The greatest thing he ever taught me was how to be calm in the face of anything. — Bree Loewen
Ever since I can remember, people have asked me: “What is it like to have a dad that’s a pilot?”
My response has always been the same: “What is it like to have a dad that isn’t a pilot?”
As soon as he was old enough to understand the concept of airplanes, Art Parker knew he wanted to fly them. Hired by United Airlines at the age of 24, my dear dad has spent the past 40 years flying all over the world. He has been a captain since 1996, responsible for the safety and well-being of hundreds of people traveling thousands of miles ever single day. He has flown six kinds of Boeing jets to over 20 countries. Altogether, Captain Parker has spent approximately 40,000 hours in the sky.
The only thing that surpasses my dad’s dedication to flying is his devotion to family. In addition to being an outstanding captain, he is a phenomenal father.
This is my tribute to his career, and to the remarkable experiences, lessons, and values I have gained from having a dad that’s a pilot.
Over the years, Dad has brought us all kinds of things from his travels — shampoo from Japan, cheese from Amsterdam, artwork from Mexico, a beautiful leather backpack from Brazil. But the greatest gifts have always been his stories.
They often start with walking through a fish market in Tokyo, drinking beer at a pub in Germany, or seeing the northern lights while flying over the Arctic Circle.
You know, just average stuff — another day at the office.
These tales from far-flung parts of the world instilled a profound international perspective in me and my brother — especially as two kids growing up in a beach town in North Carolina. Looking back two and a half decades later it’s easy to see how much my dad’s stories influenced me.
I started writing when I was seven-years-old — stories about grand adventures in exotic places. The settings often included oceans, deserted islands, waterfalls, and volcanoes, and the protagonists of these stories were always two young women: Mary (me) and Megan, my life-long friend who also happens to be the daughter of a commercial airline pilot.
When my mom asked me “what do you want me to be when you grow up?” I answered with the same conviction that my Dad had as a child.
“I want to be a writer.”
October 2009: Chile
As we drive across the wide open landscape, I flip through my Lonely Planet guidebook, looking for a restaurant in Puerto Natales that stays open late. Dad and I have just spent the past eight hours hiking through Torres del Paine National Park and we’re starving.
Dad scans the sky, pointing towards the horizon. “See those clouds that look like saucers?”
“Yeah,” I say, raising my camera to take a few photos. “They’re beautiful.”
“They’re called lenticular clouds.”
He explains the variations in wind, temperature and moisture that create their unique shape, and the turbulent air they generate. “You don’t want to be near one of those in an airplane,” he says.
I gaze at the sky, making mental notes to remember these tidbits of knowledge. I’m currently in my senior year of college, finishing up a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Six years from now, I’ll return to southern Chile to document a research expedition on a volcano. In nine years I’ll return to Chile yet again to board a research vessel bound for Antarctica.
I don’t know any of this yet — my future career as a science journalist is not even a blip on my life radar yet. But my dad’s understanding and explanations of phenomena in the natural world — from bioluminescence to rainbows to these beautiful lenticular clouds — resonate with me.
March 2018: Antarctica
At the end of dinner, the only people left in the mess hall are me and Eric, one of our marine technicians on board the Laurence M. Gould. Glancing through the porthole windows to peer at nearby ice bergs, we talk about the type of people you can meet while working in Antarctica.
“How long have you been working down here?” I ask Eric.
“Twenty years,” he says. “I used to sign up for whatever trips sounded the coolest. Now I try to bid around when I can spend time with my daughter.”
I tell Eric about how our Dad did the same thing. “Technically he was gone for half our childhood, but he always seemed to be home for the important stuff,” I say. “Birthdays, school plays… we had to move Christmas a couple times, but there was never a time when I felt like my dad wasn’t there for me.”
I talk about the values Dad instilled in me — a deep love and appreciation for travel, a desire to gain new experiences and learn new skills throughout life, and the ability to stay calm and keep a cool head in the face of adversity.
Eric smiles and tells me about his plans to take a big trip with his wife and daughter next month. They’re going from Arizona down into Mexico. He wants his daughter to start learning Spanish.
“You’re raising her right,” I say. “And you can look at it two ways — you may be missing parts of your daughter’s life by being away. But you’re also setting a fantastic example for how to live.”
August 2019: Southern Pacific Ocean
“You ready for some feedback?”
I nod and say “for sure.”
Ed and I sit down, swaying slightly with the roll of the ship. I have been working as a Video Engineer aboard the E/V Nautilus for a little over a week, controlling cameras on remotely operated vehicles at the bottom of the ocean. I love the work, but I’m still a newbie. This is my first “official” review with my boss.
Ed peers down at his notes. He says I’m doing a good job overall, and makes a few comments on how to improve exposure settings. Then he asks, “are you a pilot?”
“I fly drones—but no, my dad is the pilot.”
“Well your systems checks are solid — you have great cockpit awareness.”
I smile, knowing dear Dad will be very proud to hear that.
Found in 20 percent of us, it is tied to the brain’s ability to regulate dopamine, a chemical that is connected to our understanding of risk and reward. Those of us with the 7R gene don’t get as much pleasure from everyday stimuli. Foods are not spicy enough. We seek variety, flavor, and zest. We tend to be more curious than everyone else, looking for newness in everything we do. We’re wanderers who are never satisfied with the status quo. — Jill Heinerth
I don’t know if our genetics include the 7R gene, but Dad and I both harbor an affinity for what some may deem “extreme” endeavors: when he was my age, Dad paddled white water rapids in a kayak. And while my desire to climb ice-covered volcanoes might make Dad a bit nervous at times, he understands my drive.
When it comes to embarking on bold and sometimes dangerous undertakings, my old man will never ask me why?
When people ask how I became an expedition photographer, I reference many formative experiences from my life: completing a degree in journalism, working on a remote volcano in Chile, or hanging out on boats with marine scientists. But beneath all those qualifications and experiences lies this one fundamental truth:
I am a professional adventurer because I was raised by one.
From many thousands of miles away, I offer a heart full of gratitude to my dad, Captain Arthur M. Parker.
I love you very much Padre, and I am so, so proud to be your daughter.