On Parenting and Flying

Prepare for the unknown, unexpected and inconceivable . . . after 50 years of flying I’m still learning every time I fly.” ~ Gene Cernan

I’ve learned a great many lessons as an aviator over the years, all of which have left me a better pilot. What I didn’t expect, however, is that those experiences would also improve my parenting skills.

Here are a few of the lessons I discovered in the air that, properly heeded, can make a you a more capable parent on the ground:

  1. A good pilot doesn’t manhandle the controls. A good many pilots are “Type A” personality and they must learn to resist the temptation to force the aircraft to submit to their will. Most aircraft are inherently stable and as such respond more favorable to a gentle touch. Lesson learned: Just as a thumb and a finger on the yoke are almost always more effective than two clenched fists, finding the least forceful intervention when dealing with children provides for an overall smoother experience for both parent and child.
  2. A good pilot uses all available resources. This is true in both pre-flight planning and during the flight. In small aircraft a pilot may even enlist the help of his passengers to keep an eye out for traffic on a busy day. Lesson learned: children love to participate, long to be helpful and love new challenges. Look to include them creatively in what you are doing, especially around the house. And don’t be afraid to ask for help from others who have more experience than you.
  3. A good pilot stays ahead of the aircraft. Many aviation accidents occur because an inexperienced (in relation to the craft or the mission) pilot gets behind the aircraft in his thinking. This is an uncomfortable and unsafe position that every pilot finds himself in at some point in his flying career. In such critical moments he must take a deep breath and say to himself: “Fly the airplane.” Lesson learned: Your children are going to get out ahead of you every now and again. Don’t sweat it! You’re an adult and there is no better time than this to take a deep breath and bring your experience (both to-do and to-not-do) to bear on the situation.
  4. A good pilot learns not to let distractions consume his focus. Distractions are inevitable. A strange noise, an unfamiliar sensation, an unusual sequence of events can happen when you least expect it (if not during every flight over large bodies of water). Take note, keep it in perspective, but don’t forget to…yes, you guessed it…fly the airplane! Lesson learned: Be willing to be surprised by your children. They will inevitably come to you out of left field, despite your best attempts at making them good little girls and boys. Stick to the basics where you can…there is no replacement for a loving, caring and attentive parent. By the way, don’t be afraid to do the unexpected with your children. They will love it!

As I mentioned previously, parenting is a sacred trust and there are many lessons which can be translated from other activities in your life if you are observant and keen to connect the dots. I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences!

Do Your Part

In January 2009, Flight 1549 made an emergency landing in the Hudson river after a mid-air collision with a flock of birds. Everyone survived. You have likely heard Captain Sullenberger’s story, but for the first time we have a chance to hear from Ric Elias, who was sitting in the front row of that flight.

Ric’s realizations are important. Forged in an emergency, as life-changing moments often are, Ric describes the three things he learned in those few precious minutes before the plane crashed in this chilling, yet inspiring clip:

Ric Elias, Flight 1549

Have you had such a moment in your life, or courtesy of the life of another close to you, a moment where you come to terms with what really matters and finally turn your back on what does not? Your lifespan – for better or for worse – is relatively short and the sooner you realize how absolutely precious each moment is, the better.

Make the most of your day today and be at rest with anything which detracts from that goal. Focus your energy on building creative momentum, rather than obsessing about that over which you have no control. Relinquish your death grip on the past, stay on your toes in the present and keep an eye and an ear trained on the future.

If you wait for the big moment to happen, you’ll likely be twiddling your thumbs for a long time. If you handle the little things right before your eyes to perfection (or as close to it as you can), handling the big things will be just another walk in the park. Nota bene: any victory in life, whether it is your own or that of one of your fellows, creates momentum for the entire body of humanity.

Do your part to conserve that momentum. Once you do, you’ll find it hard to be satisfied with mere conservation. Believe me, you’ll be inspired to add to the momentum by creatively handling every single situation that comes your way.

Natalie Merchant sings life into old poems

Natalie Merchant’s singing career spans nearly three decades.  Whether you remember her from the 10,000 Maniacs or from her solo work, you will likely enjoy Merchant’s new album, Leave Your Sleep, a fascinating and diverse collection of poems set to music in true Merchant’s unique creative style.

The album is an examination of life, centering on the themes of motherhood and childhood.  Enjoy her presentation, filmed at TED2010:

Merchant played at a small concert I had the good fortune to attend while at the University of Michigan.  Her emotionally nuanced music and voice inspired self-reflection in a way that poetry does.  If you have another moment, NPR recorded a wonderful piece on her on Morning Edition several days ago.  You can find it here: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=125857459.

As a father, I ca’t help but marvel at the wonders of childhood and motherhood.  The innocence, the love, the tenderness, the warmth and inspiration.  It is a precious sight to behold! 

Mothers are among the fiercest creatures on earth when their cub is threatened, the toughest on earth when the safety of their cub is in question and the gentlest on earth when their cub is in need of a hug.  Motherhood is an enormous responsibility and a sacred privilege.

Children, on the other hand, are (as they say in the Midwest) a “hoot.”  A parent’s greatest hope is to have children that live to their fullest potential.  For some that may mean that they excel in every aspect – in education, in achievement, in humor and in love.  For others it might mean that they make the best use of their capacities.  Children can be the funniest thing on earth, the sweetest thing on earth and the most charming thing on the planet.  Childhood can and should be a time of exploration, discovery and growth – physical, mental and spiritual.   

Each one of us has a mother to thank for giving us the opportunity of life.  No matter what your mother provided or didn’t following your birth, you can be thankful for at least that fact.  You have the privilege of adding value to the world around you. 

People never cease to amaze me.  The more you get to know people the more you begin to see their unique capacity for the expression of creative expression.  Hidden talents abound.  You can, if you so choose, give stage to the creative genius in those around you.

Whether you are a mother or a child, or were one or both, I encourage you to see the world as a mother sees a newborn child: with love, tenderness and hope for the future.  Thank you, Natalie Merchant, for your inspiring new album!