Saturday, June 20, 2009

OnceWereBachelors Careers: International Airline Pilot

When you're a bachelor airline pilot flying international routes, you've literally got the whole planet stretched out before you. Possibilities are endless. Your life is a William Holden movie unfolding. You leave home, go someplace exotic, mingle, and return refreshed. When you get married and have children, as my father eventually did, not much really changes except now you miss home, you return to your wife, and you make sure you've got toys in your flight bag for the kids to rifle through in your den.

Before I was in preschool, my father flew routes between Manila, Honolulu, San Francisco, New York, and London for Philippine Airlines. Back in the late Sixties at PAL, that meant Douglas DC-8s. Flying to the States enabled my father to keep his hot American cars, as well as those of his race-car-driver pals, excellently equipped with Goodyear tires he had loaded in the cargo holds of his planes. Corvettes. T-Birds. Mustangs. PAL would send him to flight training with KLM in Amsterdam. That's where he acquired his French aviator sunglasses, Harris tweeds, pegged pants, and Florsheim shoes. The gold Rolex Day-Date Oyster Perpetual he also acquired while travelling, I believe in Hong Kong.

For the PAL pilots back then, Hawaii was a significant touchstone, a waypoint in more ways than navigation. Investments were made here. Real estate. Life insurance policies. Friendships. And of course it was so very much like Manila. So when airline management got chintzy with the pilots, and a strike they organized collapsed because of scabs who crossed the line, my father resigned from PAL, packed up his whole OnceWereBachelor life, and moved us all to Honolulu. He traded the large Metro Manila home with the den and bar and the maids and houseboy for a small cottage on hospital grounds where my mother became a resident physician, a profession she barely needed to practice while dad flew the endless skies.

My father considered a few options, the least promising of which was American International Airline Pilot. Something about quotas for non-American-trained flyers, despite the fact that KLM training was top of the industry back then. Next least promising was bartender. My father has never been very talkative or hospitable and smoky places make him irritable. Eventually, he settled on life insurance, which he turned into a nearly thirty-year second career. He barely looked back during those three decades. Once I asked him if he regretted ever leaving PAL. Without hesitation he scoffed at the thought and pointed out that if he hadn't he doubted he would have a lawyer son or a surgeon daughter. I tend to agree. Privileged Manila Kid is a dicey upbringing to have, but I digress.

Selling life insurance sure wasn't the same as world travel, hands at the controls, thousands of pounds of thrust at your command. So it is not lost on me that this was one of many, many sacrifices that my father made for the better of our family. In this day and age, where I myself espouse quality of life, insisting that I couldn't work at a job I was unhappy doing, my father's sacrifice is even more remarkable.

This is barely the story of my father, really. I mentioned the maids and houseboy? In this new, non-airline pilot life, dad did most of the feeding and cleaning and grocery shopping and bill paying, while mom built her medical practice. He drove us to and from school. And he sold life insurance with great success.

Dad's in his early seventies now, and thanks to grandchildren, I truly believe he's getting younger and younger. He hasn't worked in years. When they can pry themselves away from our kids my parents travel often, mostly to Madrid and Manila, anywhere we have family. But for the sake of my dad, even though he retired from Equitable Life, I like to think of him as a former airline pilot and I always will.

Happy Father's Day, Dad. There will never be enough of them in my lifetime and yours together for me to be able to express my love and gratitude to you.

Top: My dad in the right seat of a DC-8 cockpit.
Bottom: My dad and his red 1955 T-Bird.


M.Lane said...

Wonderful post. Just wonderful. What an interesting life he has!! And a fine son.


tintin said...

Fantastic post. Love the pictures and always, a retired pilot.

Anonymous said...

Its a very good post..thanks for keeping me entertained