Some of the best lessons fathers can teach their children are the lessons they don’t even know they are teaching. When I was growing up, my father was a weekend hobby pilot. After a stressful week combating a daily commute from the suburbs of Chicago into the very heart of metropolitan action and running the proverbial rat race for five days in a row, he enjoyed a weekend of unwinding by taking his small Piper airplane up for a spin around the tranquil, unpopulated skies. Sometimes, he would take me along for his weekend adventures soaring over the world below.
On those weekends, when I got to go with him, I would sit in the co-pilot’s seat marveling at the immense complexity of the flight instruments on the dashboard. I was really too small to see out the window very well, so I would spend my time studying all of the wondrous gadgets right in front of me. Some of them lit up like a Christmas tree while others registered numbers that I didn’t understand. One day, when I was about eight years old, my father saw me studying a special place on the dashboard where an image of the plane tilted and wiggled left and right around a perfectly horizontal line. Then, he asked me something I wasn’t really expecting, “Would you like to fly the plane?”. Of course I would! Who would pass up that opportunity? Certainly not me.
My father then proceeded to explain to me that the instrument I was watching was used to keep the plane level with the horizon. If the image tilted left, it meant the plane was tilting left. If it tilted right, it meant the plane was tilting right. The goal was to keep the plane steadily level with the horizontal line in the middle. He went on to explain that it’s important for pilots to trust their instruments. Human perceptions can be in error, but the instruments are always right. Using that instrument wasn’t going to be a problem for me because from my low vantage point in the front passenger’s seat, I couldn’t see over the front dashboard anyway. That instrument was all I could use to keep the plane level. He then gave me a quick lesson on how to operate the plane’s steering wheel. The steering wheel was similar to an automobile’s steering wheel, except it also went in and out to control the up and down motion of the airplane. Then, he let go of the wheel and I was steering the airplane.
I didn’t realize it then, but in that moment I learned how to keep a cool head, look at the facts and trust my instruments. It wasn’t a lesson my father was intentionally trying to teach me, but life has a way of being the best teacher. Father’s may not always consciously know what they are teaching their children, but if they take the time to spend with their children, the lessons will naturally follow. Remember, some of the best lessons in life are the ones you don’t plan.