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  • Joe Colaizzo

Of Helicopters and Daughters

I’ve been on one helicopter.

It was a chilly mid-winter night in 2007 and, as part of a program to get to know my new hometown better, I had the opportunity to accompany the Philadelphia Police Aviation Unit on one of their helicopter patrols. With hundreds of airplane flights under my belt, I was well prepared. I greeted my female classmate and boarded the aircraft for the 90-minute tour.

We took off at dusk and the setting sun complimented the emerging lights of the Philly skyline. Cruising at such a low altitude provided a unique vantage point of the city. Close up fly-bys of the art museum and city hall contrasted perfectly with the up and coming Comcast Center. A beautiful night for such a relaxing trip.

About thirty minutes in, a call came over the radio of a police pursuit in need of air support. As we made the jump to light speed back towards Northeast Philadelphia, I realized that I was not prepared for the relaxing trip embracing its true purpose of a police patrol.

In no time we were over a dark section of the city, far removed from the sparkling lights of downtown. Communicating with the ground the pilot turned on the spotlight, quickly locating the active pursuit. To provide optimal lighting we tightly spun over the streets and back-alleys. And we spun. And we spun.

“Are you ok?”my classmate woke me from my blank stare out the window. She was having a grand old time and my feeling of embarrassment was only surpassed by my feeling of nausea. From the front, the second in command reached back to me with a smile and a plastic bag. I looked away from my classmate and tried not to think of how pitiful I looked with my head buried in the bag.

The pursuit ended and we went back to base where I was directed where to dispose of my self-made souvenir. We laughed at the limits of my masculinity, took some pictures and said goodbye.

It was the only time I’ve been on a helicopter and I may never go on one again. Reflecting on that experience is a great memory for me, and I wouldn’t change a thing.

I have one daughter.

It was a warm late-spring night in 1998 when, as part of growing the family in accordance with the plan, I first met Catherine. With three years of fatherhood under my belt, I was well prepared. With two more brothers to follow, my routine of paternal process was well instilled and operating effectively.

We regularly ventured out to the usual family destinations. The mall, the restaurants, and the occasional vacation. Her energetic, confident and talkative personality contrasted perfectly with the more reserved style of her brothers. A mini version of me that was easy for me to relate to.

About fifteen years in, the door to her room closed more regularly. As she made the jump to light speed, I realized that I was not prepared for my daughter embracing her true purpose of becoming a woman.

In no time we were far removed from the fun little trips to the mall. I learned that communicating with someone who was so much like me was not always easy, and we often fought over the rules and responsibilities. And we fought. And we fought.

“Ok”, my daughter responded when I asked if she wanted to share a cheesesteak. I was driving her home from a party and it was the only courageous way I could break the silence. We sat on the hood of my car and she reached to me with a smile and half a cheesesteak. I learned how pitiful I was to bury time with those fights.

The father-daughter date ended and we went back to base where I was less insulted now when she closed the door to her room. We talked and laughed that night for the first time in a long time, shared things about our lives and said goodnight.

Catherine is my only daughter and I will not have one again. She has given me so many great memories and I can only imagine the wonderful memories she will give me in the years ahead.

I wouldn’t change a thing.

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