Today was a very special day.
Today, I participated in one of those special, time-honored, father-son traditions. There is a father and son playing catch in the backyard, the excitement of a boy being taken to his first professional sporting event by his dad, and the thrill of a boy being taught to ride a bicycle.
Today, I taught my son to ride a bike, and it was glorious.
I’m 44 years old.
I have the memory of a man twice my age.
I’m pretty sure that means I equate my memory to that of an 88 year old man, but I’m not positive, because I’ve forgotten how to do almost all the math.
My wife will send me to the store for a gallon of milk, and by the time I get there, I can’t remember what I was supposed to get, her phone number, or the way to get back home. I’ll drive around the neighborhood, in circles, for hours, trying to remember the meaning of everything, contemplating my existence, until, eventually, I remember my wallet in my pocket, pull out my driver’s license, and look up my address.
I’m a walking disaster in the memory department.
As far as I can figure, I was born around the age of sixteen. I can’t remember much happening before that. I’m not sure how it’s possible to be born at the age of sixteen, but I’m certain that is the case.
Maybe I was part of some high end government science experiment that was conducted for the purpose of creating teenage soldiers, in the 70s, to go to war in Vietnam, or maybe to infiltrate the hippie lifestyle so that we could bring those sandal wearing weirdos to justice for all their illegal drug partaking and lewd sexual acts. Damn you hippies for having so much fun! We shall destroy you!
Unfortunately, in my case, the government experiment went awry because I came out looking more like an AIDS riddled stork than a muscular soldier, and they really didn’t know what to do with me, so they pawned me off on a couple in Pennsylvania to raise me, and in exchange for that couple’s silence they gave them a million dollars.
But that can’t be true because I grew up blue collar, and come to think of it, I couldn’t have been created by the government at the age of sixteen because I do actually have a memory of my childhood.
That memory was my dad teaching me to ride a bicycle.
I remember it vividly.
I was seven.
My dad, that day, had loosened the training wheels on my bike without telling me. He took me out for a ride, and half a mile into it, on Line street in a small town in Pennsylvania, the wheels fell off, and my dad jogged alongside me, assuring me, “I’ve got you, just ride.”
And I did.
Today, I took my son to the park. He was scared and said he didn’t want to learn to ride his bike.
I assured him that I had him, that I would protect him, that I would never let anything bad happen to him.
I asked him if he trusted me, and he gave me a half-convincing, half-enthusiastic “yes, Daddy, I trust you.”
“Then, let’s go.”
I probably should’ve put a helmet on him.
I probably should’ve put knee pads on him.
I probably should’ve given him training wheels.
But I didn’t. We were doing this old-school, and it was going to be a moment he’d never forget.
He began peddling, and I ran behind him, holding his seat, keeping him upright. I was jogging in a bent over position because I couldn’t stand fully erect and still hold his seat; he’s barely five years old, and it’s a tiny bike. Given that I’ve had nine neck and back surgeries, it may not have been my wisest decision, but wise decisions have never been my specialty. I’m a romantic and I like to ride the wave and momentum of a moment when one presents.
He began peddling faster and faster.
I began running faster and faster.
My back began aching.
His arms were wobbly and the bike was wobbly and he was probably going to crash into the tree up ahead, around the curve, and because I elected not to put a helmet on him he’d probably break his brain and as a result he’d have to wear a helmet everywhere he went for the rest of his life. His mother would divorce me, take half of everything, and I’d only get to see my boys on Tuesdays and every other weekend. Life would be terribly depressing, I’d get addicted to heroin, I’d lose my Tuesdays, and then, completely distraught, I’d hit rock bottom in Tijuana, get robbed by a prostitute at one of their infamous donkey shows, and then, when trying to get back across the border with no money or papers, I’d get picked up by the police, with heroin on my person, and I’d end up living out the rest of my days, in a Tijuana prison, in complete anonymity, while my children grew up never knowing their father.
Shit, I really screwed the pooch here. I just should’ve made the responsible decision and put a helmet on him. Why do I always have to do things my way?
We were picking up speed.
The tree was getting closer.
My boy was getting more and more wobbly.
My back was burning and my knees were about to give out.
Our best bet would probably be to wipe out, now, in the grass, before we had to go around that turn where we will most certainly crash into that tree.
Yes, that’s it, I’m going to have to force a wipe-out here. It’s for the best. See the big picture, Matt.
“Daddy, I’m doing it!” My son said. He was so excited. So proud.
He wasn’t doing it, I was keeping him up, but what the hell did that matter?
Truthfully, it didn’t matter. All that mattered was that he was having a blast, he was building confidence and self-esteem; this situation was a winner.
We couldn’t stop now!
And so, we forged on, building speed, building confidence. I gritted my teeth, ignored my pain, and told me knees to suck it up. My son was having a moment, and dammit, we were going to do everything we could to make this happen.
He wobbled left, he wobbled right. I loosened my grip hoping that he would feel his center of gravity moving from side to side so that he could control it, and manipulate it.
He could not.
He lost control.
Right before the bend with the big evil tree at that end of it that I should’ve scouted out before sending him on this DeathWish, but alas, I did not.
I’m the worst father alive.
And now my child is going to be disfigured.
He had one of those big wobbles that we’ve all seen and felt; one of those giant wobbles when you know you’ve lost control. One of those giant wobbles that, when you see it, you know the person in that wobble is going to over-correct, bringing the wobble in the other direction, making the corrective wobble twice as large and twice as likely to end in an accident.
And that’s what he did.
His over-correction on the wobble was strong. I couldn’t see his face, but I knew it was ravaged with panic.
Mine certainly was.
I was no longer holding his seat. His over-correction had caused his seat to break free from my aforementioned loose grip.
He was free riding now.
He was on a solo mission.
He was on a solo mission to “Mommy’s gonna get a new Daddy after this” city.
I wanted to close my eyes, but I didn’t.
I watched as the second corrective wobble began about twelve feet away from the tree.
For a brief moment, I considered sprinting at him and tackling him, just to keep him from crashing into that ferocious tree of death.
But I didn’t.
I chased behind, ready to pick up the pieces, ready to carry his bloody body to the car and rush him to the hospital.
But then, right before impact, something miraculous happened.
He found his center and regained control.
My boy manhandled that bicycle and let it know who was in charge.
My boy became a man.
I mean, sure, he wet his pants a little bit, but whatever, fuck you.
“Daddy, look, I’m riding a bike!”
You certainly are, son. You certainly are.
And I’ll never forget seeing it. I hope you remember it forever too.