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I had an essential experience of fatherhood yesterday. For the first time my son and I rode bicycles together. But the experience was oddly bittersweet.



My dad and I never rode together.

I learned to ride a bike on my 7th birthday. Dad lifted the pre-assembled bike off the display, rolled it through the cashier after paying the $49.99 plus tax, took it to the parking lot, and after three running starts with a push from behind — and a couple crashes — I was on my way. I didn’t look back.

That was in the parking lot of a KMart in El Toro, California. At the time, we called it “home.” We kept our RV parked in front of Kmart while my mom and dad played their gig at Don Jose’s Mexican restaurant. It’s actually a fond memory. That was a nice parking lot, and great for riding.

But my dad was never physical enough to ride with me. I was born just before his 54th birthday, and back in the 1960’s, those were 54 hard years. I was the product of his second venture into fatherhood–the one he wouldn’t abandon. Nowadays, 54 is somewhere in the vast stretch of adult life we’re calling middle-age. If you’re 54 you should be running marathons — or at least 10K’s — and starting your second or third family with your second or third career.

So, we never rode together. He’d share stories of getting around on a bike when he was a kid, and how a moment of carelessness in front of a dimestore had cost him some tricked-out bike he called a “Ranger”–an early lesson in keeping things locked away. He had applied that lesson through the rest of his life in many and diverse ways. There were always stories — man, he had stories — but we never rode.

Eventually, I took great joy in the power bicycling gave me to escape from my parents. When I began to realize that they were mainly teaching me how to be miserable, I’d take off on my tenspeed and venture further and further away from our home on the desolate westside of Phoenix. Nothing would stop me: not even 115-degree days. It was my distance and my peace. I could taste freedom that way.

Bicycling probably saved my life a few times. Each ride was a risk it was critical for me to take.

Thus, it’s interesting for me to ride with my son for this reason: something I had valued as a way to stay away from my parents has been transformed into yet another means of bringing me and my son together. It gives me hope that the things I had seen as weaknesses about my development as an individual actually have come through as strengths in fatherhood. Because even though we’re close, those three miles up and down the gently undulating paths of Scottsdale’s Greenbelt brought us even closer.

Do I expect a cookie for that, you ask? No. I don’t need your cookie. I’m going to take a bike ride.