Matt Heath on good fatherhood, bravery and cowardice at the adventure park

OPINION:

“Dads are ordinary men turned by love into heroes.” – Pam Brown.

A good father is a pillar of strength, support, joy and courage. That’s why I was so disappointed when my son called me a coward last Tuesday. He made the accusation while suspended with his little brother in a canvas bag 50 metres above the Ngongotaha Stream Rotorua. Like all good tourism activities, there was a camera on them the whole time. Foolishly my sons forgot this.

The recording starts okay, with my youngest repeating “we are going to die, we are going to die” as he is pulled high above the adrenaline park. The big brother responds in a calm fatherly tone: “You’ll be fine, they do this all the time, no one ever gets hurt, the place wouldn’t be allowed to operate if it wasn’t safe, keep talking to me, so you don’t think about it. Concentrate on the ice cream Dad will get you when we get down.” What a great big brother.

The footage brings a tear to the eye. It’s the kind of pep talk I might have given if I’d filled the vacant third spot on the ride. The next part of the recording takes a treacherous turn. My beloved eldest son, the golden boy, my heir, looks down at me 40 metres below, points, laughs and shouts: “Think how much braver you are than Dad. He was too scared to come up with us.”

Absolute bollocks. I wasn’t scared. Someone had to stay at the bottom and make sure things ran smoothly. When Jeff Bezos blasts into space, everyone doesn’t go up. You need people in mission control. I had specific duties down below; I had to hold our stuff. Yes, there was a secure locker provided, but I wanted my sons to feel safe in the knowledge their jackets, my phone, and half a muesli bar were in the hands of someone they trust.

“A day of worry is more exhausting than a week of work.” – John Lubbock.

To the untrained eye, It might appear that the kids 15 storeys up are braver than the dad eating fruit jubes below. That doesn’t take into account parental protection instincts. The father chews his fingernails off with worry; all the kids have to do is fall to the ground in a bag.

When the boys are at the designated height, my eldest reaches out to pull the drop cord. Then something strange happens. A high-pitched scream rings out across the park from the exact spot I am standing. My sons plummet towards the ground at 130km/h. Another feminine squark from me. Then like a miracle, the two boys swing majestically out over the park, whooping with joy — another victory for good common sense Kiwi parenting.

“‘Father’ is the noblest title a man can be given. It is more than a biological role. It signifies a leader, an exemplar, a confidant, a teacher, a hero, a friend.” – Robert L Backman.

I ran to my children for a proud post-drop hug. The older obliged; the younger stood back and asked: “Why did you do that? Why?” You see, I had played an excellent prank on the wee man. He didn’t know he was doing the terrifying Swoop ride. I told him he was
doing a less challenging one. He didn’t work out the ruse until they hoisted him into the air. It was a classic gag from a great Dad.

There is a lesson in this extreme giant swing for all of us. It’s about the roles we play in our families. On the way up, my eldest son took on a fatherly role. He was there for his younger brother when I didn’t want to be. It was a beautiful thing. Back on the
ground, I am the father again, the provider, the patriarch, the teacher, the exemplar, the hero.As such, I have cut both their allowances for insubordination.

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