After flying pretty consistently for two and a half months, I had to take a few weeks off to tend to some unexpected travel. On one of my first days back, Tom and I were talking casually in the office, readying to leave, and the topic of age came up. I asked him how old he was, and he said forty-seven. I’m just about to turn forty, which makes us more or less the same age.
But I don’t think of Tom as my age. I think of him as older. Not because he is old, I hasten to add, before he tears my head off. But because my relationship with Tom is one in which he is wise and I am foolish. He is the elder and I am the child. He is the instructor and I am the student.
Whenever a dynamic such as this establishes itself — especially among men — it mimics and mirrors that between father and son. When I was growing up, my father held the key to all things. He knew how to dress, how to shake hands, how to talk to other men, how to guide me out of trouble and toward greater wisdom.
To Tom, I’m probably not much more than just another student. Which is to be expected. He teaches countless people how to fly everyday, and we must run together after awhile. We all grip the yoke too hard, we all forget to apply right rudder, etc. And we’re all miserable at landing for the first hundred tries. But, despite the similarity of our ages, Tom has taken on, over these two and half months or so, the role of a father figure. I provide Tom a job, a task to acquit as best he can. In return, he gives me knowledge and know-how, and wisdom, and confidence, and insight, and self-sufficency. All the things that my father once gave me. That necessarily makes for a lopsided and unexpected relationship.
But no matter how the friendship develops and deepens, I don’t think I’ll ever greet Tom by saying, “What’s up, Old Man?”