My parents were super involved intellectual, accomplished people. They were very competitive in their pursuits, both life masters in bridge, my dad also was a world class chess player. Needless to say, they were disengaged parents, they provided terrific examples and little supervision. I learned independence before I could walk. To be fair, my personality was such that trying to corral me would have taken more tenacity then they had to bear.
They weren’t getting along, When I was 12 I badgered them into sending me to a military school in Wisconsin. Crazy as it sounds, it was the only boarding school in the US at the time that had a flying club. That was all I cared about. Get out of the house, fly airplanes. I did both, I started flying at 12. I couldn’t progress with that too far because of my age. Flying eventually went to the back burner till after I got out of the army. I earned my Private license at 20, my commercial, instrument and Certified Flight Instructor ratings soon after.
After a couple years at St. John’s Military Academy, my parents got their divorce & I was sick of the institutional nonsense at the school. I came home. While I was there I met some pretty famous people, John Glen had a son there, Mr. Glen was an amazing human, worm and generous with his time. I was enthralled with meeting him a couple of times. His son was an ass and a bully. I also learned to get along with the military way of doing things. It sure made the Army easier when I joined later.
Through high school I was something of a misanthrope. I was popular, mostly with the other rudderless kids. We had lots of parties, and went to lots of concerts in Detroit. The 70’s were a hell of a time to be young. Rock was king and it permeated everything we did. I was always very entrepreneurial, finding many ways to earn money and get ahead. I bought fixed up and sold cars. I bought & sold lots of things for profit.
I started working pretty early by today’s standards. I got my SS card when I was 11 and had my 1st regular job with a paycheck and deductions. I worked as a handyman after school at an Adult Activities center, run by my grandmother. Grandma was a huge influence, she was the toughest human I’ve ever known and taught me most of what I know about honor and integrity. In high school I worked at my father’s orthodontic office after school making orthodontic appliances, molds and things in his lab. I’ve always been working. My parents never gave me an allowance but Dad always made sure there was a way I could earn money from the time I knew what it was. I will always be grateful to him for providing me with the tools that have made my life possible and exciting.
I was doing poorly in school because it bored me to tears. I’ve always been a voracious reader, I read 2-3 books a week from the time I was 5 or 6 and still do today. The US school system had nothing for me. There was no provision for a kid like me and I don’t think anyone really fits that mold anymore. Anyway, school bored me to tears, I paid no attention to it and in high school I majored in parking lot. I was not really going to be able to graduate with my class. I had no desire to go to college although that’s what was obviously expected of me. I was completely rudderless. I decided to join the Army. I decided to not wait a moment to go either. Why? The idea of escaping the boring school system was very attractive. I talked to a recruiter and they were very excited to get me in. In 1975 at the tail end of Vietnam, joining the Army was not a popular idea. They didn’t get a lot of potential recruits that tested out at a 163 IQ with mechanical aptitude off the charts. They were very encouraging. I badgered my beleaguered parents into giving their permission for me to enlist at 17. While my classmates were going to prom, I was lying in the cold Kentucky red mud during basic training. I laughed at them and was happier where I was.
Interestingly, even after I was signed up, the Army decided I should get a GED. I went in and took the test at the local community college. The 5 sections were supposed to take all day. I turned them all in, in less than an hour and passed well over the top. I asked the lady, “if I passed these tests at any age, I could then have gone to college”? She told me, “of course, it’s a valid High School graduation”. Great, thanks for wasting the last decade (to myself). I was pretty sure I could have passed that test when I was 8.
The Army was, well the army. It was actually fun and taught me so much about myself and what I could do it was phenomenal. Due to my previous experience in military school, I knew how things worked. I kept my head down. I stayed in the front middle of the pack in everything. Never in front drawing attention, never in the back for the same reasons. I knew basic was just something to get threw, the hazing and harassment just there to weed out the unfit and get everyone else to push. I didn’t want to excel because then they give you responsible for other recruits and there was enough to do. Everything worked fine till the last week of basic & I got caught out. They had handed out all our rifles and told us to clean them. I went through mine kind of automatically and took it right to him when I was done. At first he said there was no way it was ready. After he gave it a white glove inspection and found it to be perfect, he stared at me for a bit. I could see the wheels turning in his mind, going over all out interactions from the whole 2 months. He said, “you little asshole, you’ve been half stepping the whole time you’ve been here”. I assure him I had not and he angrily dismissed me, I always hoped he was smiling to himself.
From Basic I went on to airframe repair school. The military Advanced Individualized Training was like nothing I’d experienced. It was all performance based, nothing like “school”. My mechanical aptitude kicked in, I went through the program with such high scores, they were unprepared for my completion. They didn’t have orders cut for me so they sent me home for a month’s leave with a commendation for my performance. I shipped of to Korea shortly after that for a real education. I showed up in the repair shop there and they didn’t have all the high end equipment that was in training. I showed my ability to adapt right away and thrived. It was wonderful, I worked with complete independence and took on more complex work all the time. On the personal front, I embraced the work ethic of the local people and enjoyed all my time in the country. I’ve often wanted to go back and see how drastically it’s changed since 1976. I also started skydiving in Korea.
I enjoyed my time in the service, I learned so much about my self the experience changed my whole life and my place in the world. When I got out, I had secured an aircraft mechanic’s job. However, I learned that the pay was equivalent to an auto mechanic in spite of tremendous responsibility and continuing education. The unfairness of this was more than I could stand. I decided to take the lessons I learned about facing fear and chose to Leap Forward. To give academics another try and I enrolled in College. The result was completely different. Everything was different because I was different. Once I decided to make a leap of faith and go back to school, nothing led me back. I gave no energy to my past poor performance in school. I was completely focused on what I needed to do to succeed. There was plenty of it. I had no studying skills. I was well read, but I could barely write. I badgered my professors incessantly my 1st year. They were all very kind an helpful, I believe they all appreciated the effort I was putting forth and went out of their way to help. In a short time, I was doing very well and taking on tough classes. My 1st Major was in chemistry. I found I loved the challenge of learning new things and the energy in the classroom with other high achieving students and the teachers. The students “making time” were basically invisible to me. I connected with others who wanted to do their best. I liked the study of chemistry as an intellectual pursuit but I came to feel there was no future in it for me. After I won the National Collegiate Skydiving Championships in December 1978, I took a semester off with one of my teammates. We decided that going back to Michigan winter wasn’t very appealing. We went across the southern US from Florida, through New Orleans, New Mexico, Arizona to California. We did odd jobs to make enough money to pay for Jumps on the weekend at the big Parachute centers in the south. It was an incredible blast. I decided to turn my academic focus back to engineering, something that came more naturally to me and would lead me to employment that might fit my sensibilities and experience better.
That following summer, at 23 I was in the Great Lakes Maritime Academy as an engineering officer cadet. It seemed to fit my adventurous spirit and natural abilities pretty well. I was doing well in my classes. In the Fall, I had a bit of a setback. My ego had started to run amuck and I had been pushing the envelope pretty hard. I had a terrible skydiving accident; shattered Femur, broken tibia (other leg), 3 broken ribs, facial stiches and a concussion. After 2 weeks of traction, surgery and a weeks recovery, the doctors said I could go home, but not back to school. Having the rest of my life derailed was more than I could stand. I talked them into letting me return to school and my future. Again, there was a lot stacked against me. I considered all of it and crossed a line. I made a leap of faith in my self and focused on what I needed to do to get where I wanted to go. I swam and did PT religiously. In 3 months I was swimming a mile a day and pretty much, back to normal. Christmas break was spent in Florida skydiving again. I never forgot the lessons of humility and achievement from this experience. It stays with me even now.
While in the Maritime Academy I earned my Commercial, Instrument and Certified Flight Instructor ratings. I was a “duel major” in the Maritime engineering program and professional pilot training program. Flying helped me run Drop Zones, my primary means of support in college.
After the Maritime Academy, there was little sailing work. The economy was in the dumpster in 1982. Through tremendous tenacity I managed to find an engineering job. One of 2 out of my graduating class (the other guy’s family owned a tug boat company). Right after graduation I shipped off to take a dilapidated ship out of mothballs, haul a load of wheat to the Sudan and run it aground in Pakistan to make into razor blades. Government job, a form of early recycling and gratuity. Lot’s of interesting stories, small miracle we made it anywhere. From there I took several other sailing jobs, when unable to I worked doing handyman work, ran a parachute school and did odd flying jobs. I always manage to be busy. My last sailing job was for the Military sealift command and it was my favorite. I worked on a research vessel, loved the crew and did interesting things. After I got off after 8 months at sea, I called in the office after 4 weeks just to check in. The office manager told me I had to meet another ship in Texas, in 2 days. I felt this was unreasonable after 8 months out, I expected at least 2 months “on the beach”. He got pretty belligerent with me and “ordered me” to meet the ship. Sometimes, quitting a job is the greatest feeling on earth. This was the only job I every flat out quit. I never went to sea again. My future was elsewhere, wherever that would be.
I was recruited to be a start up engineer on a new exotic hybrid power plant being built in Los Angeles. Never a fan of big cities, it wasn’t my 1st choice but I knew the weather would be great and the best Drop Zones in the country were there. Another leap into a job/function I didn’t really know how to do but I went for it, never looking back. I made a great life for myself there, the work was very interesting, it challenged me a lot. I was busy on the weekends flying sometimes mostly instructing skydiving, doing Tandem skydives and some competitive 4 way like in college. Along the way, I met my wife, the mother of my 2 daughters at the Drop Zone. We got married, kind of fast and were on our way. She started acting as an agent for some English photographers, here in the US. I got friendly with them and figured, I can do that. I started messing around with photography on the weekends and in a short time, I was making more money on the weekends that I did as an engineer. I also had hit a “glass ceiling” as a start up or field engineer. I was the highest paid field engineer in my consulting firm. The only promotion for me would be as a project manager. I picked up an extra degree in business management at night but it didn’t help me as an engineer. No one in their right mind is going to turn over any multi million dollar project to a 30 year old. I was stuck. It just didn’t sit with me.
Another leap of faith, I quit my job (to the great protest of my bosses) and did photography full time. No background, no training, no art school. None of that, just faith; “on a wing and a prayer”. Photography was pretty good to us. The money was good, it gave me a lot of time off to spend with my daughters and pursue my other pursuits.
- I built a 2,400SF log house in the wilderness outside of LA for us. I do not mean I hired contractors to build the house, I built the house. I built a suspension bridge to get there too. That was harder than it seems it would be.
- I got my hang glider license, I lived in a great area for this.
- I took up polo, kind of on a dare. I was so hooked, so fast it was breathtaking. I love the connection with horses, it is empowering. I won the National Armature Arena Polo Championships, 20 years after winning the National Collegiate Skydiving Championships. I still play when I can.
When I quit my engineering job, we had a new baby at home. Not a typical choice since my wife’s employment was sketchy at best as well at the time. We did great and it all worked out. It just took a little faith…
Down the road, we had a 2nd child but the marriage was on the skids. It was never really on a good footing. It was incredibly hard for me to admit failure on this front. I probably never would have. I’m grateful to my ex wife for forcing the divorce and pushing it through. It got me to the life I love and truly deserve. We had different values, I don’t think that’s reconcilable. She didn’t really ever love me or anyone else. That’s not a good partner for anyone. I had terrible anxiety about the split being hard on my daughters. I think that it’s better for them that they see that I live true to my principles. Also the relationship I have with my wife now of 15 years is a fantastic example for them of how people should treat each other and how great a good marriage can be. Getting here was a series of multiple leaps. All of them into the unknown and unknowable.
As a single dad, I continued with my photography business for another 5 years or so. It afforded me a good income and plenty of time to be with my daughters. However, it bored me to distraction. The business side of photography was OK but the work itself just wasn’t challenging enough for me. All my lust for challenge was directed at training horses and playing polo. It was a strange time. My kids were becoming teenagers, I lost my biggest single client and I was desperate for a change. Time for another Leap! I tried to build a home inspection business in LA but it was a lot of swimming upstream. I did it for years on the side but I just couldn’t push it over the top into a full time gig there.
I sold my horses, my house and moved to Portland OR. I bought a knock down Victorian built in 1884 to rehab. I renovated it to a very high level while I built my property inspection business. My experience in building commercial and industrial property led me to build around that as a unique niche. I met my lovely wife Stephanie here in Portland, the nicest women I’ve ever known. Every day with her is a blessing and my life is filled with happiness. I’ve built a successful inspection business, primarily based upon serving Commercial real estate clients. Along the way I’ve become widely known as an expert in infrared thermography and building science. I’ve consulted to FLIR for several years. My constant thirst for knowledge and self improvement has served me very well. It’s led to a very interesting life and many never ending challenges.
A few years ago, some folks opened up a new skydiving center outside of Portland, Pacific Northwest Skydiving. I met them and offered to fly for them some. I thought it would be nice to blow the dust off some of my old skills. Today, I’m the chief pilot, flying 2-300 hours a year in a powerful 17 passenger Turbo prop jump airplane. I’m also back to skydiving myself and polo. There’s a new polo club in the area and I get out when I can. If I “retire” from inspecting, I’ll have to get a couple of horses to train…
In the meantime, I’m off to another Leap…
I’ve always used public speaking as a marketing tool and within the confines of the many training environments I’ve been in. It is my new challenge to share my experience with others. To help people learn to face their challenges without trepidation. The embrace challenge gleefully, perform at their highest level and accomplish more than they ever imagined. Life is a fantastic gift, full of opportunities for joy and wonder. We can all do more than anyone thinks we can. To accomplish more, to be better is the greatest fulfillment.