Kennedy: Giving your children roots and wings

Staff photo by Mark Kennedy / Cherie Martinez does a preflight check on a Cessna airplane at Crystal Air in Chattanooga on April 29.
Staff photo by Mark Kennedy / Cherie Martinez does a preflight check on a Cessna airplane at Crystal Air in Chattanooga on April 29.

Getting our 16-year-old son out of bed on a Saturday morning is sometimes a chore.

He's not lazy. He has a part-time job and several side hustles. But on certain Saturday mornings when he is not scheduled to work, he feels entitled to sleep as long as he pleases. Nothing short of the smell of Mom's pancakes on the griddle will pry him from his repose.

Last Saturday was the exception. When I stuck my head in his bedroom to roust him, his eyes flew open.

"Wake up, Son," I said. "It's fly day!"

He whipped off his covers so fast that I felt a breeze on my face.

For some time now, he has been interested in learning to fly an airplane, with an eye on aviation as a possible career. He has this elaborate plan in his head to become a commercial pilot and make enough money to retire in middle age.

When I was 16, my idea of long-term planning was deciding whether to go to Dairy Queen or McDonald's for lunch.

A few days earlier, I had reached out to Cherie Martinez, 68, a recently retired United Airlines pilot to see if she would mind talking to our son about the best paths to a commercial aviation career.

She said sure, and then went a step further and invited him to tag along with her in a Cessna 172 one day at Crystal Air, where she flies regularly to keep current on her licensing. Part of the first wave of female pilots at a major airline, Martinez used to fly Boeing 777 passenger jets from Washington, D.C., to Europe.

I should explain that our son's interest in flying is more theoretical than it is based on any actual experience. He reminded me on our way to the airport that he could barely remember the last time he flew in a commercial jet; it just hasn't been a big part of his life experience.

He admitted to being a little nervous, and I told him to compose some questions in his head to ask the Martinez.

"This is your chance to get good advice," I told him. "So be prepared to ask anything that is on your mind."

I shouldn't have worried. He soon fell into an easy conversation with Martinez, and I could instantly see the fruits of several months of working as a sales associate at a local hardware store.

He has become comfortable talking to adults — asking and answering questions. That's the reason we have always valued retail or restaurant experience on the resume of our job applicants at the Times Free Press. Well-honed interpersonal skills may be the most valuable commodity in job seekers today.

As we took off in the little four-seat airplane, I sat in the back while the two in front chatted on their headsets. What an invaluable experience for our son: hearing the basics of aviation explained by a top pilot with more than 40 years' experience.

Aloft, I was reminded of two things: the surprising prevalence of rock quarries, which present as big holes in the earth; and the elegant design of modern subdivisions, with their curving cul-de-sacs and absence of right angles.

By the time we landed, our son was helping with the post-flight routine, placing wedges under the tires and hanging on Martinez's every word.

On the car ride home, I asked him if he had fun.

"Yep," he said confidently.

I don't know if the Saturday morning flight will be a career catalyst or a footnote.

But I do know that nothing substitutes for experiences and that the best decisions in life come from having good mentors who know all the answers and are willing to share.

The Family Life column publishes in print on Sundays. Contact Mark Kennedy at  or 423-645-8937.

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