My father was an active participant in my childhood.
A heavy equipment operator by trade, he worked hard to provide for his family, rarely turning down overtime for the bonus pay. And when he came home from work, he wasn't content to settle in front of the television. Often, he headed right back out of the house to work in the yard. He loved building things, mostly exercise equipment, oddly enough. And there were only a few occasions when he had to rush one of his children to the emergency room because of one of his faulty contraptions. I mean, we're talking just three or four times here...five tops.
My Dad was a good dad to me, always available to play catch, a very active supporter of my athletic endeavors. I believe he wished deeply for me to play Major League Baseball and we both thought I just might. But once it was clear that that dream was over, we had little else in common.
I never held any interest in pursuing his career. The man could drive nearly every type of bulldozer, crane or specialized truck there was and I couldn't have been less intrigued. It just wasn't how I was built. Hell, the only time I can remember him becoming truly frustrated with me was while he was teaching me to drive a stick-shift.
A lot of boys grow up fascinated with machinery and guns and tools and grease. I didn't. I loved sports, and so does Dad, but there's little doubt he adapted to my interests rather than the other way around.
The point is: We're certainly not destined to follow in our father's footsteps.
So why then did I watch Nik Wallenda walk across the Grand Canyon on a tightrope Sunday?
The Flying Wallendas were daredevil circus performers in the 1940s. They were famous because they performed their high-wire acrobatics without a net. Seventy years of Wallendas later, and the family is still firmly entrenched in the business of crazy.
Walking across the Grand Canyon on a tightrope? No net? No harness? Who would do such a thing? Who would stop 100 feet short of the safety of the ledge, bend to a knee atop the high-wire and blow his wife a kiss? Who would sprint the remaining feet? Nik Wallenda, that's who. He's the inheritor of the crazy gene that has clearly passed from one Wallenda to another for seven generations. And Nik isn't the only member of the family that has the gene. Several Wallendas still perform daredevilry to this day.
They've watched family members die from acts of daring, the tragedies are many. They've watched our interest in circus entertainment wane over the decades and still the Wallendas refuse to stop.
My father didn't want me to become a heavy equipment operator. Otherwise, he would have pushed me toward it. As for the Wallendas, they must want their children to perform death-defying acts. Otherwise, they would clearly try and steer them away.
Is there an expectation to continue the family legacy? Does one get absorbed into the culture from a young age and risk becomes as commonplace as brushing one's teeth? Or is there crazy built into DNA?
After all, it's not just the Wallendas who carry on a bizarre family tradition. Evel Knievel's sons, Kelly and Robbie, both followed in dad's motorcycle tracks. And now that we've just witnessed an entire generation of extreme sports athletes grow gray-haired, if they even lived at all, I can't help but wonder how many of their children will follow in dad's footholds.