“Life is just a ride,” as Bill Hicks used to say.
I believe it. It’s just a ride. It’s a tilt-a-whirl at times; a ferris wheel, bumper cars, a carousel, a scrambler, a tunnel of love. It’s not just one ride in fact, it’s many. And you get to pick which ones you get on, for the most part. You can even choose to stand by and watch others ride their rides, while you sit on a bench and stuff your face with a funnel cake.
When you’re ready, you decide what you think looks fun, you stand in line, wait your turn and then you sit back and enjoy it. Take your hands off the safety bar even, if you really want to live it up - let go of control for a little while. You can be a slave to the machine or free yourself from it and live your own experience. Either way, the ride will continue until the operator shuts it down.
Just as with everything in life, parenting is just a ride. For me, it started as a free fall. In the beginning there was stillness, a slight breeze, anticipation. And then, the bottom dropped out from under us. My mind suspended in each second as my body kept moving. Some organs falling faster than the others. My heart and the stomach, floating at a slow drip. My lungs moving too fast for the air around them.
I’d strapped myself in, given myself an impression of safety, but as I fell tragedy still lurked around in the corners of my mind. It’s there on all great rides, I guess. You can’t truely live without a chance of dying. “The sweet ain’t as sweet, without the sour,” as they say.
Fatherhood came at me with full force, right out of the gate. In all of the blur, I remember that feeling one gets when wanting to exit the ride after it’s too late. Regrets wringing out the intestines. The fear that everything would break apart because some alcoholic carnie had botched the assembly in a fiendish rush to get a fix.
When I was younger this ride would have been easier, but I’m old and tired enough to have a weak gut now. I don’t ask enough questions and I question others too much. It’s harder now. I take it all too seriously.
But it was when I was nearly pinned down to the floor of it, that the momentum shifted. I bounded upward. All the parts and pieces came whole again, launched forward with elation. A silly grin on my face, as I realized that being a father wasn’t a free fall at all for me, it was a roller coaster and I’d already gotten past the deepest of drops.
I raised my hands above my head, at the risk of looking like a lame ass. I took photos of all of the smiling faces around me and posted them to social media feeds.
It turned out that I hadn’t ever known what ride I was standing in line for, really. I didn’t know if this parenthood ride was a free fall, a roller coaster, or a merry-go-round. I just stood in line. Sort of treated it like I hear Portlanders do and figured, “hey, if this line is this long, whatever is at the end must be good.” I talked to others in line and they would say, “yes, it’s a long line, it’s gotta be good.” They all had public expressions on their faces: trying to amp up the fun and tamp down the fear.
And I have to say, that while some parts have been terrifying, some parts have been fun, some parts have been monotonous, some parts have made me want to puke and get off the ride, I’m glad I set foot into the great mystery.
It’ll have its ups and downs, it's twists and turns, like most rides do. It might suddenly throw me for a loop here and there. And I don’t know how I’ll react to each change in direction. I can foresee happiness, pain, satisfaction, suffering, boredom, laughter, and joy. I can see all of the things that make life.... well, life.
One thing that I do know about roller coasters, is that they are all too temporary. When you accept the fear and decide to have fun on them, they always leave you wishing they’d never end. But they all do have an end. It has to be someone else’s turn.
So, while I have the chance, I’ll be making sure the tiny hands in front of me are always in the air: full of fun and unafraid.
I brought them on this ride with me for now, but they’ll find their own rides one day.