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After 40 years as a pilot, this dad took on a new mission: Honoring his son

Jessica Manfre Avatar

Matt Daud was a pilot for United Airlines for 40 years before retiring to work for the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors on their care team in 2022. Though he always had a passion for the families of those who serve, this mission was personal: it was about his son, Christopher.

“As a baby, Christopher had permanent joy at being part of this world. Ever a great big smile on his face with eyes alert and curious. I often held him so he was looking out at the world. As he grew, his energy, which was constant, translated into athleticism. He was always running to join friends,” Matt remembered. “Running up and down the street or blocks over to friends’ homes. My images are not of him walking anywhere. He was also fearless. As a young child, he would not hesitate to explore or to be sent on an errand by himself. I was in awe of his thoughtfulness towards others.”

Matt was flying on 9/11 when terrorists attacked America, it was an event that deeply impacted his son. 

“I had a trip scheduled for that day but I was home that morning and watched the coverage for days after the terrorist attacks on our nation,” he added. “Christopher was present and participated in learning about those events. I lost many peers that day, those with whom I shared the skies. Christopher grew up in a household where the history of this country could always be measured by our accomplishments and a future where assistance is always given.”

On Memorial Day in 2013, Christopher Daud raised his right hand and became a Marine. His dad recalled thinking he hoped that day would never come to mean something more to their family. Just four years later, it would. 

“At 1:30am on a Sunday morning, there were knocks on the door and the doorbell rang several times. Going to the front door and turning on the porch light, there they were, telling me my son was dead, having taken his own life. In an instant, our lives were shattered forever,” Matt shared. “This cataclysmic event, impossible to comprehend but very real. I should have not answered the door because the second before doing so, my son Christopher was alive and well, prospering. By opening that door, a different world came crashing in on our lives and we were forever changed.” Editor’s note: If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available. Call or text 988 or chat 988lifeline.org. The world is better with you in it!

Christopher had left active duty and was in the reserve at the time of his death. The family immediately got involved with TAPS support but for Matt, he needed time. Grief was raw and ugly for him, he added.

“I have learned through the many survivors that each of us is ready for support in different ways and at different times. It goes back to there are no rules, no precisely defined grief paths,” he explained. “Some we discover on our own and others are offered to us.”

A year after Christopher’s death he became involved and four years later was leaving flying behind to use his son’s legacy to help other military families. 

“When I talk to people, especially our younger population, I remind them that Memorial Day is not about sales at the mall. Not a way to engage in harmful rowdiness but it can be a day of gathering with friends or family. To give some level of thought to where we have come from and how we got here,” Matt said. “That there were those that stood between us, our families and way of life, and those that would do us harm. It is the understanding that the United States military ensures we live the way we do each minute of the day.”

Every day he finds himself motivated to serve others, using the pain of losing Christopher for good. Matt knows it’s what he would have done. 

“Middle of the night and your car breaks down? At a party where people are not being kind to you? At an event where you are not excelling or struggling? Christopher was that person who would step in without thought of himself,” Matt said.

Hope is a word he uses often. 

“What gives me hope? Paradoxically, Christopher’s death will bring life to some and comfort to others, by sharing the dash, the story of Christopher’s life, knowing his behaviors and the values he had can be of value to others,” Matt shared. “His desire that we be kind to each other and that we practice decency as the norm would be understood.”

Jessica Manfre is an author and freelance writer for multiple publications. She is a licensed social worker, earning her Master of Social Work degree from the University of Central Florida in 2020. She also holds a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Northwestern State University. Jessica is the co-founder and CFO of Inspire Up, a 501c3 nonprofit promoting global generosity and kindness through education, empowerment and community building. She is the spouse of an active duty Coast Guardsman and mother of two. When she isn't working, you can find her reading a good book and drinking too much coffee.