The View from My Section – A Father’s Perspective – Feeling Alive Again

BY A. KEITH TILLEY

One of my favorite memories from being a parent (of which there are many), revolves around wanting to experience new things with my children. It’s especially nice when it’s an experience I’ve never had myself, and therefore, it’s a new experience for both of us. One example involves a family trip to Carowinds. My nine-year-old son (at the time) immediately saw the roller coaster and started pressing me about riding it with him. Quick note – aside from my fear of falling (heights), falling at a high rate of speed doesn’t make it any better. So, I advised we would have to sit this one out. He was disappointed, but then I found a compromise on the younger side of the park. There it was, the Woodstock Express, towering a full four stories above the ground, a less menacing roller coaster for those not-so-adventurous. I thought, I’ve stayed that high up in hotels before, so I should be fine, and he was very excited. He impressed me with his sense of fearlessness. A trait, surprisingly, he continues to this day.

As we waited in line, routinely, we heard the roar of the coaster flying past us. He was not fazed by it in any way, and I was most assuredly not pressing him to go on it. I had slight reservations, even though it was about one-third the size of the average coaster. Nevertheless, we reached the stage before the very next ride. I instructed him that we didn’t want the front (too scary), we didn’t want the very back (too fast, bumpy), and that somewhere in the middle would be fine. As we boarded, precisely in this area of the coaster, I noticed an older teenager was riding by himself in the car just behind us. I acknowledged that this was more my speed, and he agreed the same for him. And, then I made a brief – albeit unwise – comment about how my son didn’t seem to be afraid of anything. 

The ride began, and we rode smoothly through the level portion of the track, all was well. Then, as the front car reached the beginning of the climb, we came to an abrupt halt. I looked down at him and said, “Are you ready?” At which point I raised both my arms high in the air. He chose to keep both hands securely on the safety bar, a wise move. As we continued to ascend, I sensed his enthusiasm was wavering. I pulled my arms down to put one arm over him and tried to use the old trick of pointing out interesting things to see in the distance; trying to avert his attention away from how much further we still had to go. I knew once the first car reached the apex that we would slingshot down the other side very quickly. He, unfortunately, did not know this. Of course, he saw this multiple times as we awaited the ride, but, as most of us know, it’s different when you’re in the car. 

I became worried that he was getting scared, and it wasn’t like we could just step off the ride. I gently pulled him closer to me and, at that precise moment, I felt the hesitation before the plunge. I looked over at him and saw his eyes open wide, oh crap. Off we went, and I must admit it was considerably faster than I anticipated. But, for me, it was fun. For him, it was a nightmare. He began screaming from the moment we initially descended until the ride was complete. Not an extreme panic type of screaming, more like the adrenaline screaming you typically hear on coasters. Except, generally those screams are from excitement and fun. These, unfortunately, were not. I pulled him tighter to me and yelled for him to duck his head under my arm and he’ll be fine. He responded immediately. Next, I did the one thing I knew left to do, knowing the ride had only just begun. I began laughing out loud and cheering as though I was having the absolute best time of my life. I kept saying to him “isn’t this great!” I reminded him that he was okay, and I continued to portray it as a great experience, and he continued to yell into my shoulder.

As the ride pulled back into the station, I praised him for how brave he was. He looked up, relieved it was over. As we departed the car, the young man behind us smiled and said, “He really doesn’t like coasters does he?” I laughed, just as it makes me laugh every time I recall this moment. Not because I witnessed my son being terrified but because I knew the entire time he was completely safe next to me and no harm would come to him. And, more importantly, I knew he knew this as well. I can only hope he remembers it that way.                   

Musical Selection: Adventure of a Lifetime by Coldplay

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