Julianna Huffert, 10, and her father Justin, talk about some of the things Julianna likes to do.
ROCKEFELLER TOWNSHIP – Former pilot Justin Huffert's whole world revolves around his 10-year-old daughter.
The 33-year-old single father who lives on Captain Bloom Road gave up the high-flying role of a pilot in 2013 to be with Julianna Huffert, who he refers to affectionately as his "human pet."
"If I'm gone five to 12 days, what do I do with her?" Huffert said this past week at his Rockefeller Township home. "It's not worth it. What do I want to more in life? Be a pilot or be a dad? I like my kid. I gave up being a pilot."
Huffert, a former flight instructor and private pilot for Sunbury Textile Mills, Skydive Happy Valley, Heritage Aviation and Max Media, is now training to be an insurance agent for Aflac. It's not as glamorous, but being a dad is a better gig, he said.
Julianna, a 10-year-old Shikellamy student headed into fifth grade at Oaklyn Elementary School, is a level 5 gymnast at the YMCA who has won multiple awards in her age group across the state and country. She recently returned from Camp Woodward where she took horseback riding lessons, climbed rock walls and trained with college professionals. She and her dad have a 4-year-old tortoise shell cat named Oreo, a green-winged McCaw named Tiki and one fish named Singlet.
The U.S. Census Bureau reports that there were an estimated 70.1 million fathers across the nation in 2008, the most recent year with available data. In 2014, it was estimated there were 1.9 million single fathers and about 43.5 percent were divorced, 33.0 percent were never married, 18.8 percent were separated, and 4.7 percent were widowed.
Huffert became a father at age 22 when he met a girl in Myrtle Beach and a few weeks later she told him she was pregnant. Although panicked and terrified of the idea, he moved her to Pennsylvania and they tried to raise Julianna together. Julianna's mother was an addict, which led to a difficult relationship. He became a single father in 2009 when he won the custody battle with Julianna's mother, who didn't show up for the hearing. They have had no contact with her since and Julianna has no memories of her mother.
"Her (Julianna's) life would be exponentially different if I hadn't done what I did," Huffert said. "It would not be for the better. This is for the best. It would have been a dangerous lifestyle."
Julianna loves her father.
"He's very nice and he lets me have Oreo," she said. " I don't want a different dad. I like watching movies with him, joking around with him and throwing the football with him."
Father and daughter are close. They tease each other constantly, watch movies together on a regular basis and do home improvement projects as a team. Huffert is proud of his daughter, who is rarely yelled at and loves to read "Diary of a Wimpy Kid." He notes she's a bit "airheaded sometimes."
When showing off her bedroom, she lamented the fact that so many zebras had to die for her bedding and wall decorations, which are zebra printed. Her dad laughed and exclaimed that no animals had to die for her room to be furnished.
"She's such a fibber," Huffert said with a smile.
Huffert admits that he had to sacrifice his twenties to become a father.
"It's scary," Huffert said. "I missed out on a little of my youth, but I don't regret it."
Huffert has learned a lot about being a parent in 10 years. For example, he doesn't expect to have free time any more. He has lost contact with friends because he can't just go out and party like he used to do.
"You have to be prepared to sacrifice," he said. "It's not about you anymore."
Huffert also said YouTube tutorials are lifesavers.
"I learned makeup and nails on YouTube," he said. "I can do really good French tips with electrical tape now."
He said you have to bury "any kind of macho-ism" because Barbies, American Girl Dolls, Hannah Montana and Disney are just a few of the items a father must play with when he has a little girl.
Huffert said he didn't think of himself as extraordinary.
"I'm not doing anything special," he said. "I'm just doing what I'm responsible for."
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