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Tight-Rope Walker Nik Wallenda Walks the Fine Line Between Fun Dad and Disciplinarian

Seventh-generation wire walker Nik Wallenda offers a firm but loving fatherly hand

Flickr/dpape; GETTY

To see Nik Wallenda from the ground, when he’s 30 feet in the air, the base of a seven-person human pyramid, walking slowly across a thin wire in the big top, is to see a man in complete control. Though he prefers to be airborne, Wallenda, the seventh-generation wire walking scion of the Flying Wallendas, manifests that control on the ground too. “Life is on the wire,” he says, “everything else is waiting.” Yet while he’s waited, Wallenda, 38, has raised three children, the eldest of whom recently joined the Marines, with his wife, Erendira, herself an eight-generation circus scion. Currently in town headlining the Big Apple Circus, Wallenda stopped by the Fatherly Podcast to take our Fatherly Questionnaire.

What is your name?
Nik Wallenda.

Occupation?
Funambulist. That’s a fancy way of saying wire-walker.

Age?
38.

How old are your children?
19, 16, and 15.

What are their names?
Yanni, Amadaos, and Evita.

Fatherly IQ
  1. Who in your household is responsible for making your family’s travel decisions?
    I am the primary decision maker
    My spouse/partner is the primary decision maker
    We decide together
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Are they named after anyone in particular?
Not necessarily, just names that they loved. And all of their names have different meanings. I think names are powerful. A name like Amadaos or Yanni is pretty cool.

Do you have any nicknames for your kids?
When they were younger I did. But my 19-year-old Marine, when you call him “Yanni-Fellany,” he doesn’t really like that. “Daos” is what we call Amadaos, and Evita is just Evita.

What do they call you?
Dad. It used to be daddy but as they got older it’s just dad. In front of my face they call me dad. I don’t know what they call me behind my back.

How often do you see them?
Often. As often as I possibly can. My daughter tours with us. I fly home as much as I can, so I was home Monday and Tuesday, and then we’ll fly home as many days off as we possibly can. The last time we had more than two days off, my wife flew to California to see my Marine. They are definitely at the top of our list of people to spend time with.

Describe yourself as a father in three words.
I am certainly disciplinary. I am the boss. Fun, for sure. And hopefully inspirational. I really try to inspire them. They know the buck stops at dad. They call mom first, because they know mom is the pushover. But I’m certainly strict. There’s no mouthing off. Of course, that happens but there is disciplinary action. I used to get the belt. Now I take away their cellphone.

 Describe your father in three words.
Disciplinary, for sure. He was very motivational to me. He very much motivated everything that I’ve done. A man of integrity. Integral. I still work with him, he oversees all the rigging, and then also safety. He’s kind of the final straw. When I get to a point 20 minutes before I’m walking across the Grand Canyon and the wind gusts are at 65 miles per hour, I’m in a mindset that I’m walking from one side to the other and no one’s going to stop me. No wind, nothing. He’s the sound mind that goes, “you know what? The winds are a little bit strong. We’re going to hold off a little bit.”

What are your weaknesses as a father?
I’m very, very goal-oriented. If I get a project, I work on that project until it’s done. I’ll give you an example and this is going to sound goofy. I love a clean, manicured lawn. I’ve got 15 acres in Florida, I have somebody that maintains five of it. I went home three weeks ago to see my son, he was in school. He got out of school, but I was taking care of the yard. So, I worked on the yard until 9 pm. I could’ve spent from 3 to 9, six hours with him, but I worked on the lawn. Those are sort of the challenges that I think I face, it’s that I’m so goal-focused that I can’t step out of this. It’s a real struggle.

What is your biggest regret as a father?
Probably time. Even though I spend a lot of time with my kids, I feel like, especially as you have one that moves out and becomes a Marine, spending more time with them.

What is your favorite activity to do with your kids?
With my boys, it was definitely sports. I love football, baseball, basketball. My team is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, because I’m from that area, but I always want to see the competition, I always like to see the underdog win. With my daughter, we play board games. And she loves shopping, and I go with her. Usually, it’s just clothes and I’m there with the card at the end.

What has been the moment you were most proud of as a dad?
My son graduating from boot camp and becoming a Marine. To serve our country and be that selfless is pretty amazing. I’ve always been very respectful of anybody in the military or with our police force and EMTs, but to see your son go through that training, which is kind of like going through hell, to get through Marines, it is not easy.

What heirloom did your father give to you if any?
A knife, a case knife that I still have. It’s in my center console in my pick-up truck. It was just a pocket knife that he had always in his pocket, and when I turned 13 he gave it to me and I still have it.

What heirloom do you want to leave your children if anything?
I’m all about preparing for the future. Me and my wife have several companies that we’re in the process of opening or have opened, that are business that are successful that we will leave. We always own real estate that we’ll leave to our children so that they’re set for generations to come. We’ve been blessed, and I’ve got pretty much everything that I want, so now it’s about preparing for the next generation.

Describe the “Dad Special” for dinner.
My go to is beef stroganoff, from scratch, and I make chicken curry. I cook everything, but I love to grill. Just because it’s easier to clean up, too.

Are you religious and are you raising your kid in that tradition?
I am. Every Sunday that we’re home, we’re at church. If not, we often watch our home church online, or we’ll find a church in the area. It’s definitely been instilled in them, not forced on them, they have to make their own decisions.

What’s a mistake you made growing up that you want to ensure your children do not repeat?
I honestly feel like all of my mistakes have lead me to where I am in life. When we look back to our most trying times, that’s what created us. “If it doesn’t kill you it makes you stronger,” that’s very much the case of every challenge that I’ve faced. I don’t know if there is one, necessarily. I think that it’s all on how you handle it.

How do you make sure your children know you love them?
I try to supply everything that they need. As a father, I think that’s our job, it’s to supply for our family. And, obviously, mother’s too. They’re not spoiled, they have to work for stuff. But they have everything that they need and more. And, again, preparing for their futures as well, and to make sure that when I leave this earth and my wife, they have something still going for them. They all know obviously that I love them, I call them, talk to them on the phone as much as I possibly can. Mom’s more of the physical affection and dad is more of the practical affection.