The door opened and the sound of the wind was deafening. It blasted against my body as I stepped out onto the plane’s landing gear. Grasping on to the strut under the wing, I looked down to see the patchwork of Midwest farmland and knew that there was no turning back. This would be my first unassisted skydive.
I felt… confident.
It was only 2,500 feet in the air. What the regulars at the drop zone called a “hop and pop” – no freefall, just let go and open up your chute. And even though I had done this jump two times prior with the assistance of a static line, I was still terrified… but confident.
There would be no line to pull my ripcord for me this time. I had do this myself and trust that my chute would open without issue. If there were any issues, I would have to trust my training to remember how to untangle a line or deal with a malfunction.
During the plane’s climb to altitude and the point of no return, many thoughts went through my head. I don’t have a death wish. I’m not an adrenaline junkie. I want to get married someday, have kids. I constantly reminded myself that the guy sitting next to me had already completed 5,000 jumps so it must be safe.
But the one recurring thought was this: If this goes south, you have yourself to blame. Not because I decided to jump out of a plane (the sport is really much safer than you think), but because instead of paying one of the skydiving staff to pack my parachute for me, I asked a regular to show me how to do it.
With his help, I learned how to properly check each fold, double check each fold, and pack my chute in the way that gave it the best chance of a smooth opening.
“Don’t worry,” he said to me. “These things are designed to open. You could take it up there in a paper sack and it would still open.”
I wasn’t taking any chances. If there was going to be a problem, I didn’t want my last thought to be “Who packed this chute and why isn’t it opening?” I needed to be involved in that process.
Through the rest of that summer, I learned that tightly packing your chute is one of the most tedious, laborious, ‘grunt work’ jobs there is. It took me another half dozen attempts with help from the instructors before I was able to completely do it solo. But it was always a comfort when the nerves hit, and they did for every one of the 30 jumps I did, to know that I had done everything I could to ensure a safe landing.
Years later, I’m married with two beautiful daughters and realizing I’m still packing parachutes. They just aren’t for me. One day, my girls will leave home and dive into their own independent lives.
I won’t be letting go of a plane when that happens. I’ll be letting go of them.The thought can be somewhat terrifying… but I’m confident.
I’m “packing” them a really good chute. I’m folding in some dependability, folding in some understanding and patience, folding in discipline, folding in consistent love, folding in our beliefs and morals.… double checking that it’s being heard and taking root. I’m staying involved in their lives as more than just a provider or protector. I’m making sure I’m approachable, available, and willing to listen.
I’m trusting that the work I’m putting in as an active and involved father will provide a stable canopy for them when life has them in a freefall.
There’s no guarantee. Even the best packed chutes can malfunction. But it’s the ‘grunt work,’ the preparation, that will hopefully give them the confidence and peace of mind to take that leap knowing that not even the sky’s the limit when it comes to their father’s love.