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Family in Flight

Family in Flight


When I was growing up, my father had a plane. It was a small double-engine with six seats, one for each of us. Dad loved to fly and would find any excuse to take us on a trip, even just a half-hour flight to a restaurant in Upstate New York with the world's best curly fries.

Aren't you scared?" people would ask sometimes. "He's not a professional pilot."

It had never occurred to me to be afraid. My father had operated submarines and did math that looked like it was in another language. He'd worked on computers when you still needed punch cards. He'd even been to Singapore.

As far as I was concerned, Dad knew everythingAs far as I was concerned, Dad knew everything, and I believed whatever he told me.

The plane's seat of honor was up front next to him, the knobs, switches and dials of the control panel in full view. If you asked Dad what one of them did, you were usually treated to an in-depth lecture of aeronautics and wind trajectories. By the time you got your answer, your brain felt like static and it was time to land.

So it was purely out of boredom when, on one of our Sunday trips, I pointed to a thin white button and asked what it did.

"That's for the ejector seat," Dad said casually. "Touch that and you'll fly right through the roof."

For the rest of the flight, I couldn't keep my eyes off of that button. My hands itched to push it, just to see what would happen. At the same time I shuddered at the thought of being catapulted through thick metal and into the sky without a parachute. By the time we heard the control tower clearing us to land, I had flattened myself against the door, as far away from that little piece of plastic as I could get.

For months, every time we flew, I would eye the button warily and ask, "There's not really an ejector seat, is there?"

Dad would chuckle. "What do you think?"

As I entered adolescence, I decided that Dad was no longer omnipotent. In fact, by the time I was fifteen, I was sure he was totally clueless, not to mention completely insane.

Because somewhere in there, he had become an orthodox Jew.

I should have seen it coming when he started going to minyan every morning on the way to work. Or when he started carting a heavy volume of Talmud around with him everywhere he went, breaking it open to study whenever he had a spare moment. Then when he wouldn't drive to synagogue with us anymore, or eat at our favorite non-kosher restaurants.

But I hadn't noticed, probably because it had happened so slowly. One minute, he was just our baseball-cap-sporting patriarch, watching videos with us on Saturday afternoon while we munched on gummy candy. The next minute, he was a bearded, kippah-wearing, Torah-quoting stranger.

It was as if a bomb went off in my house. We watched as my mother grew fierce with resentment toward the stranger to whom she found herself married. Dad, who already worked long hours, started spending even less time at home, accepting invitations all over the five boros to celebrations of people I'd never even heard of.

We watched as my mother grew fierce with resentment toward the stranger to whom she found herself marriedWe, their children, felt our foundation shaken and were angry at the person who had caused it. My father eventually built a life for himself in which we had no interest, and so took no part.

Meanwhile, we still flew. Dad's plane took us all over the eastern seaboard and even down to the Bahamas. We were still a family, even if we didn't feel like one.

One night we flew home over a thunderstorm. Dad pulled us high up, where the sky was clear and the stars seemed so close we could touch them. Below us was a carpet of purple-gray clouds that lit up in scattered spots, like fireflies in fog, as lightning flashed toward earth. It was still and silent, just the six of us flying through the heavens.

As we descended, the power in the plane went out. We had no electricity, no navigation system and no connection to the control tower. It was nearly impossible to see through the storm and as my mother started to cry, I realized just how dangerous a situation we were in.

From the back of the plane, I saw the lights below get closer and closer. Beside me, my mother prayed between sobs.

"Please, G‑d, please. Let him get us down. Please…."

Unlike my mother, I wasn't afraid. I knew without a doubt that Dad would get us home safely. Despite all the ways he had changed, he was still my father, and I trusted him completely.

Eventually, Dad brought us down for a smooth landing. We sped along the runway, the blue lights whizzing past in an assuring rhythm. Our flight had been hard, but we'd made it to safe ground.

Dad sold the plane a few years later. We still had occasional adventures as a family, but our impromptu weekend jaunts were over. Time passed, becoming a commodity we had to save up to spend together.

And as it tends to do, time also changed all of us. The four of us grew up, moved out to begin our own lives. Each time we came home, we found Dad more and more immersed in his new life, wearing tzitzis and sometimes, answering to his Yiddish name. But we learned to live with it, and even came to accept the newer version of our father.

We would chuckle at his stories of driving a chassidish friend through Brooklyn on his motorcycle, his passenger's jacket tails waving like flags as they sped up Avenue M. We would lovingly tease him about his friends' "Jewish" sounding names, accentuating the guttural syllables until our throats were sore. It was our way of reaching across the gulf that had opened between us.

Mom's resentment eventually faded and she and Dad found a happy balance, shocking us all by falling in love with each other all over again. Later, he would care for her with fierce devotion as she fought, and lost, her battle with Cancer. The bonds of their love, we saw, were impervious to even the most drastic of changes.

We were still a family, even if we didn’t feel like oneDad never lost his passion for flying, though now he is just as passionate about other things: his learning, his growth, his connection with G‑d. It's inspired some of us to follow in his footsteps.

These days, our family looks much different from the one who flew together all over the eastern seaboard. Two of us are married, one with children, one engaged. Mom is gone. And Dad is getting married again, to a kind woman from his "new" world.

He was the image of joy at the engagement party, the happy groom-to-be celebrating his engagement, accepting mazel tovs from his black-hatted friends and their gorgeously bewigged wives. The contrast between that man and the one who raised me was so stark, I wondered if perhaps he would be swallowed away forever, along with the last shreds of the family I once knew.

But he smiled brightly when he saw I'd arrived. He introduced me proudly to his friends.

When the crowd cleared, he took my arm and spoke to me in a low voice.

"I'm always here for you," he said. "Whenever you need".

And as he was surrounded once again by a swarm of black suits, I remembered the clear night sky outside my window on Dad's plane, cradling the six of us as if we were the only people in the world. I was safe with Dad at the helm, flying us home.

Rea Bochner is a writer, musician and mother of two. She spends her spare time writing for various publications, whipping up gourmet sugar-free muffins and studying to become a midwife.
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ruth housman marshfield hills, MA July 30, 2010

Flying Lessons Somewhere in his journeys your father's life took a turn, and he became an Orthodox Jew. It seems he was always a very good person, who loved to spend time with you and your Mother and that flying was his passion. He was also very educated and so bright.

We all experience in life, personal epiphanies and paths open for us as it did for your Dad. For me it is clear, whatever path one chooses in life, that the knowledge that is basic to this entire story, which your father shared in spades with his family, is that "G-d is in the wings".

I truly believe this. And this statement can be read more than one way. Reply

Yehudis July 30, 2010

Liked it! Nicely written, thanks. Reply

Richard Boca Raton, FL., USA July 30, 2010

Family in Flight Beautiful! You're a musician? What do you play? Reply

Anonymous July 29, 2010

Thank you for a truly beautiful and touching story. I am moved to write some things come and go but the bonds of human relationships even transcend religious observance. Reply

Theresa Loyal, WI July 29, 2010

Beautiful Story This is a good one to reflect on. So much in such little time! Thank you.
Theresa Reply

Miss lyndsey hewatt July 28, 2010

he was still my father, and I trusted him complete Love your story...thought of our G-D, our heavenly Father who is still our Father and we trust HIM completely. :)

Thank you for sharing. Reply

Shanna Feldstein Arlington, TX via July 27, 2010

I enjoyed the story, thank you for sharing it Reply

Lenny ben Nathan richmond, VA/usa July 27, 2010

A family in flight This was a nice analogy/story. But did Dad really change? Wasn't he always interested in learning? Didn't he love adventure and excitement?
So, then he was doing what he had always done learning about G-d, going on the greatest adventure/flight. Not really leaving his family but showing/teaching them as he always had ...waiting for them to ask before offering what he knew. And being G-d like he let his son know he was proud of him, valued him, and would always be there for him. Like my Dad did. Reply

Anonymous Pittsburgh, PA July 27, 2010

What a beautiful story! Reply

Richard Raff July 26, 2010

Family in Flight As i read this story i remember a audio lecture on why the Jewish people believe in G-d without questions. i think in my mind view that, i must learn to trust in G-d's wisdom. Their are some things that( me )the human being does not understand, but with faith in Hashem Name i could overcome that gap. When you know that your father studies these teachings you feel more in tune with trusting his abilities. Too compare the two, well..., we just know that we have faith period and we emit that essence back with the righteous heart. Good story Rea Bochner you really have honored your parents. Reply

Anonymous Highland Park, NJ July 26, 2010

While I am not a women, I feel the need to comment on this story. You see, in my own way in my family, I am the husband and father who has become observant while the rest of my family is angry and upset. I began my journey to observance almost six years ago and I have not moved so slowly. My teenaged children still respect me and come to me for help, but want nothing to do with my observance. My dear wife is angry at me quite often, and hates the community in which we find ourselves.

This story gives me hope that one day, things can settle down and and my family can be happy again. Reply

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