Friday, December 02, 2011


If you've been in aviation very long, you've likely heard some variation of the following story:
A student pilot was practicing touch and goes in a Piper Cub at the local grass strip when he saw a Bonanza zoom overhead. "Wow," he thought, "I wish I could fly a fast, sexy airplane like that!"

The Bonanza pilot was plodding along at 150 knots when he got passed by a Baron. "Boy, that's the ticket," he said. "I need to get a twin!"

The Baron pilot was slogging through the bumps when he saw a Cheyenne pass overhead. "I wish I had a turboprop," he groused. "I could get up and out of this weather!"

The Cheyenne pilot massaged his temples; it'd been a long night on the medivac run. Just then he saw a Citation go by. "Oh, to fly a jet!" he sighed. "Props are for boats!"

The Citation pilot looked at his groundspeed readout impatiently. There was a hellacious headwind, and if he didn't get the boss to his meeting on time there would be hell to pay. He looked up at a B747 crossing overhead. "Wouldn't that be the life!" he mused. "Big, fast airplane. Exotic destinations. Hot young flight attendants!"

The 747 Captain looked down at the earth, trying to stay awake for the tenth hour of a twelve hour crossing from Tokyo. He picked at the lukewarm crew meal that'd been grudgingly served by the very senior, very old, and very disgruntled A-line. Just then he spied a little yellow speck moving across the tree tops far, far below. A Piper Cub! The Captain turned to his FO with a smile and said, "Oh man, what I wouldn't give to be out flying a Cub right now!"
It's an aviation story, but the "grass is greener" syndrome is in no way confined to the pilot population. It is a human phenomenon. We undervalue what we have and overvalue what we do not. Especially in this age of plenty, we've become accustomed to wanting increasingly superfluous things, and getting them immediately - consequences be damned. Modern economies are essentially built on an unending cycle of desire and consumption. You could argue that the present economic malaise is due to individuals, businesses, and governments all (re)discovering that their wants far outstrip their resources.

Aviation, like so much of the country, feels like it is at a standstill right now, waiting for something to happen. There are few retirements. Nobody is growing; many companies are shrinking. American Airlines just declared bankruptcy, and few believe that airline consolidation is complete. Everyone's sitting tight, biding their time, wishing for some good news, any good news. Waiting, and wanting.

I've been a Captain at NewCo for nearly four years now. I've had the flight time to go elsewhere for some time, if anyone worth going to was hiring. I still have flow rights to WidgetCo, our mainline partner, and I've been on the brink of going there for over a year. They just announced they are not planning to hire in 2012; it's largely speculated they will hold off until 3Q 2013. I've become rather restless. I often peruse the aviation message boards and job sites in search of something better. When Tianjin Airlines recently upped their base salary for JungleBus Captains in China to $188,000/year, it was hard not to give Parc Aviation a call. Even doing something different at NewCo would help. I'd love to be a check airman; unfortunately, my company has resisted hiring check airmen in my seniority block for fear of immediately losing us to WidgetCo.

All this career angst, this wanting something different, completely ignores how good I have it right now. I'm living in base, with a 25 minute drive to work. I'm bidding at 14% seniority in my category and getting my pick of trips. I've averaging 17 days off work per month and making a perfectly livable wage. Nobody should be feeling sorry for me, least of all myself. Restlessness is truly an affliction of the comfortable. My career woes feel pretty pathetic when I talk to friends still at Horizon, or 20-year Comair Captains facing the extinction of their airline. They also feel petty next to the one, unobtainable thing that Dawn and I have really wanted for the last five years.

Longtime readers may recall me writing about Dawn's miscarriage in early 2007. That pregnancy was a surprise, but one we accepted and were ultimately happy about until we lost the baby. The realization that we were financially ill-prepared for parenthood led directly to me leaving Horizon and taking the job at NewCo. Since then we've been continuously trying for a baby. We've had trouble getting pregnant but did succeed twice, only to suffer two more miscarriages - most recently this last weekend. It was very early, less than a month in, but it hurt like hell. It felt like a door slamming shut. The first two we could say, "Well, this sort of thing happens," but now it seems increasingly certain Dawn will not be able to carry to term. It's what she wants more than anything.

My initial reaction was anger. I was angrier than I've been in a long time - at chance, the universe, God. Simply being unable to conceive would be hard enough but there'd always be that glimmer of hope. This seemed downright cruel, like Lucy and the football. The initial excitement and hope made it so much worse when it ended abruptly in a by-now-familiar torrent of physical and emotional pain. The fact that it was my wife who was going through hell and there was absolutely nothing I could say or do to make it better absolutely enraged me. No convenient target presented itself, however.

In the midst of this I had three days of simulator training scheduled - my twelve month event, the checkride I must pass to keep my job. I considered cancelling. Nobody would have blamed me given the circumstances, and the company would've readily rescheduled. Ultimately I decided to just get it over with, and flew what was possibly the best checkride of my life. It was flawless. I've always done my best flying under stress. It was also pretty therapeutic, a chance to clear my head for a few hours and do something I enjoy, and then think things over on the drive home.

Here's the conclusion I've come to after thinking it over a while: this is one hard, painful part of what has otherwise been a very good life. I've built a good career doing something I love during the worst ten years in that industry's history. I'm married to my best friend, a woman who understands me better than anyone alive and shares many of my interests. We have a nice house, good friends, and loving family. We have our health. We've been able to explore many beautiful corners of the world. We're doing well financially. There are so many people who are far worse off, especially these last few years. I have absolutely no right to be angry at chance, the universe, God, or myself because our many blessings happen to not include children, or because we have to work through the hardship of miscarriage.

Dawn and I have talked this over and concluded that while we'd love kids and will try at least once more, we can't make it the biggest thing in our lives simply because it's what we don't have. We'll live our lives as though we won't be able to have children, and if it turns out we can, fine. On that note, Dawn is starting work on her Masters degree next month. The idea is have her done around the time that WidgetCo starts hiring so her pay increase will offset my pay cut and prevent us from dipping into our savings. As a bit of a last hurrah before she gets swamped with studies, we're flying to South America later this month for 2.5 weeks in Chile & Argentina, including doing some trekking in Patagonia. It's not exactly what I wanted for Christmas, but I'm thankful for the chance to do it nonetheless.


amulbunny's random thoughts said...

(((Sam and Dawn))). Sometimes things happen and you yell at God. Infinitely better than God yelling at you I guess, but the pain and anger take some time to go away.

You can be the uncle and aunt that everyone in the family envies for the trips you take and the special things you have done together.

There are many children out there looking for the right Mom and Dad. Perhaps when your hearts have healed you might find the one who fits in your arms.

Bright Blessings and enjoy your trip to the southern climes. I hear tell it's summer down that way.

Anonymous said...

A beautiful piece. Godspeed to you and Dawn. I love my nieces and nephews ...

PeterC said...

Sam, this recent loss for you and Dawn has caused you both much pain. You both have touched me with the absolute togetherness you share. As you say you are both ready for that special gift of parenthood. You certainly know by now we make our plans and life has other ideas. There is little in the way of comfort that I can offer. Just know that I care and pray that someday that dream will come for you two in time. This has caused you to look at your blessings and you have seen the glass is truly very full. God bless you both and have a wonderful Christmas.

Will said...

Great outlook on life, I'm a student hoping to one day be as happy as you. I'm terribly sorry to hear of your recent losses. God has a plan and I'm sure things will work out beautifully in the long run. Good Luck Sam.

Anonymous said...

My condolences to you and your wife.I wish you brighter times ahead.

I am an aviation student just starting out and am studying to be an air traffic controller. I would give almost anything I have to be as lucky as you and fly planes for a living.

I greatly enjoy reading your blog and check it weekly for new content as part of my weekend reading roundup.This was one of your best posts even though I know it must have been painful for you to write. I just thought I would say so.

Thank you for your insight and have a merry Christmas.


Chip said...

I'm sorry for your loss. Yes, you have blessings and should be thankful, but at the same time it is good to have dreams about what might be some day.

My wife and I went through something similar on approximately the same time scale. At about year four we found a local support group through which led us to a Mind/Body class which was immensely helpful at the time. I highly recommend this, as you mentioned there are some worse off, but also some who have overcome great challenges and have found happiness whether it be having kid(s) or being at peace with without. It helps to keep things in perspective and at the same time to be part of some progress and maybe experience progress yourself.

Life is what happens along the way, every year, every day, every second. We all need to keep this in mind and try not to let too much of our focus drift to what we are waiting for and cherish the moments we have now.

Jesse said...


I've followed your blog closely for the last couple years as I've found much kinship in your perspective. Although I've always driven on the corporate side of the aviation street I've found very informative yet humorous and objective instrospection and analysis in your posts. Until now nothing has struck me on such a personal and emotional level.

The struggle, the reckoning, the trip to patagonia(same exact thing I did), the whole bit. My wife and I have walked an eerily similar path. My heart goes out to you and Dawn. As pilots, and as humans I suppose, we strive to control that which is, on many levels, beyond our control. This isn't an attempt to provide some external form of comfort in this trying time. I'm not so arrogant to think I, or anyone really, has that ability. I just want to thank you for sharing, for opening your life to public view in such an endearing way, and I want you to know we're pulling for you, for whatever that's worth.

Before you get too far south in Patagonia, spend at least 48 hours in Bariloche, sprinkle some cinnamon in your jerba mate^, kick your feet up next to a good fire with Dawn, take in the mountains, and breathe in that mountain air man, and remember that not far from where you sit a Uruguyuan rugby team had to each other asses to stay alive after a poorly executed VOR approach. Godspeed.

Ron said...

I've flown, as I'm sure you have, with some folks who are quite bitter about their lot in life, no matter what they're flying or how much they make.

On the other hand, you have an admirably positive and thankful attitude about things. I bet you're a great guy to fly with.

Yes, it's been tough for the past few years in our industry, and who knows, it may get even tougher. But we all have roofs over our heads, food on the table, and much to be thankful for.

I pray things will turn out the way you and Dawn hope. If not, there are other avenues if you want kids. I've got several friends who have gone the adoption route and couldn't be happier.


Don Hodges said...

No advice from here, being long into the Grandpa phase of parenting, but you have an admirable marriage with a long bright future. Enjoy and keep growing. There's probably a Master's, a child and a 737 waiting for you two soon.

C. Swift said...

I will second the adoption route. My wife and I adopted our daughter from China a bit more than 5 years ago and couldn't be happier. We probably waited too long to start a family (both into our 40's) and after 4 years realized it wasn't going to happen (and I can strongly empathize w/ the disappointment). We had a great experience going to China to adopt our daughter although it's not so easy these days(long wait) but there are many other options for anybody interested in exploring that route.

Anonymous said...


My heart goes out to you and Dawn. My wife and I experienced the same thing during our first pregnancy. We did eventually get pregnant but our baby girl was not long for this world. She died at the age of three from Neuroblastoma cancer. We figured that was it for us but we looked into adoption and in December 1999 we adopted a baby girl. My wife and I were 38 years old at the time and my Grandma said to me "you will now get pregnant" and sure enough we did. I just turned 50 on Saturday and am blessed with two daughters on earth and one in heaven. It is never too late. Keep the faith and god bless.

A Lucky Dad

Anonymous said...

Don't give up on it. Keep trying!!!
I know it is a huge blow anytime you put your hopes into something and it just doesn't work out.
Keep your hopes up and try to have a positive attitude (you have a higher chance of succes when doing so).
Good luck and have a great trip in the Andes.

Anonymous said...

My thoughts and prayers are with you. For someone going through this right now too I understand your anger and helplessness.
~Follower in KDSM.

Ignacio said...

Hey! That's weird, as I've told you before, I am from Argentina, specifically from Buenos Aires, so hurray to you that you are getting readers from all over the world!
Don't hesitate to contact me if you need any advice on places to visit in Buenos Aires. However, you won't regret visiting the Patagonia.
PD: I have just remembered that a volcano in chile has erupted some months ago and it's still expelling ashes, thus there have been some serious flight cancellations due to this problem, specially in Bariloche, argentina. I don't know where you are going, but you might have to be prepared to go by bus if the volcano decides to remain active!
You can add me to facebook

Ignacio said...

I forgot, to contact me you can add me to facebook, please tell me if you are interested so I don't publish my name unnecessarily

Anonymous said...

Sam you and you wife are in our prayers. My wife and I are in the same place, but we have found a great doctor in Cincinnati , Ohio that is one of the best for this kind of thing. Look him up, Dr. NeeYo Chin.

Keep your head up my friend, the universe tends to unfold as it should.


Radu said...

Hi Sam, sorry to hear about your loss. I've been reading your blog for a long time, I can't remember if I ever posted any comments. But I feel that I've gotten to know a bit of you and Dawn, and I really feel sorry for what you guys are going through. Things have a way of working out, don't lose hope.

Joaquin said...

Hey Sam,

I admire and applaud you for writing about such a difficult and personal topic. I really hope that you guys are able to become parents someday; it is clear that you will be very good at it.

I'm not sure you remember, but we met for beers at McMenamin's on the Columbia in 2007 to talk about flying. I was working as a researcher at OHSU but was about to ditch my job for a CFI job in Bend. After a few years of instructing, I ended up changing my mind about a career in aviation and applied to medical school, where I'm in my first year. The subject of fertility treatment/assisted reproduction has come up quite a bit in class, in particular how it's not usually covered by insurance. I wouldn't be surprised if you have already explored this area, but if I can assist by asking some of the docs I know here (I'm at UPMC in Pittsburgh, one of the country's top medical centers) whether there are any real top experts in you area, I'd be happy to. I'll shoot you a brief e-mail (I still have your from our meeting) so you can get in touch with me if you want.

Safe flying and best wishes,


Tim said...

Wow. You wouldn't believe how timely this is for my life (my interview is in 12 hours, our medically facilitated son is 4 months old, FW solo next week). I know it must have been tough to share and I'm sorry for your troubles...but thank you so much for sharing.

Anonymous said...

I hope you had a wonderfull trip to "my neighborhood" here in South America. And I am looking forward to reading your trip report.

As others have allready stated, loosing a child (doesn't matter how young or old) is never easy. And it hurts for a long time. I hope you find the healing you need in order to overcome this experience and grow from it.

As an adoptive parent myself, I can only express the very strong bond I have towards my children. I tell them "You may are born from my heart!"

And please considere the question as to who is the real parent. The one who consived and delivered the child? Or the one who gets up in the middle of the night to change diapers, soothe pain or fever, and calm the fears from bad dreams?

Many people only consider international adoptions as viable. But what of the children abandoned domestically?

Please consider the option of adopting and providing a loving home to a child who has lost its parents, or whose parents can not provide a loving home environment.

Tanya said...

Sam, I'm so sorry to hear this sad news for your family.

I'm a longtime reader who pops in from time to time to check things out -- my husband is also a pilot in the Midwest and I love reading your take on the industry, etc. You're an excellent writer and I love the variety of topics you take on.

My husband and I have a 20-month old daughter but last month we had a miscarriage at 11 weeks. As a result, I've done a bit of reading and I wanted to let you know that in my limited experience, you and Dawn might still have some good options.

Because miscarriage is so common, most doctors aren't very interested in looking into causes until your third miscarriage. So while having this third miscarriage seems like a dreadful dead end, on the other hand it might be the beginning of some answers. There is a good chance you could find a supportive doctor to run a few blood tests. Perhaps Dawn has a clotting disorder which doesn't affect her normally, but interferes with the formation of the placenta -- there are shots that can help. Or maybe she is low on a particular hormone, in which case some supplements might help her carry to term.

I hope you don't mind me speaking from a place of limited knowledge and experience to offer some advice, and I wish you all the best in whatever is next for you guys. I think your plan to move forward and live life to the full is the best. Enjoy it all.