I come from a family of pilots – which is significant for two reasons:
One: I’ve been taught from a young age that having dinner on your own is part of life.
And two: I’m okay to fix a toilet without calling in the plumber.
Since I was a little girl, I was privy to the very many entertaining stories from the pilot wives in our family. Aunty Billy used to phone air-traffic control to make 100% sure Capt. Uncle Doug had left town – and then she’d head straight to the casino with a little stash of his money.
When I was about 10-years-old, I remember going ‘midnight squid fishing’ with my aunt Nat in Mauritius while her hubby Mike – a First Officer – was out flying for the local airline. After a few glasses of red, Nat took a pee over the side of the little powerboat we were on and fell bum-first into the water! We ended up fishing her out and catching no squid.
The point I want to make is that these women simply have to get on with their days – even if their men are a million miles away. Nothing to do? Well, go ‘midnight squid fishing’ and make new friends or stay at home feeling sorry for yourself.
The choice is there to be made.
While the one feels he’s run off his feet saving every problem at work, the other feels she’s left saving every problem at home
Nat tells me about the day the car broke down on the way to Tessa’s first day of ‘big school’. “Even though the neighbour’s wife and I had pushed it up and down the road a few times, it was as dead as a dodo.”
“Needless to say – rather than holding mum’s hand and being introduced to the teacher – Tessa caught the bus with her brother, who took her to her classroom.” At the time, Tessa was only four-and-a-half.
When Mike came home, there stood a broken car and a grumpy wife.
Of course, it’s also difficult for friends and family to understand that planning a holiday or booking far in advance is impossible to co-ordinate for pilots and their wives.
“The unpredictability of roster changes really struck home when I was pregnant with Jonathan,” say Nat. “I was terrified I’d go into labour while Mike was away.”
Just before Nat gave birth, Mike was called to fly out to Germany. But this time, luck was on their side.
“When Mike pitched at the airport, rostering had made a mistake. [One too many] pilots had arrived for the flight and Mike voted to stay [at home].”
I suppose that pilot wives and yacht captain wives have many a note to compare. Yacht captains and their women make so many sacrifices for the one (the captain) to hold down a desirable job and the other (the wife) to make a good life in places that aren’t always home, around people who aren’t always family.
For both in the relationship, it’s worth having a fine time rather than a miserable one. And not to grow bitter about either the fact of working away or being home alone.
I have to remind myself of this now that I have one foot ashore. It’s when you’re ashore – in the company of yourself – when you make dinner for one or put on a load of laundry with only your clothes in the machine; that’s when it can get a little lonely.
And I’ve spoken to so many yacht captains and their wives about this. While the one feels he’s run off his feet saving every problem at work, the other feels she’s left saving every problem at home (even if she too has a job and a career ‘on land’).
“My driving force has always been my children and my husband’s career,” says Nat. “I’m also privileged to have many good friends who’ve understood our lifestyle and who’ve helped look after our children – it takes a village to bring up a child.”
Mike and Nathalie live in Mauritius where Mike works as a First Officer for one of the local airlines. Their son, Jon, is out flying in the Central African Republic while their daughter, Tess, studies through the University of South Africa.