Have you ever joined an on-line meet up group? Well, I did once, rather reluctantly, and that is how Richard and I met. I had just moved to Kailua into my own tiny apartment and had decided to join a couple of local groups to get out and meet people in my area. I honestly never expected that the one person out of the hiking group that I would spend the most time chatting with would end up being a commercial airline pilot on a layover from Jacksonville, Florida. Nearly the furthest possible spot in the United States from where I was living in Hawaii, and a place that I had actually lived for nearly 15 years. What’s more, is that as the day and our hike progressed I learned that we have some very good friends in common.
What I also learned is that beyond those common friends, we have differing opinions about pretty much everything under the sun. When we met it was pre-election time, and try as we might, neither of us could avoid talking politics. We even joked about the social faux pas of immediately delving into the topic of politics the moment that you have met someone, but we were both very disturbed about what was taking place in our country. We were also on complete opposite ends of the political spectrum. We covered every issue to confirm it. We had not one single common thought or position on any political issue.
In no time at all, I was referring to him as, “Righty-Tighty Flyboy” and he was calling me, “Libby Lou” but it was all in fun, and we found that we could talk about anything no matter how heated the subject, and still keep our civility with each other. This was a pleasant change for me, as I had already begun to eliminate people from my life who would seek me out for a conversation either face to face or on social media, and then attack with an incoherent barrage of incomplete or inaccurate “facts.” People like this had been coming out of nowhere and then when pressed for proof or clear, valid data to back their claims, would often slink off and not be heard from until the next round of attacks. I decided early on to just let these folks go from my life with a simple click and my full blessing. But here I was, having thoughtful and respectful, even, dare I say, enjoyable, conversations with a staunch conservative. Wonders never cease! 🙂
Richard and I decided to stay in touch and continue our conversations via text and did so throughout the election. He was very kind to me following the election, when he knew I needed it, and I will always remember that. When I decided to launch the website, I was worried that I might come off as brutally harsh and disrespectful to people with differing political views, mostly because I was just devastated and fumingly pissed with every single action the new administration was taking. I asked Richard to read my posts and give me feedback from his perspective. Since then, he has taken the time to do so with each post, political or not, and has been so thoughtful and thorough in his responses.
As we’ve gotten to carry on our conversations beyond that fated first day nearly two years ago, I’ve come to realize that we do have some things in common. We both love our children beyond words. Richard’s children are the number one priority in his life, no ifs, ands, or buts. And like me, he loves the outdoors and desires a more relaxed, simple life.
We have often talked about how we get married, we buy things, we have children, we incur debt, and while these things are blessings, they also tend to put us under great pressure. Next to health fears, financial pressures and fears tend to be the things that keep us from feeling like we can make big changes in life. When we have others who we love counting on us, we certainly can’t fathom doing anything risky. I can see that Richard will do anything and everything he can for his children, and he will continue to do so and look forward to the day when he has his version of a simple life.
Richard recently contacted me to say that he had read one of the interviews on the site and he really wanted to do one. I was elated because I had actually been waiting for the right time to ask him and wasn’t sure if he would feel comfortable enough to do it. We had a great time coordinating efforts to talk and complete his questions and then selecting his pictures. He has been very gracious to work with throughout the entire process!
The interview follows:
In what part of the world and during which era did you grow up?
“I grew up in Jacksonville, Florida. It is located in the northeast part of Florida very close to the border with Georgia. Most people, when they think of Florida, they picture the much more culturally diverse and metropolitan areas of South Florida. I tell people to think more South Georgia-esque when thinking of Jacksonville.
I was born in 1967, yes, 50 is quickly approaching, so I came of age in in the ‘80s. The MTV generation (when they actually showed music videos), parachute pants, big hair bands, Izod shirts with the collar turned up and stone washed jeans. I wasn’t trendy in high school and didn’t consider myself to be popular. I did letter in football all three years, but you could usually find me wearing regular Levi’s jeans and some non-descript shirt, hanging out with the jocks talking football or the “Rednecks” talking about our past or future hunting adventures. President Ronald Reagan was the first president I paid any attention to and the 1988 Presidential election was the first time I voted.”
Who do you feel most shaped who you are as a person, and how?
“I would have to say my parents. They both had strong work ethics. My mom delivered mail and was up at 5am every day. My dad was an aircraft maintenance technician for the Air National Guard. They provided a safe loving home for us filled with wonderful memories. My parents taught us to say yes ma’am and yes sir and to answer in complete sentences. We ate dinner together and went to church together. I know this sounds like a Norman Rockwell painting, but we did have our ups and downs as any family.
My mom was the nurturer always giving the hugs and love when needed, but she would also discipline when needed. She was always telling me I could do it, made me feel it was ok to try. My dad was the teacher/realist. He would say that sounds great, but HOW are you going to do it? Not in a demeaning way, but in a way, that made me really think and build a path to my dream. When I failed the test to get into officer’s school, my mom was there to give hugs and tell me it would be ok and my dad was there saying what are you going to do about it?
I give credit and many, many thanks to my parents for shaping me in my formative years. They gave me the fortitude to strive for my goals, not take “no” for an answer and NEVER give up.”
What has been the hardest learned lesson in your life so far?
“The path of least resistance isn’t always possible. My goal to be a Military fighter pilot required a college degree. I decided on a business degree with a major in marketing. The academics were not going well for me and I decided it was due to my lack of interest in business and a change to an aviation major would be just the thing to get me through college. I approached my parents with my grand plan of switching schools to the much more expensive aviation university and finishing my degree there. That was met with a big fat, NO! So, I continued my business degree and had to figure out how to be successful where I was. It was hard work, but taught me a great lesson of perseverance.”
What nourishes your soul on a daily basis?
“I have come to enjoy the quiet. The first 50 years of my life has been filled with go, go, go…everything from working to be successful in my career to raising kids to just the daily grind of trying to keep up with the Joneses. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t think I would change much if I had to do it again. But with my Airline job and two of my kids off to college, I find myself with lots of time at home alone. So, I will take a few minutes and go sit outside and read, or journal or just be still and let my mind wonder. This allows me to gather my thoughts and focus on what is really important (which could be myriad of things).”
Can you describe your favorite way to recover and rejuvenate after an especially hard week?
“Here’s a perfect scenario; I return home from an airline trip on a Thursday afternoon and spend the evening just settling down from the hustle a bustle of the trip. I don’t have to get up too early on Friday and a able to get my day going at a leisurely pace after spending some quiet time on my porch and then off to some sort of physical activity be it cycling for 30 or so miles or hitting the gym for some anaerobic activity. Okay, that was a long way to say I like to sleep in and then finally drag my butt to the gym the day after a trip.
During the day, I will hit the grocery store and buy the needed items to prepare my kids dinner on Friday evening. This is a treat as the older two are off to college and my younger one resides with her mom except on my visitation days. On Saturday, I’m hoping for some sporting event to watch, mainly ones that my kids are involved in, or hitting the beach or fair or cooking out with friends.
On Sundays, I’m off to church with the kids and then out to lunch afterwards. Then it is usually low key. If the Jaguars are playing I’m glued to the TV but then usually disappointed by the outcome of our hapless NFL franchise…There’s always next year! On Sunday evenings, its “Breakfast for dinner!” with Pancakes, bacon and eggs along with the other usual breakfast accoutrements. This never happens all in the same weekend, but to get a little of each when I can is refreshing and rejuvenating.”
What was the one single moment in which you felt the most loved?
“When my 21 year old son posts on his social media “You’re what a true role model looks like” or when my 19 year old daughter confides in me about some personal issues or when my 12 year old daughter doodles a note that says I LOVE YOU TO THE MOON AND BACK (a 1000 times). Those are the moments when I feel loved, but those aren’t a single moment.
So, I would say on the day of my retirement from the military. I had what is called a “fini” flight which was my last flight in the F-15, and then a retirement ceremony. When I saw the turnout of friends, family and coworkers I was overwhelmed. You never know how much of an impact you have on people just from your day to day life. The auditorium was packed and I gave an impromptu speech and then received a standing ovation…needless to say, I felt loved.”
What is the most difficult decision that you’ve ever been faced with?
“Deciding to move forward with a divorce to dissolve my marriage. There were a lot of sleepless nights, weight loss from the worry, (which wasn’t such a bad side affect for me really) and a general feeling of hopelessness. I saw no possibility of reconciliation, so I had to make a change. I hated everything about the process. It’s been over two years since the divorce was final and it still bothers me.”
What was one time in your life when you were really brave, and really proud of yourself as a result of that?”
“Ok, you keep asking for these “one time” events and I have many. So, I’ll say that my event is becoming a USAF Fighter pilot. This was a dream of mine since the seventh grade and the path to achieve this goal was full of setbacks. The first being a perforated eardrum that needed surgery to heal. The next obstacle was my academic non-achievements. I am not academically inclined so high school and college were a struggle. I managed to graduate high school with a blistering 2.4 GPA. I entered Florida Community College with a healthy dose of reality and several remedial courses to get my math and English up to speed. I finally graduated with my Associates degree and was accepted to the University of North Florida. Once arriving there, I managed to get on the Dean’s list, the one that he had for students that were asked to sit out for a semester on academic probation. I begged my way back in and eventually crammed my four year degree into six years, never losing sight of my goal. The last major hurdle was the Officer’s Qualifying Test. As you could imagine I didn’t do as well as needed on the first try, but figured it out and passed on the second try.
I don’t like to say that I am “proud” of myself, but I am very satisfied and thankful for having a can-do attitude instilled in me that never allows me to give up.”
What are you most afraid of right now?
“Nothing! You really think you are going to get a Fighter Pilot to admit he is afraid?
All kidding aside, I desire a deep meaningful relationship with someone. A person to grow old with and sit on the porch and just stare off in the distance with very few words needed. I am anxious for that relationship but refuse to rush in. I am also a bit afraid that I may not recognize it when it comes along.”
Can you tell me about a time in your life when you thought you were right about something, but later you found that you were mistaken?
“There are so many that there isn’t one that stands out. There is a story of when I was feeling self-righteous and later had karma pay me a visit.
During my first year of college I was living at home with my parents and my younger sister. I was a big NASCAR fan and would set the VCR to record the races on Sunday. I know, my redneck is showing and yes, I could program the VCR. My lovable little sister was a big Days of Our Lives fan and guess what happened…yes, she recorded over my NASCAR race. When I sat to watch my race and instead was watching a soap opera, I lit in to her as if she was the dumbest, most inconsiderate person on earth.
Now fast forward about 6 years. I am living in Oregon going through some pilot training and still recording NASCAR races. My wife of 1 year had her sister send a VCR recording of her youngest niece’s birthday party. So, guess what I did…I recorded over the birthday party. I felt horrible and learned that everyone is capable of making mistakes, so don’t judge too harshly when they do, because you could be next.”
What is the best dessert you’ve ever had and where were you?
“The best dessert ever is always the one I have next!
I love cake with lots of icing, cookies and ice cream. I’m not a foodie and usually don’t pick restaurants for the dessert menu. But in the spirit of finding “the best” I’ll have to say it’s my mother’s simple strawberry cake with strawberry icing. She makes this for me each year on my birthday. Yes, I’m nearly 50 and she still makes it for me, don’t judge.”
What do you see as your greatest achievement in life so far?
“This one is easy. My children. I fully believe it is a parent’s duty to raise their kids to be kind, respectful contributing members of society. Mine aren’t contributing yet as they are still in school, but they are all working hard to be successful in school and eventually in society.
A USAF Fighter Squadron is filled with many type A over-achieving personalities. They spend many hours at work to get ahead. I realized after a while that of all their accomplishments they may have at work, they won’t be remembered a few years after leaving.
When I realized this I became more of a B+ get done what I could during normal work hours personality. Then I was off to coach baseball or pick up kids from dance or other activities. I came to realize that my legacy was in my children. They will be making a difference years after I am gone.”
What has been the greatest adventure of your life so far?
“So far, my 22 years flying fighter jets for the USAF has been my biggest adventure. Every day I showed up for work was different. Every training mission I flew brought different challenges and different outcomes. After each training mission, we would dissect each phase of the mission to garner the lessons learned, or in my case, lessons re-learned. We did this to foster an atmosphere of continual competition thereby creating constant improvement.
My time in the military allowed me to travel all over the US and to many countries. While these trips were for training or creating good will between allies, I did find time to do some touristy stuff. The difference between these trips and tourist trips is I was able to work with and get to know the nationals. Interaction with the locals gave an insight to their culture you may not see if on a tourist trip.
One instance is when I was in Saudi Arabia training with the Saudi Air Force. A young pilot in the Saudi Air Force confided in me that he was a dual citizen as he was born in the US while his father worked in the US. He was very concerned that I didn’t tell anyone as he was afraid of what his peers would think. He did have a hundred questions about life in the US and, of course, Disney World. A big surprise for me was to find out that women don’t drive in Saudi Arabia, and on a visit to the home of a Saudi officer, his wife stayed in the back of the house while we visited in the living room.
So, actually my entire flying career is one big adventure as I have been to Thailand, Turkey, Iceland, Canada, China, Cape Verde, Bulgaria, Brazil, Japan, Mexico, Panama and all over western Europe from Rome to Edinburgh. On every trip trying to take away a little nugget of knowledge be it an historical fact or something I learned from a national of that country. What I have learned most, no matter where you are from, we all want to love and to be loved. We all want the freedom to pursue happiness, however it is defined by that society.”
What are you looking forward to most in life?
“I don’t have a large grand goal that I am working toward right now. I had that with my goal of being a fighter pilot. Right now, I am concentrating on the small things. One of which is being debt free. I am on a plan and have conquered a large chunk so far but have much to go. I am realizing the stress that debt has caused me and I am determined to not live the second part of my life with that stress.
I also look forward to seeing my kids prosper in life. I don’t mean prosper monetarily, but become happy with the life they have chosen.
Finally, I’d like to find the right person to share life with.”
What adventure are you looking forward to in the future?
“I don’t currently have any big adventure planned at this moment except for paying off the debt. That is kind of an adventure, right? I do have some ideas rolling around in my head. For one, I would like to buy an airplane, or at least a partnership in one so that I can get back to the simple joy of flying. While I am an Airline pilot, and love my job, it isn’t the same type of flying as flying low over the countryside and taking in the sights from that perspective.
Another idea I have is buying (once debt free of course) and adventure motorcycle and traveling the back roads and dirt roads of this great country. Stopping at campgrounds along the way and enjoy all that they have to offer.”
What advice would you give to someone who has long since dreamed of a grand adventure but is having a difficult time finding the courage to make the commitment and go?
“First of all, your life is an adventure. Look around you and see what small adventures you can indulge in. Don’t compare yourself to others, such as our wonderful host, who seemingly has found the Holy Grail of adventure. She started off small and worked up to the point she is now.
Really think hard about what is your adventure. It may not be trekking. It could be going on short term mission trips with your local church, I find these very fulfilling. It could be volunteering at the USO or with myriad other organizations. The most important thing is to find what fulfills you. Then set a goal to get there. Now just setting the goal isn’t going to make it happen. Set small intermediate goals and focus on those and marking them off your list. For example, you may say, “I want to hike a month on the Appalachian Trail.” Well, you’ve got bills to pay, so set a goal to save the money to cover those bills. Then, once that is accomplished, start saving for the cost of the trip. During the meantime, read all you can about hiking the AT, join blogs or Facebook pages etc. Pretty soon you will see it can be done! It’s the old adage: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”