The Ferris Wheel

The wing and the wheel are gonna carry us along
And we’ll have memories for company… long after the songs are gone.
~ The Wing & The Wheel (Nanci Griffith)


Last night I described my recent relationship as a father to my oldest son thusly:

We connected, and then went around on the big circle that we wind up on these days. We start off far apart, draw closer, and then go round again…winding up apart.

I was thinking of a Ferris Wheel. This morning I awoke with the image even more engrained in my mind.

In this life we walk hand in hand with our little ones through the Carnival of Life. We try to guide them through life’s midway, a maze of vendors screaming at your kids to “play” this and “try” that. Games of chance that fleece them of their money or worse, their dignity as human beings. You hold their little hands tightly, calmly teaching them about why they should avoid such things, at times not shielding them so they can see the ugliness with their own eyes.

A few steps past the last vendor finds us staring up in the sky. We are at the foot of the Ferris Wheel. In the small town carnivals of my youth this was always the most distinct landmark as it was usually the tallest ride. As time has gone on it is no longer the most popular or viewed as the most dangerous of rides in a thrill-seeking culture such as ours. It’s kind of slow and a little boring. Our child looks up with us with pleading eyes and asks to ride it. As you’ve ridden it with them before you nod and begin to walk to the waiting car with them. They stop and turn to look up to you. Silently they say with their eyes that this time they want to go solo.

“I’m going to pre-school now, Daddy. No worries. I’ll just go around once.”

And so he gets on while we stand, feet firmly planted to the ground. He’s a little nervous but also excited as he grips the bar and his feet dangle in the air because he’s not quite tall enough to rest them on the car’s foothold. The wheel starts to turn and he’s taken away from you, going backwards and upwards with the wide-eyed look of one who is tasting his freedom for the first time. Up to the top he goes, and finally down towards you and the ground. The ride stops. He exits the car and runs towards you excitedly and once more puts his little hand in yours, but you notice that it seems to be a little bigger as you hold on.

“It’s my first day of school, Dad! Kindergarten will be awesome!”

Away from you while going upwards he climbs, this time going around twice. As he makes his second circle you notice that his feet are not dangling and now rest on the car’s foothold. Taking his hand after the ride his lengthier fingers now more easily entwine with your own.

The first sleepover finds him on the ride again.

Again as the teenager.

High school.


Each time the Ferris Wheel ride goes a little faster. Each time the number of circles increases. And each time he steps off he walks back to you a little taller and with less enthusiasm. Finally he stops putting his large hand into your own. And each time as you walk through the midway with him he seems intent to listen to what the carnies are pitching. And you pause to look at your reflection in a booth’s sideshow mirror to see that you have gotten softer around the middle, more gray is on your scalp, and your stride is not as swift.

You have more than one child. This is not happening in a vacuum. As you place the older child on the Ferris Wheel for his umpteenth time you turn and put your pre-schooler on it for her first trip round. As she gets on the ride your middle child is in the car paused at the wheel’s apex. You shield your eyes and looking up you notice that his car is beginning to swing more carefree at the top as he breathes in the sweet air of freedom and no cares, and takes in the view of limitless possibilities for the very first time.

You step back and place your feet on the familiar ground.

And let go.


This morning I read from Psalm 139. Among many things it says “You know me when I sit down and when I rise up.” And I thought of the Ferris Wheel. Verses 1 through 18 read as a son talking to his father or as a child to the parent. I read it even now and I see that I am the son speaking of and to his heavenly father. Reassuring myself of His love, and of the relationship we share.

But I know something else. I am called to be a father. I am in truth already a dad. A very human and earthbound dad, being more humbled with each passing day. While I will never be the omnipotent father as God is to me, I can be and will be an earthly father to my children.

I will help them to “search out” their path.

I can offer my hand to “lead” them. In my right hand I “shall hold” them. No darkness is too dark for me to ever stop searching for them when they get lost. The “night is bright as the day.”

And when the time is right I will take a deep breath and find strength as their dad by trusting in my Father. I will step back and place my feet firmly on familiar ground so that they always know where to find me.

And I will try to let go.


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