I’ll Fly Away

Truth told, that's hard for me to imagine—Daddy with such youthful ambition. The only man I ever knew was a steelworker who sweat buckets for a pittance and rode tractors after work.

I know. It’s only a wristwatch. Even the jeweler says it’s worthless. I’ve sent it off, paid four hundred bucks. They took it apart, replaced gears.

Nothing.

I don’t know why I wear it. My father’s watch is dead weight.

You have no reason to care about this, but my daddy wanted to be a pilot since childhood. When folks asked the redhead what he wanted to be, he gave the same four-word answer.

“I wanna fly airplanes.”

By high school it was a five-word answer. “I’m gonna fly Navy planes.”

Truth told, that’s hard for me to imagine—Daddy with such youthful ambition. The only man I ever knew was a steelworker who sweat buckets for a pittance and rode tractors after work.

He could make dead trucks run, hum every hymn, and strike an arc with the best stick-welder.

He was no pilot.

As a young man, Daddy signed up to take the Navy aviation physical exam. The smooth-faced version of my father sat in the waiting room, knees bouncing.

I’ll bet he glanced at this very wristwatch every couple seconds. Because on that day, this thing would’ve been brand new. He paid a lot for it. It’s an aviator’s timepiece.

The Navy doctor checked his vision. Daddy had hawk eyes.

The next exam: his ears. My father was deaf on his left side. It took ninety seconds for the doc to show him the door.

He stood outside on the sidewalk. I don’t know whether he cried, but I do know he threw his new watch on the pavement.

And that was the end. My father was landlocked. No one would ever know him as anything but a dirty-faced welder. Including his own boy.

I remember a family get-together. My cousin brought a young man she was dating. Blonde kid.

A Navy pilot.

He and Daddy talked until the wee hours. They sat on the back porch. He asked the young man what flying was like.

The kid said it was indescribable.

It made Daddy smile. Not a happy grin, but the kind you give at funerals.

Then, the kid said something else to Daddy.

Daddy cocked his good ear toward him. “Say again, son?”

The kid repeated, “I said, nice watch.”

Daddy shook it and listened to it.

For the life of me, I don’t know why he wore that broken thing. Maybe because people can love dead things just as much as living ones. Or, perhaps it reminded him of youth. Of how bad he’d always wanted to fly.

And that’s why I wear it.

Because some glad morning he finally did.

18 comments

  1. Beverly Stovall - November 23, 2016 4:44 pm

    Well, you did it again……made me cry!

    Reply
  2. Cooper Green - December 10, 2016 4:36 pm

    Good’un, thanks.

    Reply
  3. Trixie - December 23, 2016 6:40 pm

    You’ve captured this pecefrtly. Thanks for taking the time!

    Reply
  4. Sam Seetin - January 3, 2017 10:13 pm

    Brietling or Invicta that I gave you? Me too wanted to fly but made 150 parachute jumps instead until male mentapause kicked in then flew a ultralight and glider over Lake Tahoe lifted by the thermals of a Starbucks coffee factory at Minden, Nevada. No I did not wave to Harry Reed.

    Reply
  5. Kristen Hester - January 4, 2017 11:36 am

    Your writing reminds me so much of Larry Brown from Mississippi. He is my favorite and your daily blurbs fill my void. I’m appreciative.

    Reply
  6. David Jones - March 19, 2017 11:49 am

    I come from a family of farmers and pilots. Who does what is more a function of the needs of the country than the wants of the individual. Keep and honor that watch. We all stand on the shoulders of our fathers. God bless.

    Reply
  7. Peggy Black - March 19, 2017 12:18 pm

    How little we know of our parents. Their youth, dreams, courting, hurts-we may see some of the results but not our young parents. Thank you for the heart you put in your writing and the way you touch mine.

    Reply
  8. Beverly - March 19, 2017 12:22 pm

    Sweet, sad, tears.

    Reply
  9. Tricia Livings - March 19, 2017 12:56 pm

    This story went straight to the heart ❤️!
    I totally “get” why he wore the watch. Some people do the very best they can, but they carry the weight of their broken dreams and broken hearts through a lifetime. Until…they finally fly away!!!
    God Bless You Sean!!!!

    Reply
  10. Tara - March 19, 2017 1:14 pm

    Love your writing. Thought provoking. Gonna ask my Dad what he wanted to be in his youth. I have the watch that my Mom wore each day. Thought I did not need it now that I’m retired but maybe I do…..

    Reply
  11. Nancy Kane - March 19, 2017 1:14 pm

    My father’s dream, I think, was music. Instead, he worked factories, farmed, and raised 11 children with my mother. He could have been a professional musician, even had the chance at one time, as the story goes. Sometimes it’s a choice, sometimes not. Through it all, he still had music…and so did we.

    Reply
  12. Jenny - March 19, 2017 1:34 pm

    The last line crushed me. Yes, your daddy did get to fly!

    Reply
  13. Kimberly Wilkins - March 19, 2017 8:28 pm

    My dad was in the Air Force and always wanted to fly. His job, airplane mechanic. He never piloted a plane, but he made sure they were in top shape for those that did. If it weren’t for men like our fathers the fly boys never would make it off the ground. Thank God for the mechanics and Thank God for our Daddies.

    Reply
  14. Debby - March 20, 2017 5:40 pm

    We played that song at my Daddy’s funeral…he loved to fly in the small plane my uncle owned. He too was a work with his hands kind if guy…farmer/mechanic. His hands were stilled by Alzhiemers disease and he no longer knew what he loved to do. When he died this song (one of his favorites that he remembered the words to until the very end) just kept running through my mind. I was so happy that he finally got to fly free of all of his earthly burdens and once again be himself.

    Reply
  15. Beth - March 21, 2017 5:58 am

    My daddy was a flight deck officer on an aircraft carrier and a Navy pilot. He flew those big helicopters on search and rescue missions, much like Kevin Costner in The Guardian, I imagine. He never told me about his adventures; I thought he had a regular job like every other dad. He didn’t talk about his time in the Navy much; he was humble like that. He died 2 1/2 years ago; 6 months after he broke his neck by falling 15 feet out of a live oak tree where he was trimming branches. He was 79 years old. Thank you for reminding me that there is always more to a person than what meets the eye. And thank you for writing every day (that must be hard) because you inspire me, and make me think, and make me grateful.

    Reply
  16. Jeff Sparks - April 3, 2017 7:04 pm

    My dad died of lung cancer with my mom and I standing vigil over him. His breath got shallow and then stopped. I laid my head flat on his chest and heard one sound, solid heartbeat, then silence. We took mom home and the first thing she did was say here’s your dad’s watch. A Waltham 10k gold pocket watch. He had told me that he worked all summer one year saving up for it. He said everybody else carried a dollar biscuit but he wanted a real railroad watch. He carried it many years after others had switched to wristwatches. After he got drafted to go to Korea he bought an Elgin wristwatch.
    Thirty-three years old and feeling the sting of the death of the first person close to me I was searching for some comfort. Best I could do was wind the old watch and let it click loud and mechanical at night as I tried to sleep.

    Reply
  17. Lilli Ann Snow - April 4, 2017 1:37 pm

    Whew!
    ❤️❤️✨❤️❤️✨❤️❤️

    Reply
  18. Susan - May 28, 2018 10:29 am

    My daddy wanted to fly too. Mama said his eyes were too bad so, like your daddy, he worked as an auto mechanic. He busted his knucles, burned his arms and sweated blood to raise me and my brothers. He too had a watch that cost him a “pretty penny” . Mama buried him with that watch, I’d give anything if he wouldn’t have had to fly away…..

    Reply

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