Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Boy, the Bike, and the Dad

I watch him wobbling down the road on that old bike — going too fast, I think.  (Older kids have grown out of that bike.)  “Why can’t he just keep the handlebars straight?” I ask myself aloud. By sheer will and by cocking my head, I try to hold him upright from a distance.

It’s obvious that coordinating the management of the pedals, handlebars, brakes, and balance all at the same time is a bit of a challenge for him. There’s no way I can do any of that for him.

He’s going too fast as he nears the corner where the stop sign is. Just in the nick of time, he slams on his brakes and skids to a complete stop in a very short distance. I watch as he struggles in vain to keep the bike from slowly tipping over. As he picks it up, I make a mental note to train him on the basics of gradually stopping and putting one foot down.

Because he hasn’t yet learned how to turn while riding, he physically picks the bike up and faces it the opposite direction. I bite my lip as I see that he’s about to try starting up the slope. Our road doesn’t have much of a slope, but there is a definite steady slope along its one-block stretch.

I am anxious for my son because the first time he ever rode a bicycle without training wheels was about 24 hours earlier. And that was in an empty parking lot that was nearly as flat as any sizeable paved surface can be. He had discovered that the slightest decline could help him get going from a standstill, but that the slightest incline presented a challenge.

It was with surprise I learned that he had been practicing bike riding in our neighborhood on his own. He had nearly been ready to give up the previous day. Maybe he believed me I told him that everybody is awful at cycling at first. Even the world’s greatest cyclists were once frustrated beginners.

It takes him three or four tries, but I am quite pleased to see him get the bike going up the slope. He’s not very stable. It’s a good thing there’s not much traffic on our road because he wanders all over the place.

As he nears the spot where I am standing in the end of the driveway, he looks at me. His face beams with pride as he says, “Look at me Dad! I’m riding!” I think he’s going to stop, but he rides on by. He wants to ride up to where the silver car is parked on the side of the road.

Upon his request, I get my bike out and don my helmet. I ride with him up and down our road, taking a few moments to demonstrate and explain how to make controlled turns and how to come to a controlled stop. He’s pretty rough at first, but before long he’s making decent turns and stops.

Soon it becomes clear that the only reason he still needs me there is for validation. He wants his daddy to share in his moment of triumph.

From the daddy perspective, my thoughts and emotions are beyond the mere earthly. Pride? Yes, I’m very proud of my boy. Who wouldn’t be? But the sheer joy of watching him learn, stumble, and conquer seems divine.

I pen the following poem in a callow attempt to capture this moment in prose:

He wobbles down the road
Astride that old bike.
By cocking my head
I try to keep him upright.

He awkwardly stops,
Stumbles to the ground,
Then picks himself up
And turns the bike around.

Starting uphill
Is painfully hard,
But he finally gets going
And goes pretty far.

He draws near to my spot,
His face beaming with pride,
Saying, “Look at me Dad,”
“See, I can ride.”

The accomplished moment
Is enough for my boy.
But to his proud daddy
It’s unequaled joy.

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