Friday, June 19, 2009

Fatherhood and bikes

With Father's Day just around the corner, my thoughts are turned to my deceased dad.

Dad died back in '98, after living a vibrant and productive life, including successfully raising 7 children.

Until you're a dad, I don't think you appreciate what an awesome responsibility it is. Surely it's the most important job you'll ever have. Shaping lives - that's serious business.

Dad rode a bike to work, but not every day. Once or twice a week, when it was "in season." (The ride included a somewhat-rigorous hill climb - up Shaw Mountain Road, if you're familiar - so it was more of a commitment than most people would make.)

He made sure we all had bikes, as soon as we were old enough to ride. Since I was the oldest (lucky!), mine was always new, while my siblings sometimes dealt with hand-me-downs. But not always.

I remember Dad buying an old rusty girl's "cruiser" bike with fat balloon tires, disassembling it, and painting it "Mary Kay pink" for my sister, who loved anything that was pink. You can buy a pink bike nowadays, but bikes weren't quite as "fashionable" back in the early 60s.

Dad was probably as exasperated by flat tires as I am! Frequently there were 2 or 3 bikes in the fleet, with flat tires. Dad fixed 'em. I didn't learn how 'til years later.

One of our favorite family pastimes was group bike rides.

(What happened? Try as I might, I could never get my family very interested. Too many entertainment alternatives 40 years later, I s'pose.)

We used to ride together down Shaw Mountain; we probably looked like the momma duck (Dad) with the babies in tow. Even Mom frequently went; at one point she and Dad had matching lime-green Schwinn "comfort" bikes. We'd ride gingerly down the hill to Reserve Street, then venture to the Fanci-Freez, or the College In-N-Out for softies. I remember once, we went out Boise Avenue a ways. Probably not very far - maybe to Gekeler or so. There used to be a grocery store out there. That seemed like a HUGE adventure! The "ride" back home, up the hill, separated the big kids from the babies! (Frequently there was as much walking as riding, when gravity resisted our efforts.)

Of course, as I grew older, my circle expanded, but usually solo rides or rides with my buddies. Mom would'a grounded me if she'd known some of the places we rode... out to the motorcycle shops on State Street (where Carl's Cycles still stands), to (the spankin' new) Hillcrest Plaza. (That was a LONG way for a 10- or 12-year-old kid who lived in the east end of town!)

I gave up bike riding for maybe 8 years, in my 20s. I was a poor independent bachelor, and needed the cash (probably for car payments - what a shame!), so I sold my beloved Motobecane road bike. It wasn't until I was married, and we were sharing one car between the two of us, that the bicycle-bell again started going off in my head.

I got back on "for good" in '86. My oldest daughter was not quite five. Our baby was 1. Two kids were born afterwards; they NEVER have known a dad - at least their dad - using anything but a bike for essentially all commuting and local transportation.

My four children all enjoyed bike-riding early on, but also surrendered to the car early-on. (At least so far. My oldest daughter rides a bike to work most days.) Riding a bike is work - riding in a car is easy! I s'pose their friends' dads all drive a car, Homer Simpson, Hank Hill, and that Family Guy all drive cars. Cars are pervasive. And maybe I pushed my agenda too hard - teenage kids have a tendency to dismiss Dad and Mom as clueless as to "what's happenin' now." (And then realize years later - as I do when thinking about my dad - that Dad and Mom occasionally knew what they were talking about, after all.)

Interestingly, NONE of my kids ever tried to convince me that they absolutely needed their own car, to keep their busy schedules, etc. That would've been a VERY hard sell!

Perhaps as they continue to mature, and become more independent, they will appreciate the money they can save by riding a bike. And perhaps they will also discover that riding a bike is an empowering - and fun! - mode of transportation. Well worth the effort.

Happy Father's Day to you dads! If your dad is still around, give him a squeeze. (How I wish I could squeeze MY dad again.) And for you dads who have your kids up on 2 wheels... teach 'em right, and keep up the great work!


Clancy said...

Plan on riding down to a park with the kids and my dad on Sunday. A picnic will be packed for some fuel home. We ride down to Fancy Freeze or Goodies during good weather. My kids and wife are fair weather riders but kids are still young so hopefully that will change.

I used ride all over town (Ontario) in my youth. We would ride to the fishing pond, Schwinn shop, the mall or the swimming pool.

bob t said...

Nice tribute, Bikeboy.

My dad died 10 years ago. I don't recall ever seeing him on a bike but I know he used one when he lived in Holland (but that's not at all unusual over there).

While growing up we never owned more than one car at a time. My dad used public transportation to get to work and left the car at home for mom to use. Consequently I've never felt the need to own more than one car at a time either, even with a wife and two active teenagers.

biketour7 said...

Very nice! You have a gift for reflecting and writing.

heidi said...

Ahhh, thank you for your tender reflections. You've recaptured some of my favorite childhood memories. Those were wonderful family times. I remember well the great sense of satisfaction I had the first time I actually rode my bike all the way up the big hill. It was a right of passage. It was in that accomplishment that I first recognized the positive feelings associated with doing something hard . . . overcoming self. Thanks for reconnecting me.