Father’s Day has taken on a new meaning for me since 1987 because my own father died suddenly in the spring of that year. Even today, 22 years later, I miss him so much, and I often wonder what he would think about my career at Southwest, of which, he knew nothing. The hard part about losing a close loved one is all the questions you can never ask, especially those questions that relate to your own personal history.
When Dad died, I was age 35 (he was a few months shy of 63), so I did have the opportunity to relate to him as an adult, but I was robbed of the chance to exchange our experiences of growing older. I would have liked to have learned some more about his younger life too—the kind of gossip men share when the “statute of limitations” on getting into trouble have expired. During World War II, what did he REALLY do on leaves into San Francisco, Hollywood, and across the border from an airbase in southern Arizona? (A few details did leak out like the time he prevented a drunken service buddy from stealing a steam engine.)
Among all the people I have known, Dad was the ultimate pragmatist. He had a unique way of characterizing the dilemmas, both big and small, that life throws at us. I can hear him now: “You can either deal with this by doing what it takes to get past it, or you can mope all the time, but it won’t go away.” Sound advice, but at times it was infuriating to a passionate idealist growing up in the sixties and seventies. A little empathy would have been nice, but he was painfully right about the options. That pragmatism extended to his own mortality. As a teenager, he almost drowned in a swimming accident, or to be more specific, he would tell me that he had actually died and came back to life. Like many folks in that situation, he saw the “bright light.” After that, he always would say that he wasn’t afraid of dying because he had already done it once. I really do believe him. And like all of us, he had days he hated, but overall, I think he looked upon each day as a gift.
My wife, Tina, accuses me of being stubborn and acting like a “Lusk,”--I am probably guilty as charged, and I get that from my dad. He in turn had the ultimate “stubborn” role model in his father—a man born in 1879 who moved to Texas in his teens as the frontier was ending. Thankfully, the stubborn gene from Granddad has been somewhat diluted over the generations. Still, if you are sure of something, why debate it any more? Case in point: On the first day of high school, Dad first saw my mom. He came home from school that very day and told his mom that he had found the girl he was going to marry. Through high school, they remained just acquaintances, and after graduation he went off to pilot training in the service and Mom left for college at Texas Tech. Somehow, in spite of the distance separation, they finally connected on a romantic level, and the rest is history. (I am sure that I wasn’t the first “gleam in their eyes.”)
Earlier, I mentioned my career, and my love of aviation came from Dad. He always had this kind of love-hate relationship with airplanes. Unlike so many returning pilot veterans, Dad had no desire to remain in the cockpit as a civilian. Yet, he joined a little airline which eventually was absorbed by Continental, and he served them for 35 years. I would inundate him with aviation questions, and he would take me to work sometimes during the summer. When my questions exceeded his realm of knowledge, he would help me acquire the books that would answer those questions. Yet, he never encouraged me to seek an airline career, probably because he knew the pitfalls involved. He left that decision to me.
Is there a lesson here for Father’s Day? Yeah, I think there is a big one. Never take your parents for granted. They hold the “search engine” to your past and the outline for the future. Today is a good time to reach out to your own dad because tomorrow might be too late.