Skip to main content


June 20, 2010

Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger: Never Too Old To Be A Dad

Posted by Anonymous

Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger will forever be known as the pilot of the “Miracle on the Hudson” when he courageously and safely landed his malfunctioning airliner on the Hudson River in the summer of 2009. Here, he reveals a different, more personal side about his relatively late start on fatherhood and the all the joys it brought. Pictured: "Sully" with daughters Kate and Kelly.

Sully Sullenberg with Kate and Kelly.JPGI had the advantage of becoming a father later in life so I could really put it into perspective. I was not so busy living my own life that I wasn’t able to fully appreciate everything I could from this experience. By age 42, when Kate was born, I thought it was great fun to rediscover the world through my children’s eyes. All the things that we adults take for granted are novel, new and exciting for our children. Everything is fun, an adventure, an exploration of this new and unfamiliar world. Not only was I really able to enjoy this journey, but it gave me a renewed appreciation of the world around me --- the physical beauty of nature, my friendships, our family, even mundane things like ice cream. Each of these experiences became discoveries for my girls and contributed to my unadulterated joy in being a father. 

From the very moment my elder daughter arrived, I felt an instant and intense responsibility to do my very best as a father because I was shaping the arc of their lives early on. My wife Lorrie and I were providing examples for them, building a stable foundation from which the trajectory of their lives would be launched. But I also knew that what we were doing all along was preparing them for their own eventual independence. Throughout their childhoods, I have tried to help them learn what they needed to understand to eventually be able to do just that: be independent young women. I have tried to teach them how to make choices for themselves and to think about the consequences of their actions.

sully.JPGMy wife and I also did something else: we never talked down to them, even when they were very young. We spoke to them in a very adult way and it’s amazing how much they could understand. Even when they were very little girls --- and sometimes to our chagrin --- they would repeat something that they had overheard while Lorrie and I were speaking to each other or on the phone, not even aware that they were listening. And while we didn’t always appreciate them parroting back everything we said, we very much appreciated their constant interest in the world, that they were little sponges soaking up everything around them.As a pilot, I was gone for at least four days each week, flying trips and commuting back and forth across the country. On those few days when I was home, it became even more important to spend as much time as possible with my girls and be physically close to them. I spent hours with them sitting on my lap, reading to them --- and those are the memories that we all hold most dear. This emphasis on reading and learning is something that they have fully embraced. They were so enamored with books that even before they could read, they would take their books to bed with them instead of toys. They would “read” these stories from memory to each other and to their dolls. One of our greatest joys as parents was standing outside their door, hearing them try to tell these stories by memory, remembering what we had read to them, not realizing that we were watching them from the doorway. Both Kate and Kelly have remained great readers --- an important skill that will help them throughout their lives. If you can read well, you can learn anything. 

Thinking back on their childhood, I have realized that my greatest joy as a father has been watching them become the confident, independent young women they are today. It’s been great fun to see how they turned out, who they’ve become --- and even more fun to realize that we like who they are today. When they were young, we always wondered what they would be like when they grew up --- and while it wasn’t always what we expected, both Lorrie and I like very much who they have turned out to be.

Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberg is the author of HIGHEST DUTY: My Search for What Really Matters with Jeffrey Zaslow.