Lessons from Top Gun: A Dad’s Guide to Making Tough Decisions

Lessons from Top Gun: A Dad’s Guide to Making Tough Decisions

Landing an aircraft on a carrier is a daunting task. Finding a runway the size of a postage stamp somewhere out in the ocean is hard enough, but then sweeping in out of the sky and putting your screaming jet on an undulating deck is doubly hard. There are so many opportunities to screw it up, and every one of them has a potentially disastrous outcome.

Every landing on an aircraft carrier is hard. It takes a lot of skill. For Maverick (our movie hero, played by Tom Cruise) in the opening scenes of Top Gun, it seems like a perfect reflection of his confidence and skill set. But not so much for his wingman. In the opening sequence, it takes every shred of composure and guts he has to land his plane after a run-in with hostile forces.

Landing is difficult EVERY TIME. Planes can’t fly indefinitely, the fuel gauge often dictates the day. Whether the conditions are good, or there’s a storm brewing, if you’re low on fuel the plane HAS TO land. There’s no choice.  I wish it were as clear for us as Dads. Sometimes we just have to do the difficult thing, make the tough decision even (and especially!) when we don’t want to. Let’s take a look.

I think one of the most challenging parts of being a Dad is choosing to make the tough decisions (“rough landings”) that need to be made. We don’t run out of fuel like an airplane. Let me explain.

No outside circumstance forces us to lean into parenting, like a plane is forced to land when it runs low on fuel. To wade into the fray of schedules and grades, household budgets, homework and discipline takes an act of will. It’s a choice we make.

I notice sometimes I want to avoid doing the hard work or making the tough decisions as a parent. Especially when it comes to family. Can’t it just be easy? The last thing I want to do is unnecessarily or unintentionally cause upset at home. There’s enough conflict and drama raising kids and being in a relationship. Whether toddlers or teenagers, raising kids is a lot of work. Me roaring into the fray seems like it might be the LAST thing that anyone needs.

Maybe we’ll just “stay in the air”, hoping to wait around long enough for the landing to be easier or softer. And unlike airplanes, we don’t run out of fuel. We could stay disengaged, hoping for better circumstances, a softer ride or a smoother landing.

Avoiding the hard work because of the “rough landing” it would create or the “potentially hazardous” outcome we imagine has a cost. Engaged parenting is done on the shifting, rain-swept deck of the aircraft carrier. Your family needs you (and me) to be both the visionary, flying high above the clouds and doing what serves us and the family best. But we’re also critically needed on the flight deck at home.

Sometimes that means taking big chances and not-so-gracefully slapping that airplane back on the deck. Maybe it won’t be pretty, and it’s possible (or likely in my case!) we’ll say or do something that needs cleaning up. Your kids need you, even when you screw it up, so does your partner. You JUST SHOWING UP can make all the difference.

Aircraft Carrier pilots “Call The Ball” when they’re on final approach. They’re declaring that they’re coming in and managing their own landing.

Where will you call the ball this week? Your flight crew is waiting to greet you on the deck.