This World War II Navy Pilot has always helped me fly straight.
My father, Robert Balancia, has survived as a cop on the streets of New York City, and has won accolades as a top attorney defending the innocent.
But to me, his best accomplishment was becoming a U.S. Navy Pilot, flying off aircraft carriers during World War II.
And his experience has been a blessing to me!
My father’s Navy training gave him the ability to negotiate the rough times throughout his life. The Navy was his escape from a poverty-stricken childhood in New York City and enabled him to get an education that today would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
When we were kids, my dad — known to his friends as “Good ol’ Bob” — would regale me and my brother for hours with his stories of fun and daring, flying under high-tension wires and taking risks only young people would dare.
As he spoke I could imagine Dad in his late teens and I could see the joy in his eyes as he relived his wild adventures. My father can tell a great story and we would laugh — and cry — right along with him for hours, never giving a thought to the time of day.
Years pass and by the time I was in college, our relationship had slipped away, as those old stories seemed so out-of-date and our laughs together seemed a long-forgotten time of the past. My father’s words seemed so minuscule compared to my lofty goals and aspirations in the world of news and big city-media.
My career moved me to the other coast, but my father pressed on over the years, prompted by my passing byline that he would catch in his morning paper. With a phone call he would make sure that his distant daughter who lived so far away, was winning the wars that big career women wage every day.
“Don’t forget us little people back here on the East Coast, now that you’re a ‘Big Shot,'” he would joke. At least it appeared my Dad saw the good side of my work and I didn’t acknowledge that deep down there were some dents collecting in my ever-so-slowly thinning armor.
Like when my boss had had enough of my righteousness in the face of advertiser pressure, and when my faithful friends, whose frequent sign-off of “Love ya” would prove to be untrue, that’s when indeed I would remember.
“Just keep your head high and do your best,” my father advised. “In the words of David Farragut, ‘Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!'”
A victory or two, children of my own, and an attitude towards life that comes only after years of experience and, suddenly, my father’s advice had become a priceless asset that took on new value.
We grow accustomed to the familiar and take for granted the treasures right in the palm of our own hand. As we falter in the face of challenge, we are humbled to learn we can’t win every battle.
But with the guidance of that World War II Navy Pilot — the special co-pilot who has been there all my life — I am truly a winner able to fly higher than the rest.