When we caught up with John Hilliard, he was about to deliver a refrigerated load to a customer in Orlando, Florida. John is in his eleventh year as a Prime driver. He primarily hauls food products. John’s interest in travel began when he traversed the country as a musician playing the piano. He has worked with a recording studio and some famous performers. He has also written songs for movies and television shows. When life on the road as a musician didn’t work out, John figured he might as well get his CDL and his life as a truck driver began.
John says it is his love of travel, especially over the road, that attracts him to truck driving. During his time as a driver, John has traveled through 48 states and several Canadian provinces. He loves the independence associated with being on the over-the-road driver.
When not on the road, John calls Texas his home. His two oldest children—a daughter and son—live in Houston, where others members of his extended family also reside. His two younger children live in El Paso, Texas.
You might think that being gone from home so often would diminish John’s role as a father, but he will assure you this is not true. Staying up with the activities and concerns of four kids, ages 22 to 12 is challenging, but John is quick to say that social media, phone calls, and FaceTime are a big help. Although some long-haul dads are able to arrange a regularly scheduled time to talk with their children, John says his approach is, by necessity, more random due to the variability of his children’s schedules, most of whom are working or in college. Even so, John reports talking with his 22-year-old daughter every day.
John says he makes a big deal about being available to his kids. He has even visited with his children’s teachers and told them, “Call me anytime with problems—homework, school work or otherwise.” He proudly says, “My son’s teachers have my number on speed dial.”
John says he’s out on the road a little longer now that the kids are older. Even so, he does manage to see them in person every 4-6 weeks. When he is home, he says he stays anywhere from 2-7 days. John emphasizes how important he thinks it is to talk with your kids ahead of time about being together. For John and his kids, making plans together are part of the fun.
Some of John’s fondest memories include over-the-road trips he took with his kids. During the 2005 evacuation associated with Hurricane Rita, he had all four kids with him in the truck when he drove from Texas to Seattle to get away from the storm.
John is proud of his driving ability and also trains other drivers. When he takes his kids with him, he gets to show them what their dad does. This includes showing them Cabbage Mountain in Oregon, one of the most dangerous mountains to drive in the U.S.
Other adventures with his kids include taking his oldest two to Manhattan. Once they parked the truck in a place John “knows about,” father and kids were able to tour the Empire State Building, Ground Zero, ride the subway and take the Staten Island Ferry.
But it’s not all fun and adventure. One summer, when John was concerned about his sons’ academic performance, he took them both on the truck with him where he supervised “lessons” every day. I don’t know many dads who take that much interest in their child’s school performance, but with John, it is serious business.
When asked what advice he would give to other dads, John identified four things all connect with love:
1. Say, “I love you.”
2. Do loving things.
3. Be helpful to your kids and family.
4. Give meaningful gifts.
Most of all, John says, it’s important for your kids to know you will always listen. Even though he’s often far from home, it’s easy to see that he has a strong connection with his kids.
Like many drivers, John is divorced from the mother of his kids. Even so, John says they have a decent relationship that allows them to communicate with the kids and hang out together when he is home. He says they both work to create a positive environment for the kids.