Values of my Father

Builders;

On the eve of my Father’s 91st birthday, a story to share some of the values my Father instilled in us.

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Above, Sun ‘N Fun 2006,  My Father and I, in front of a Grumman F8F Bearcat, a serious piece of hardware from my father’s era of Naval aviation. My father entered the U.S. Navy in 1943 and is USNA Class of 1949. He served on active duty for 33 years.

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I was walking among rows of warbirds with my Father at Sn n Fun 2006. An acquaintance from EAA chapter 288, the Spruce Creek FL. chapter approached my father and introduced himself. The chapter likely has the most affluent membership in the EAA.  I was president of 288 from 2000-2003, and was jokingly called “Our token poor guy.”

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The man wanted to speak with my Father about just one thing: He wanted to say how much he admired that I refused to engage in any legal activity or sue anyone after my accident in 2001. I was not PIC, and on the day of the accident, I went back to the wreckage to extract the pilot who had been knocked unconscious. When the plane caught on fire, it lit my gasoline soaked clothes, and I ended up seriously burned on 40% of my body.  The FAA made the pilot take a check ride afterwards, indicating they had questions about his performance. I had a number of fellow chapter members tell me that I was being foolish to not sue the PIC. Some people when as far as suggesting their lawyer. I was never going to do this, because my Father raised us to understand there were such things as honest mistakes, and I understood the risks before I got in the plane. The PIC had apologized, even traveled to my parents home in NJ to express this to them in person. In my fathers world, and by extension mine, the matter was over.

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The acquaintance at Sun n Fun knew this part of the story, and only wanted to tell my Father how much he admired my decision to drop the matter, even when many people openly said I was “an idiot” for not “cashing in.”  My father listened until the man was finished, and then in a cool tone simply said “My son doesn’t need your, nor anyone’s praise for merely behaving as everyone should.”

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The man was not expecting this, and I hope he latter understood that it was precisely my Father’s unambiguous code of ethics, one that dictated that ethical behavior was done simply because it was right, and any expectation of reward, even as small as public praise, reduced the action to a child’s understanding of right and wrong. My Fathers code didn’t care if everyone else was doing it and even if society was rewarding them, it was still wrong.  We were to be individuals, and as such, we were not to look to the herd to see what could be gotten away with, nor were we to expect the smallest of rewards for better actions.

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By the time I was in junior high school, it was readily apparent that most of the world didn’t have the same code as my father, the Naval officer with a sign on his desk that said “When principle is involved, be deaf to expediency”.  There were a great number of times in my childhood that I longed for a little more flexibility that might find an easier path. It was only as an adult that I came to appreciate the fact that you can have most things taken away in life, but the things that matter, to lose these, you have to give them away or sell them, and if you did, you would really have nothing left.

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If I have ever come across as inflexible or harsh, I ask only that the person first consider if it is a matter of principle, such as safety in aviation. In those cases, many people might like a different answer, but they will not get one from me. They don’t realize they are asking me to go against my father’s values.  Such people frequently suspect that I am judgmental about people who live differently, but I’m not. If I was, it would be an indication that I had the expectation of society’s approval, which in itself is a reward, and if people need a reward for doing the right things, then it really doesn’t count as ethical.

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To understand more about my father, a 2014 story: 

William Wynne Sr. Turns 89 today

and

Patriotism has no Party

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