Bad Dad: Coaster fears track back to fair

There are certain rites of passage that all kids who grow up in Southern California should have. My daughter experienced hers at an early age at the Orange County Fair.

It was 2007, I think, and she was 4.

I had taken her to the fair for some quality time. We walked around and looked at the baby animals, rooted for the racing piggies, wandered the gardens at Centennial Farm, and meandered through the countless vendor booths.

We had no agenda. We were hanging out, father and daughter.

After a couple hours, we made our way to the rides. Being 4, my girl had no concept of fear. She trusted me, as I had never put her in harm's way.

But even she was wary of some of the rides, like all the ones that went upside down. She was convinced that she would fall out if she was inverted, which I understand is a pretty big deal for a kid.

But I kept working on her and finally got her to go on a kiddie roller coaster. No inverted 360s, no being flung at top speed to the sky, no horrific visions of falling out of the car. It was a basic track coaster that didn't get 10 feet off the ground.

I convinced her she was now a big kid, and this is what big kids do. I played up the fact that we'd share the experience of her first roller coaster ride together. Trusting me, she smiled and gave me a cautious "yes."

Big mistake.

This coaster, while small in stature, was deceivingly quick. The only thing holding her in was a lap bar that really just rested on my lap. So, she slid back and forth on the seat.

Plus, it wasn't the smoothest ride. The car jerked us around unexpectedly, which caused her to cling to my arm with a death grip. Add the noise that came from the click-clack of the track and wheels, and you had one hellacious ride for a preschooler.

When we got off the ride, she was beside herself, sobbing uncontrollably. Other parents passed, some nodding in understanding, others shaking their heads in disapproval. That father-daughter trust on which I prided myself was strained. I looked down at her big, doe eyes — shrink-wrapped in tears — and felt that I had let her down.

As I sat there, trying to calm her, I thought back to my first roller coaster ride, Montezooma's Revenge at Knott's Berry Farm. I remember standing in line, dreading what was going to happen. The queue for the ride moved quickly because it was simply a single-loop ride.

Before I knew it, I was hurtling toward the tight loop. I remember the exhilarating feeling of weightlessness as we hung in mid-air before dropping back into the loop and back to the station. I recall being really excited and proud of myself that I had survived my first coaster. I remember giving high-fives to my friends and rushing to go on again.

Then — we're back in the present here — I felt stupid. I remembered I was on an outing with my Boy Scout troop. I was 12, eight years older than my daughter was for her first coaster ride.

See, there's a reason why my column is called Bad Dad.

It must've taken an hour to calm her down, but the damage was done. In fact, we headed over to the carnival so I could try to win her a stuffed animal to get her mind off her harrowing experience. After 10 minutes and $30, she was carrying around a stuffed duck and eating cotton candy.

Flash forward to 2011. My daughter and I are back at the Orange County Fair.

But this time, she had a whole new attitude. Four years older, she has mostly conquered her fear of falling out of rides, and is now more worried about getting sick on them.

Joined by a friend, she excitedly stood in line waiting for a ride as I stood to the side and marveled at how far we had come.

Now I'm wondering how old my son should be before I subject him to his first coaster.

Two isn't too young, is it?

MATT MURRAY is a designer-copy editor at the Daily Pilot, as well as an established blogger-videographer-podcaster. Pile on him at matthew.murray@latimes.com.

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