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After many months of researching places in the United States we could move to that had warm weather year-round and no hurricane season, my parents narrowed it down to one option - Hawaii. The lack of freezing temperatures and improbability of terrorist attacks made it the ideal choice compared to the criteria.
My father really wanted me to remain in Maryland so that he could retire in Hawaii with the rest of the family. He offered me one of two options if I stayed: #1) run His companies for him or #2) sell ownership of his businesses to me for lifetime consulting fees.
I thought about it for a very short moment - I would finally be on my own and no longer under my parents’ thumb. Then I learned how my father imagined each option would work: #1 - he would get all the rewards and have all the say while I was doing all the work or #2 - I would pay him a “consulting fee” every month (or year) under the table for the rest of his life. I realized that my grandfather (who originally built the businesses my father currently owned) had worked a similar deal when he transferred ownership to my father, but my father only paid “consulting fees” to my grandfather on a much shorter timeline.
So the truth was this: my father wanted me to lie to and cheat the government, and pay him for work he wasn’t doing. Um, NO. Later I discovered he had been defrauding the IRS in all kinds of ways for decades (and probably still does to this day). I was never going to agree to any of his offers, so I chose to move to Hawaii too.
My father sold all his properties in Maryland, and to avoid paying taxes on the profits, he had 45 days to purchase a property in Hawaii. We rented a 45 foot container that we packed full of items to be shipped to our new home nearly 5500 miles away. Considering that my father was moving away from everything he knew in the only place he’d ever lived, he took it surprisingly well. It was an act of God for him to even agree to pick up and leave in the first place.
The packed container was shipped and we boarded a very long flight to the Big Island of Hawaii. I had worked long and hard for months saving enough money so I wouldn’t have to find a job right away. I had a Jeep Wrangler and an epic Kawasaki street bike in Lightning Blue Metallic paint that I couldn’t wait to use to explore the island.
Within a week, my parents had found Grace Community Church. It was a tiny church with nice people, and when the pastor found out I had experience mixing audio for the sound system of a large church, he asked me to mix audio for the services at Grace, and I did, easily.
The owner of a local helicopter tour company also attended the church, and he invited our family to go for a helicopter ride in exchange for my middle brother (an avid photographer) taking photos of their new helicopter in flight. The owner later offered to hire me as a ground crewman, and I enjoyed working for his company, especially when one tour pilot who would let me work the controls when we ferried a helicopter to another location on the island.
Our family had been attending church for a month when twin brothers my age began showing up for services on their motorcycles. They had found Grace Community Church while following portable signs for a different church, and they decided to make Grace their church home. We hit it off and started riding motorcycles together on a regular basis.
A few weeks later, a girl showed up at church with them. I met Anne, a beautiful young lady whom I was very attracted to… but she could be manipulative (like my mother), arrogant (like my father), and confrontational (like my youngest brother), as well as avoidant (like my middle brother). And the list didn’t stop there. I liked her as a friend, but I didn’t want be stuck with her for the rest of my life. And yet my mother invited her over for lunch after church every week, so we became friends. She and I and my brothers and the twins would all go exploring the island together.
My youngest brother wanted to become a commercial pilot, so he completed flight school in Hawaii and began working as an instructor for the same school. While still in Maryland, I had wanted to become a pilot as well, but photography had been my career pursuit. Once we moved, I just wanted to learn to fly.
On October 23, 2002, I went for my very first official helicopter flight lesson. I was in love with flying. I asked my parents to help me pay for flight school - they said that if I paid for the cost of my private license, they would cover the remaining fees of flight school and all training required to fly for a living. Anne had always wanted to marry a pilot, and she was around even more once I started flying.
One day, our church’s youth pastor invited me to come and help with the high school youth group. I loved spending time with these kids and watching them grow to know God better. Anne was also invited to help and she became a good influence working with the girls.
I was soon invited to come speak for chapel at the local Christian schools - at first, I only presented once a month, but soon I was leading chapel every week. I also helped teach a Bible class (taught by our pastor) at the Christian high school. I loved how God was now using me to serve these kids.
After some time passed, the youth pastor had a falling out with church leadership, leaving myself and Anne to lead the youth group ourselves. Church leadership soon began confining our freedom as leaders to lead the group as God led us. We were confused and heartbroken and felt betrayed - we had devoted time and energy to leading these kids, and out of nowhere we lost the friendships and rapport that we had established for the last years. We graciously stepped out when we saw the writing on the wall.
I worked nights fueling planes at the airport, attended flight school during the days, and during my downtime I threw my surfboard onto my Jeep and headed to the beach… I loved surfing. It was physically draining, but God used the mental diversion to teach me many life lessons I didn’t understand until years later.
Hawaii truly was an awesome place to live; I was able to snorkel with dolphins and scuba dive in some of the most amazing underwater areas I’d ever seen. For the first time in over 20 years, I had a break from all the drama in my life.
It took me about 18 months to complete my flight training, and it wasn’t easy - there were many times I almost gave up. My dyslexia made reading extremely difficult, and there was a lot of reading required, but something else almost led me to quit flying altogether.
Another local tour pilot friend had been flying a tour near the Volcano area when his helicopter suffered engine failure and crashed. He and his 4 passengers died. This hit me hard because he had been so encouraging for me throughout my own flight training. I considered him a true friend and nobody else in my life had impacted me as he did. Through the investigation of the incident, it was discovered that a bearing failed, which prevented him from being able to perform appropriate emergency procedures. There was nothing he could have done.
After the accident, I determined to continue flight school, knowing my friend would have told me not to give up. I completed my training and continued on to become a flight instructor, teaching others the skills I had just learned. This not only helped me cement the information I had learned, but it opened a door for me to serve others as an instructor who actually wanted them to learn. Most of my coworkers did the job as quickly as they could, but I truly wanted the best for my students, and it showed.
As an instructor, I was involved in my own near-engine-failure. After mechanics performed maintenance on the oil cooler of an R-22 helicopter, my student and I headed out over the ocean and noticed the oil pressure gauge dropping. The oil cooler had failed, visibly spraying oil behind the aircraft. I declared to local authorities that I needed to make an emergency landing, and as we landed, men in silver HAZMAT fire suits met us to deal with any fires or chemicals - it was surreal!
Later that month my youngest brother (also a flight instructor by this time) was flying the same aircraft and he suffered a full engine failure, landing in the water just off the beach. He wasn’t able to make it to shore but he did an excellent job dealing with the situation - he and his student survived. I was selected to don my diving gear and join the recovery team to retrieve the downed aircraft.
God began to open my eyes to the personal changes Anne had made since I met her two years before. The youth group kids had been trying to play matchmaker with the two of us, and even my mother had tried to get us together. I finally started to consider it.
When Anne and I actually started courting and then became engaged, my mother began doing everything she could to persuade me not to marry Anne, and she put every doubt in my head that she could think of. We were engaged for 5 months.
By now, I had been a flight instructor for 6 months and had accepted a promotion to Assistant Chief Flight Instructor. I was very busy and had more students than I knew what to do with. God was blessing me beyond measure at this moment of my life.
A month or so before my wedding to Anne, her younger sister moved from Oregon to live in Hawaii at my parents’ house because her life was a mess. Anne and I persuaded my parents to give her a place to live and help get her life back together.
Almost immediately, she took a liking to my youngest brother; I knew his issues and that he refused to face his past. I reminded her that the reason she came to Hawaii was to get away from guys like him and to heal. I told her many times to walk away, but she pursued him for attention and security. She had experienced intimate and destructive relationships, yet she would be his very first (and only) relationship.
They were married nearly 14 years ago, when my youngest brother’s first priority was himself, and regrettably, nothing has changed. Unfortunately, Anne’s sister married my brother for the same reasons my mother married my father, and the two of them continue to remain in their miserable relationship to this day.
I married Anne on August 13, 2005.
We decided to have a noon wedding and fly out the same evening to a neighboring island for our honeymoon. Neither of us had ever kissed anyone (not even each other!), so our very first kiss was when the pastor said “You may kiss the bride!” Our pastor had made a big deal of it, and during the entire reception people were glass clinking just to have us kiss again. It was fun to have lots of practice, but it became annoying after a while because it would interrupt a conversation or we’d be right the middle of something.
Our friends gifted us with a limo ride/tour around the area that ended at the airport to catch the flight for our honeymoon. As we arrived at the TSA security screening, Anne had so many flowered bobby pins in her bridal hairstyle that it lit up the metal detector and security wand. Instead of making her remove them all, they manually checked to verify she wasn’t concealing anything dangerous on her head. They congratulated us and sent us on our way.
We had an incredible time together on our honeymoon, but all good things must come to an end.
Upon returning home, my mother insisted that Anne and I accompany my uncle (her brother) to the airport to catch his flight. Anne had suddenly began feeling unwell, and now that my responsibility was to my wife, I declined to attend my uncle’s goodbyes.
My mother gave me a tongue lashing on my selfishness for nearly an hour after she returned home, accusing Anne of “faking it.”
Two days later, I took Anne to the doctor and they said she had a bladder infection. They sent her home with an antibiotic which we found she was allergic to, and her condition worsened over the weekend. So I took her to the emergency room. They didn’t know what was wrong, but it wasn’t a bladder infection, and when they tried different treatments, she seemed to get better. Nearly a week later, they believed she was well, though she had gained water weight, but the nurses felt it was fine and made plans to release her the next morning.
Anne woke up that next morning barely able to breathe. The nurses realized they had given her 9 bags of IV fluids over 4 days, but nobody had noticed that her body only flushed 2 bags’ worth out. The remaining 7 bags of fluids had nowhere else to go and began filling every cell available, including her lungs. She was transferred to the in-house ICU and given a diuretic drug that forced her kidneys to begin flushing, but the amount of fluids still wasn’t adequate. They chose to fly her to a more capable hospital on another island to figure out was causing the underlying issues - the same island where we celebrated our honeymoon.
The doctors at this hospital diagnosed Anne with a massive kidney infection. They treated her appropriately and she came home within a week.
My mother, who was still sorely offended that I chose caring for my wife over saying goodbye to a man I didn’t know, continued to call me selfish. And just like that, God ended my “vacation" from family drama - it was time to go back to work toward my healing and God’s plan.
I had been by Anne’s side for two weeks, and when returned to my job as a flight instructor, I was informed that all my students were reassigned and no new students were coming in.
Two students who disliked me conspired to discredit my teaching style and get me fired from my position as an instructor. I wanted my students to actually prove they had learned the required curriculum, but most of the other instructors wanted to quickly shuffle them through training to maximize profit. My supervisor (the school’s owner) defended me, but the instigators had already convinced all the new students coming in that I was unsafe and difficult to please. By this time, I was only able to earn $250 a month as an instructor, so I returned to fueling aircraft part-time just to make ends meet.
I began to looking for instructor positions at other flight schools but I found nothing in the Hawaiian islands. So I scoured the mainland for open positions - there were hundreds of flight schools, but the only one who agreed to hire me was located more than 4000 miles away….
…for the continuation of this story, click here.