In the inimitable words of Ray Kinsella, the main character in, Field of Dreams, “What’s in it for me?” The question is potentially offensive, totally ego driven, and as common as waves on water.
Asking, “What’s in it for me?” is a perfectly reasonable thing to do, especially when you’re considering doing something as weird and wonderful as becoming a pilot, or getting married.
With the full support of my wife, I set off for a big-time flight school six weeks after we were married. I went. She stayed with her folks.
The challenge was considerable for us, although I didn’t fully understand why at the time. We lived more than a thousand miles apart for 18 months of our first two years as a married couple. That’s hard, but it’s not necessarily a marriage killer. She flew with me a few times, but she never seemed to enjoy it. In fact, she seemed to hate it. But she went, gritting her teeth all the way.
Like most new pilots who seek a career in the industry, I thought I was headed to the airlines. As is my nature, I worked a lot. I worked late. I worked weekends. I worked nights. I flew for companies in Florida and then in New England, then in Florida again. We moved. She came along. But she flew with me less and less, until she didn’t fly with me at all.
What I didn’t know back then was that my wife had only been in an airplane twice before we began dating. Her vision of aviation and mine were dramatically different.
Where I saw adventure, professional advancement, and camaraderie with other like-minded folks, she saw danger and unnecessary risk. It wasn’t unusual for me to come home late at night from an unscheduled flight, to find her still awake, worried something horrible had happened.
Recently, almost 26 years into our marriage, we realized my wife and I haven’t flown together in 24 years. She’s spent nearly a quarter of a century married to a career aviation enthusiast while actively resisting any involvement in aviation herself.
Frankly, that’s been a problem. In fact I would go so far as to say my wife and I were very close to being a divorced couple not long ago. She wasn’t happy. I wasn’t happy. And other than the fact that we have some great and nearly grown kids together, we had absolutely nothing in common. No shared interests. No shared goals. Not much of anything to keep us connected, really.
Our troubles were not rooted in my desire to fly, of course. They were more nuanced and deeper than that. But my tendency to be a workaholic was a factor. I can’t deny that. I work six to seven days a week and have followed that pattern since I was a teenager. I like to do what I do, and so I do it a lot.
Just as I did when I was a new flight instructor, I work late, I work weekends, I work nights. I’m home, but from her perspective I’m still gone.
So there we are, breaking up for all intents and purposes, when something almost unimaginable happens. My wife suggests I take her flying in our C-172. It may be one of the most benign, stable, and easy to fly aircraft ever to roll off an assembly line. But she’s never been in it. Not even to taxi from the hangar to the self-serve pumps. Then, out of nowhere she asks to go flying.
We went the next day.
For several years my wife traveled extensively for work. She’s flown all over the United States and across the Pacific Ocean. Always in transport category aircraft, but during that process she got some experience in the air. She got comfortable with being airborne. She started to like it.
Flying in a general aviation airplane, she realized we could tool along at 2,500 MSL and get a good look at the world below. We started sight-seeing around the Florida peninsula and she loved it. So much in fact that she suggested we start taking vacations to destinations within the range of the Cessna. With our long-range tanks, that covers most of the Southeastern United States, the Bahamas included.
Everything changed. Now, we had a link, something that worked for both of us. As unlikely as it may seem, our marriage was beginning to heal thanks to general aviation and what it could do for us individually and as a couple.
Each of us got something slightly different from the deal, but we both got something. That matters. My wife and I could look at general aviation and say, “What’s in it for me?” and we could both find an answer that made our lives better and our marriage more hopeful.
Now, realistically I doubt too many people have experienced a revitalized marriage because of general aviation. But we did.
And I’m willing to acknowledge that it’s probably a good idea for me to take a day off now and then, put my feet up, and hopefully do so in close proximity to the woman I share a house with.
But I’m as surprised as anyone to admit that aviation has been a major asset in our lives personally, professionally, and emotionally. It may have taken us a quarter century to get all those bits and pieces lined up, but we managed to do it eventually…together.
So what’s in it for you? The answer may be obvious, or it may be well hidden.
I suspect that if you ask the question and keep your eyes, your ears, and your heart open, you’ll find an answer that works for you somewhere down the line. I can only hope it will work out for you as well as it has for me.