Views from the Cockpit: The Journey of a Son is a memoir born from pain. Page by page, year by year, tender father-son memories of the airplane watching transform into a nightmarish, turbulent family drama. The Good Men Project talked with debut author Ross Victory about the life lessons that led to his book.
Good Men Project: Your memoir is focused on the relationship you and your father had. You share with the reader your experiences together, and what you learned from him. What is one of the most important lessons you learned from your father by way of his example? What did you learn not to do based on his mistakes?
Ross Victory: The greatest lesson I learned from him was the impact of ego. One of the final things my dad asked me to do while he was in hospice was to arrange a photo presentation that would be presented at his memorial service with the song, “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?” playing in the background. The idea was to display his life and his accomplishments, and also to inspire others to ponder what their purpose was. Not in proximity to him, but using what he had done as an example. As he was degrading physically, he had the mind to be concerned with legacy and lasting impressions. Inspiration and service were the focal points of his memorial instead of pain and sorrow.
I think a lot of that came from his sense of I—his ego. I learned that beautiful things—confidence, self-worth—are born from the ego; those things enable a life of purpose. The “sense of I” informs how I need to spend my time in order to attain fulfillment. On the darker side, there is selfishness and self-importance born from ego. So the question for me to answer is: How do I live a life of purpose without intentionally causing pain to those I care about? Or where are my personal limits, and how far am I willing to go to ensure that I can fully answer the question of “what am I doing the rest of my life?”
GMP: Those are great questions for self-reflection for each of us. What part of your answer to those questions are you willing to share with the Good Men Project readers? (How do I live a life of purpose without intentionally causing pain to those I care about? Or where are my personal limits, and how far am I willing to go to ensure that I can fully answer the question of “what am I doing the rest of my life?”)
RV: In his book Seat of the Soul, author Gary Zukov writes about the soul’s journey, how our journeys are shaped and the innate desire of our soul to align itself with our physical reality. A life of purpose is possible for me if I can stay aligned with the desires of my soul, or at least put more focus on the convictions of my heart instead of my “sense of I.” This book is an example of that. I don’t want to be too confusing and too muddy with my answer here, but somehow I have to remember to listen internally and to understand that I’m connected to everything—the seen and unseen, the said and unsaid, etc. It’s not necessarily me vs. the world although it often feels like that. I must remember that ego becomes toxic at some point, soul will take me all the way. What I read, what I watch, what I think, who I associate can perpetuate or block my efforts to align.
GMP: In a conversation with your grandmother, I was surprised when you were able to voice your contrary opinion about a topic she so strongly believed. How did you find the courage of your convictions to be forthright with her? You were a youth at the time. How have you carried that courage with you into your young adulthood?
RV: As a child, I was always intrigued by adult conversations and their opinions, and just watching them meander about in all their foolish glory. For some reason, my grandmother’s comments felt like an injustice to me—it really did. In essence, she was assessing value based on some arbitrary religious pretense. Her comments felt unfair, I think, because I knew people who were “going to heaven” who did not attend church. Looking back, she undoubtedly took a holier than thou posture in all interactions.
My intuition was not cultivated by any adults in my environment; if anything, it was discouraged and blind faith was promoted. I missed a lot of opportunities to trust my gut. I can’t imagine the opportunities I missed because of internal doubt. At the same time, isn’t respect simply choosing status over truth? Respect vs. courage.
As a teenager, my mouth got a lot looser. As an adult—and after trial and severe error, I honed in on communication and became more intentional with my words. I now understand the meaning of “Know your audience.” I can’t say everything without consequences, but I believe I can think about everything. I can feel everything. Even still, I am willing to stand in the fire as I did with my grandma if I’m triggered to do so. My first rule is to seek peace despite my ability to harness the power necessary to take a stand. I also realize that words alone will not make someone change.
GMP: Tell us about your exposure to social justice work as a youth and a young adult. You mention in your book that you wanted to know if your grandmother was socially conscious. What was your father’s approach to social action while he was healthy?
RV: My dad was a public servant by profession. He rehabilitated felons as a 9-5 job. So I saw that, and I also saw hours of volunteer work and community service. I think social action validated his life. From prison outreach causes, working with our unhoused members on skid row in L.A., soup kitchens, men’s group homes and on and on, he touched a lot of causes in the U.S. and abroad. He’s the only person that I know that would care to raise money for eye transplants for kids in China!
One of my first experiences was volunteering as a crisis counselor for an organization that provided after-hours phone and chat support to teens struggling with teen issues. At the time it felt like detention because I “had” to go, but looking back that was very smart of my parents to allow me to do that. It sowed an important seed of empathetic listening and the awareness of issues outside of my own. My dad worked on the adult side; I worked on the teen side of the crisis center. Maybe because of that first experience, or others, serving people just makes sense. Especially for those who have most if not all of their basic needs met. I plan to use my author platform to talk about homelessness and elder abuse.
GMP: Your father’s relationship with his mother seemed strained. He wanted to be sure not to be disrespectful to her, yet it seems he would have liked to be as forthright with her as you were. What can you tell us about speaking your truth without inflicting harm?
RV: I love this question! Tactically, it wouldn’t be wise to aim your vitriol at any one person openly, although this has normalized in our society for the moment. If we really want to problem solve and communicate, then both parties have to express what is important and why. What informs their belief and why. Basic empathy? For me, storytelling is an effective way to speak my truth. To create mythical, magical characters with relatable qualities that somehow parallel our lives indirectly. In the words of Tyrion Lannister on Game of Thrones series finale, “There’s nothing more powerful in the world than a good story.” Stories naturally permeate hearts and minds.
GMP: When a loved one has cancer, so much of the family dynamic changes. How did you learn and grow since your father was diagnosed? How did your father’s physical ill-health impact your decisions for yourself and your lifestyle?
RV: My dad was diagnosed in 2005 and chose not to do any invasive therapies or treatments. Things did not escalate until the last 3 months of his life. He was fairly healthy and did everything he needed to do, on a holistic level, from the diagnosis to 2015-ish. Towards the end of his life, for me, it was very panicky and shocking. I did not fully understand that everything was coming to a close. From those last 3 months, I learned an invaluable lesson in surrender. Surrender is highly painful in the moment but eventually shows mercy. I have also learned that anything can change in a micro-second. I have learned not to take interactions for granted. The past-now-future is all connected either physically or spiritually, so I must be humble to what I perceive to be experiencing. What I’m trying to say is, I am becoming more open to experiencing life in totality, including the inevitable painful moments. They cannot be controlled anyway, so humility through surrender is just smart. Also deep, long-term relationships are worth saving and fighting for!
So after all this disease and death, I think my formula is quite simple: rest, drink water, feed my soul, sleep, be curious, look forward and document. Vacation is all of that.
GMP: Elder abuse is a very serious crime that often goes unreported. How did your experience with your father’s caregiver contribute to you writing this memoir at your young age?
RV: Elder abuse was a huge driver in finishing this project. I was angry but also needed to cope. My dad was a strong believer in writing journals. Many parts of this book were actual journal entries that I wrote to myself as I was discovering all of the foolishness. There was so much. I wrote so much. I felt so much. Over time, as I read the journals back and casually shared what was happening in my life with others, people encouraged me to make it a book because it did not sound true—or maybe it was entertaining to them? I was reluctant, at first.
Looking back, I’m glad I listened because there was enough for a book. There were lessons, too, that may help others. Hopefully, I can raise some awareness about elder abuse. From financial crimes to neglect, like you said, it often goes unreported. If children are our future, then elders are our past—both must be protected. Just because someone is elderly and close to death (statistically) does not mean it is acceptable to abuse them!
GMP: How long have you been journaling? It sounds as though you may not have written this book if you had not been journaling. How else has the practice made a positive difference in your life? How has doing so helped you to be more thoughtful, or courageous, or otherwise molded the person you have become?
RV: I have been journaling for 15 years now! It’s amazing. The growth, the naivety is apparent and laughable. This is how I know that “it’s” all working. By “it’s” I mean my life process. I have prioritized adventure and my mental health. I have seen me go from, feeling like there is no way out to taking risks to find help, searching for answers. I have seen myself go from restraint to free-flowing internal conversations. It’s also an important outlet for my anger. There are these gaps when I don’t write for months at a time, so something I want to do is write when things are going great. I should be writing about this book launch and all of the wonderful, interesting people I am meeting and the conversations I am having. I will work on that.
GMP: I’ve heard many men compare themselves to their father, both the good and the bad. How have you dealt with the ways you are like he was, especially in areas where you would rather not be like him? In what ways have you strived to be more like him in good ways?
RV: I try to embrace the good and the bad. It’s hard. Not every situation allows me to be introspective. Writing does, though! Writing tames my soul. If I embrace the good and the bad, then I am better able to cope to understand the energy that drives my decisions and my behavior. All of my experiences and parental influences make me who I am anyway. I want to start from a place of acceptance and love of my whole self. There is no joy without pain – right? The successful completion of this book and the possibility of inspiring someone does not exist without the heartache I experienced. Sorry for the cliché, but every coin has two sides, so maybe it’s about trust. To trust that my experiences and background have equipped to survive and to create a life worth living for. From trust, I can decide. Then, I can change.
GMP: In what ways would you like to inspire others, and whom do you hope to inspire?
RV: One of the main themes of Views from the Cockpit is perspective. Our individual experiences cannot be recreated or erased–ownership of the experience and personal progress is the only permanence we have. This truth applies to all factions of society–the poorest of the poor to the richest of the rich. So I want to inspire people to find comfort in their unique story. 8 billion people, 8 billion stories. My “flight route” is not your route. I wish we could all live in that state of truth. I want to inspire people to consider the power they have within themselves to do better and be better if they choose. I can do through that through stories I write, speaking engagements and images.
I was a black boy. Now, I’m a black man. I don’t speak for anyone, but I undoubtedly speak to black men interested in my message. I want to contribute to the destigmatization of mental health topics among men. I was really inspired by Jason Wilson’s book, “Cry like a man.” In his book and with his past, it was important to hear an alpha male tell other men it’s ok to CRY. I feel like society is finally realizing that men have an emotional scope—sad, but real. There’s so much life being missed, so much healing and self-love waiting to pay dividends if we look inside first. I’m speaking from experience of loss, depression, and anxiety. Literally on the other side was peace. Society and the collective may not have arrived at answers we know to be true in our individual experiences. So my message is the importance of perspective, empowerment and the importance of self-discovery.
GMP: What’s next for you after the launch of Views from the Cockpit?
RV: I want to perpetuate the message that Views from the Cockpit has gifted me. I’m interested in social service (being a useful advocate for our unhoused brothers and sisters) and I’m interested in men’s fashion. I plan to develop in those areas.
My next written project will be an extended fictional short story about a kid named Nobel Akuna. Nobel finds himself adrift in the foster system, contemplating life in the streets, after his whole family dies in a plane crash on a vacation he decided to skip. After several disastrous mismatches, he is paired with an elderly woman named Albertine. That one is called My Heart is a Wasteland and will be released early Fall. After my writing experience with Views from the Cockpit, I’m excited to incorporate everything I’ve been learning as I develop as an author.
Six months or even three months before today, I didn’t expect to be preparing for a book launch! Looking back, I never expected to have the experiences and meet the people I have at any point really, so I’ll just keep moving and writing my journals. One day, when I’m bald, gray and immobile, I will read them back and die with a smile.
Views from the Cockpit: The Journey of a Son is a memoir born from pain. Page by page, year by year, tender father-son memories of airplane-watching transform into a nightmarish, turbulent family drama. Upon the discovery that his father had been the victim of severe elder abuse as his health was rapidly deteriorating, the author finds himself re-evaluating the decisions his father made throughout his life. With an unshakable ending, the author’s probing dissection of a man he thought he knew reckons with disloyalty, depression, religion and death, leaving no stone unturned. Through sharp, sometimes hilariously brash analysis, decorated in plane metaphors and imagery, the author expresses his commitment to truth with sincerity and transparency. He reaches for forgiveness, understanding and compromise in the face of absurdity and uncompromising rigidity. Ultimately, he contemplates a different “flight path” drawn from past lessons. He encourages readers to do the same. A must-read for sons, fathers and families. Book-club discussion guide included.
Buy it today on Amazon. Visit the author’s website, RossVictory.com
This content is sponsored by Ross Victory.
Photos courtesy of the author