By Greg Stone
**Originally published in the Summer 2007 Secondary Attachments issue of The Journal of API
How nice it would be if we didn’t need jobs! Every morning we would wake up saying, “What should we do today? Let’s go have some fun!” But alas, for most of us jobs are a reality if we want to keep a roof over our heads and our bellies full. So we must make the best of it.
I’m an airline pilot, and I consider myself very lucky. Everyone has heard the fascinating stories about pilots who only work four days a month, only fly to exotic destinations, and spend their downtime vacationing at their ski lodges in Aspen. I can assure you that those tales are a stretch.
But being a pilot is, for the most part, a fun career. I have more time off than a normal nine-to-five job offers. I’m fortunate to occasionally travel to some exciting places, and there are times when I can take one week of vacation time and juggle my schedule to turn it into three weeks off. My family and I are able to travel every once in a while, and we do it at very reduced ticket prices. But it’s not all roses.
Unlike most jobs, when I go to work, it’s for four days at a time. I’ve missed quite a few holidays, birthdays, and bedtime stories. Sometimes when I come back from a trip, I only have one day off before I head back out again. That comforting, familiar Monday through Friday routine that most families are accustomed to doesn’t exist for our family, and as you can imagine, this leads to some significant parenting challenges.
When a Job Becomes Work
In the past, I loved going to work, and if I had a big stretch of time off from the airline, I might go back early and pick up a trip just because I missed flying. It was fun to jet out to different cities – being behind the controls of an airplane is a blast. Now that I’m a father, my feelings have completely changed. When I have days off with my family, that’s exactly where I want to be. I wouldn’t dream of going back to work early. While I’m at work, I’m counting the days and sometimes hours until I can go back home.
As challenging as the travel is for me, I’m sure it’s even harder on my wife Pam and our three-year-old daughter Sophia. We have spent several holidays apart, and they’ve gone to lots of family and friends’ gatherings without me…not to mention the fact that with me out of town for several days, Pam is effectively a single parent. She’s got to handle all of the trials and tribulations of daily life with a toddler with no sanity breaks for herself.
It’s tough for Sophia, too. She misses me terribly when I’m gone, and she doesn’t have the same kind of routine and predictability in her life that many other kids do. Therefore, we do as many things as we can to make up for the time that I’m away and to maximize the time that I am home.
The Importance of Togetherness
The most important thing we do is make an effort to spend a lot of time together. It doesn’t have to be something “special.” Anything will do as long as we’re together. I’ll sometimes take Sophia with me around town when I’m running errands, and she loves to help me with any sort of task that I’m doing around the house.
We plan to do at least one activity together as a family every time I come home. There are times when I’d love to go on a guy’s hiking trip in the mountains or go off on some other adventure, but instead, we opt for outings like the Curious George visits at the Children’s Museum. We also find that on the first day that I come home from a trip and the last day before starting a trip both Sophia and I need some extra time to be together.
Staying Connected While Away at Work
We make sure to tell Sophia one day ahead that I have a trip “after this sleep.” That way, she knows what to expect. She and my wife drive me to and from the airport, and on those rides, I always ride in the back seat with Sophia playing games and singing songs together.
While I’m on trips, I call several times each day to touch base with my family. Sometimes, I think, out of hurt, Sophia doesn’t want to talk to me, but Pam will hold the phone to her ear and I’ll say a few words so that she can hear my voice. Other times, we’ll have great conversations. I can only imagine what’s going through passengers’ minds when they walk through the terminal and see the pilot barking into his cell phone like Clifford the Big Red Dog!
Family First, Work Second
The challenges my job presents to my family situation have made me reconsider my career goals. An airline job is based on seniority. The more senior you are, the better the schedules and pay. Normally, the progression is to start at a small company, build experience, and work your way up to a higher status on the list. As you move up, your schedule and overall quality of life as a pilot improve dramatically, but you don’t always go to the same exotic destinations that the big airlines do. After a while, you can move to one of those large airlines and start the whole process over again, but the kicker is that you end up at the bottom of the list and get the least desirable schedules even if it involves flying to glamorous places like Paris and Hawaii.
I’ve decided that being able to spend more time with Pam and Sophia is the most important priority for me, and I plan to stay at my small airline and enjoy the quality of life.
My job definitely gives me much more time at home with my family than a normal job would, but it’s not perfect. We still have to be creative in the way we do things to maintain that solid family bond. My career goals have changed, and I make conscious choices in the activities I choose during my time at home to maximize my attachment with Sophia. And they are choice, not sacrifices. After all, what is more than good parenting?