Not only to fly, but to bring the world's eyes...skyward.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Our Fathers

Isn’t it ironic that we're assigned the one word which defines us and our place in this reality, our surname, without a single forethought and through a mechanism utterly beyond any human control? Even more so is the fact that we don't get the name of the one upon whose survival, health, care, and nurturing we literally would never have lived to be named in the first place, our mother - but rather that of the man whose total input into our life could easily be, well, microscopic.

Don Carriker, age 18
W.S. Carriker, age 43
Nevertheless, I am Nathan Carriker, and not Nathan Something-Else-I-Can't-Divulge-Lest-My-Identity-Be-Stolen. And (since I’m a son) I wouldn’t have it any other way. My dad’s Millard Don, who’s dad was Willard Samson, and so on and so on all the way back to an illiterate German named George Karcher, who came to the British colony of Carolina well before NASCAR, Winston-Salem, or even Strom Thurmond.

George Karcher was illiterate, so he had to accept the spelling used by some random 18th century census worker for his name: Carriker.

Captain Mike Carriker
This person could have hardly imagined the millions of breaths that would be wasted by generations of Carrikers having to clarify the spelling and pronunciation of what was really a pretty simple name. But the Rube Golberg-ian mistake has served us well, such that to this day the few of us who misspell our own surname the same way (including Boeing's former 787 Chief Test Pilot Mike - tailwinds, 'cuz!), can almost assuredly trace their lineage back to that one man.

Unfortunately our genealogical trail goes cold in the Fatherland, although in the early '90's I did get the privilege of stopping into the still-standing Lutheran Church in Durnn, Germany, in the Black Forest region, to which Grandpa George's dad Philip Karcher probably dragged him every Sunday. If you Google Karcher, you’ll find that, in keeping with medieval custom, Philip was born a Karcher by a far less convoluted mechanism than we Carrikers. In those days, people were known by their ancestors' trade, and a karcher was a man who transported things with a cart—today we'd call him a trucker.

Danged weigh stations!

Yes, we’ve come a long way, haven’t we? My cart may go a hundred times faster than my namesakes’ ever did, and I may make the trek from the Old World to the New faster than they could cross the smallest grafschaft; but I’m still just a simple karcher, taking people and their stuff where they need to go.

The release of my only novel (so far) on the birthday of my only son (for sure) last year seemed a fitting tribute to the boy whose mere miraculous existence was its inspiration. Why? Because A Silver Ring isn’t really about the Air War or flying. It’s about family: him and me, you and your dad, him and his dad, her and hers. It’s about all of us and all of those who, for reasons and in ways far beyond our ability to understand, literally made us not just what, but who we are in this life—our fathers!

Unfortunately, that same week as my book's release at EAA Airventure 2011, a crack in the financial walls around our Old World home appeared, just wide enough for me to lead us through if we all exhaled at the same time and didn't inhale again till we were on the other side. I decided it was time to go before somebody or something could come and caulk it up.

Another hopeful Carriker Caravan, Westbound
In classic Karcher/Carriker style, I gave the family the customary two weeks’ notice and set everything else aside (including the book campaign), and we loaded up the carts and set out headlong into a new chapter in our lives. For now, we just call it Texas.

Perhaps it’s fitting too, then, that on this Memorial Day, with Fathers’ Day not far off, I’m finally starting to feel settled-in enough here in the land of my grandparents’ wedding (officiated by a genuine Texas Ranger, in 1919) to resume promoting the book inspired by their progeny. 

Perhaps we fathers do get more credit than our otherwise meager input should guarantee with the whole surname thing, but over the eons we've collectively gotten no small portion of Hell mapped out for our families. And while no more than a few of them at a time could have had us individually at heart when they made the sacrifices that would give us everything we have, this Memorial Day and Fathers’ Day, every one of us can and should hold all of them all firmly in mind when we say, “Thanks, Dad.

"I don’t know who I’d be without you."

An aviation love story...

Twilight landing at LAX

Martinez Canyon Rescue