”. I almost had a panic attack. I often feel helpless when there is a problem or something that needs my attention. My wife is aware of this and try’s to keep my shoulders free of domestic burden. I do appreciate it, but I wish she didn’t have to.
It’s not a vacation from my family as so many seem to think. I know it sounds petty but here’s the facts. I’m not at home, it’s not my bed, TV, couch, sheets, and very little of my own stuff. I wake up at 4:30 in the morning and drink my coffee from a paper cup and use a public restroom. We all know its not all glitz and glamour, but most don’t realize its barely even comfortable. My company does its best to provide all the creature comforts but it’s not home.
I have a wonderful spouse that makes this life as pain free as possible. She shoulders almost all the load herself, and is the only woman in the world I trust to raise my son and she is doing so to amazing effect. But none of that gives me reason to neglect my responsibilities as a husband and father. I love flying and I love my family, but only my family loves me back.