… there is nothing quite as jarring as a phone call at 6:10am from your brother, you know just know it can’t be good, such as the case of my call this morning. I was beginning to wake up, excited for my youngest son’s fifth birthday when I was greeted with the news that my father had passed away roughly a half hour earlier.
My father’s passing was not a shock, as I had been down to Manhattan see him in the intensive care unit two weeks ago, and spent three days with him in the intensive care unit this week, but there is still not much comfort in the facts you know in your head when your phone rings.
My father is an unlikely catalyst for world travelers, but somehow he was. Growing up in Brooklyn, the furthest he had traveled outside of the United States was Canada, while in the Army. Later in life he took cruises and saw the Caribbean, but he always encouraged his three sons to travel. He understood the world, and many facets that made the world a global environment without ever having crossed an ocean.
Growing up next to JFK International Airport, the global gateway to the United States, my brothers and I always had airplanes overhead, which encouraged our desire to travel, and this was encouraged by our Dad. My father, without seeing the world first hand, sent two of his sons to visit the Soviet Union, a son to study in Australia, let a son pick up head off to London for a few months … all while we were still in high school. Since then, my Dad’s kids have collectively set foot on every continent, and found ourselves curious about the world we live in, and very comfortable to just pick up and go anywhere, encountering situations that would make my father laugh even though he could never experience them. One experience sticks out in my mind, involving my brother and I meeting up at Hong Kong International Airport, I was arriving and my brother was departing. I stood in the lower level immigrations arrival area, before passport control, as my brother stood in the upper level departures area and we shouted back and forth, chatting normally. A seemingly normal conversation thousands of miles from home, because somewhere along the way we were encouraged to go out and be part of the world.
My Dad was not an airplane person, but while he never openly encouraged my love of planes, he sure did a lot to assist my airplane fascination. Saturday mornings in my house meant one thing as a kid, a trip to the flea market. My Dad was a consummate flee market expert, going every Saturday to the flee market near our house, always followed by a trip to McDonalds for breakfast afterwards if I was with him. After breakfast, the drive home frequently went the long way, driving home up Rockaway Blvd, which runs parallel to the north side perimeter of JFK International Airport. Every now and again the drive home included a spin through the terminals at the airport.
Every summer was spent at the Atlantic Beach, where it overlaps with The Rockaways, right under the approach and departure waypoints for JFK Airport’s Runways 13R/31L and 13L/31R. As a kid going to the beach meant watching the Concorde more than once a day, often arriving then departing, as well as planes from all over the world. At the beach my Dad would often take walks down the jetty, and would ask me what airlines were overhead. While my Dad often didn’t know the answer, he knew I usually did, or if I didn’t I’d be determined to find out.
My Dad and I rarely agreed on many things, and almost never saw eye to eye, which is probably not uncommon, but he pushed my brothers and I to find out who we were, and know why we were who we were. My Dad pushed us to think of others rather than ourselves. My Dad pushed us to think beyond common conventional thinking … although he’d deny it vehemently.
This morning, as I sat in the dark before my kids were awake, absorbing the news I glanced over at a National Geographic Magazine sitting on the floor, that had been knocked off the night stand, and thought of something I heard many times from my Father when I’d ask questions about the world, he’d look at me and say “Go get a National Geographic.” Funny … I always have gone and read National Geographic.
As I ponder the difficult task of telling my kids that Grandpa is no longer with us, and reconcile everything that I think everyone probably reconciles while dealing with a situation such as this I leave you with this. As a kid my Dad used to tell me to sit behind the wing, because if you could see the wing attached to the plane outside the window you knew everything was OK. To this day I always try and find a window seat right behind the wing when possible.
Happy Flying Dad!