My dad is retired. Sort of. He went into the office the day after his retirement party, which bothered me because I like neat and tidy endings, but it also seemed appropriate. The fini flight, as they call it, was an echo of some other, real last flight years ago that none of us fully recognized for what it was.
I’ve been a pilot’s daughter my whole life. It was something fun to throw in the faces of boys in my third grade class when they went through that phase. They would muse about the secret lives of pilots, and with a bored air I would tell them I’d been in the pilots’ lounge tons of times. They asked me what it was like. Sometimes I would maintain an air of mystery. Sometimes I told them it was boring – all the TVs were turned to the weather channel. The trappings of pilot life didn’t impress me, since I saw my dad’s flight manual and wings and uniform too often.
On the fini flight the uniform was novel again. He looked the way I remembered him looking when he went off on trips when I was little, and I kept doing double takes all day. For the past few years he’s been wearing ties and button downs, because for the past few years he hasn’t been flying. He calls it optics, since the tremor from the Parkinson’s is bad enough that passengers might be somewhat unnerved by a shaking man flying them through the air in a large metal tube.
I was flown once by my dad. I was tagging along on a 25-hour layover to Boston to look at a college, and when the crew bumped me up to first class the man in the seat next to me seemed confused. Why was a random 16-year-old sitting alone in first class? There was a delay of some kind, and Dad came out to chat with the passengers. The man next to me said, “Ohhh. That has to be your dad.” (There’s a certain family resemblance.) I nodded proudly.
I thought there would be more flights like that.
There was a break, sometime after the diagnosis, and then he did go back to flying for a bit. On the whole, he always assures me, he’s doing well. When he grounded himself again we didn’t realize it would be permanent. It happened slowly.
Some endings are like that, I think. When Bird and I wrote a bio to give to the passengers on the fini flight, it was the first time I had written anything in months, and I procrastinated on it until the morning it was due (sorry, Dad, but I figured you’d understand given your own work process). I hadn’t realized that my writing had ground to a standstill until I had to break the unarticulated hiatus.
Sometimes we stop doing the things we love without meaning to.
The passengers seemed to like the bio, however it turned out. I noticed they kept thanking Dad for his service, and I noted to my stepmom that I honestly forget most of the time that he was ever in the military. Sure, I know intellectually that he flew for the Air Force, that that’s how he got into flying in the first place, but to me the finality of the day was about his commercial pilot life, not something he’d already retired from years ago. People take what they will from stories, I guess.
We always tell my dad he needs to write down his stories from years of adventures in flying, and he always swears he will. So, Mr. Retired, now’s your chance. I’ll write if you will.