Learning To Ride
My Dad taught me to ride a bike. I had been on a tricycle, then a bike with training wheels for some time, but he thought it was time to ditch the safe way and fly. I can’t count the number of times he puffed along beside the hand-me-down bike I got when my older sister grew out of it, steadying the seat with one hand and the handlebars with another, calling encouragement as I wobbled along the sidewalk shrieking with a combination of heady exhilaration and sheer terror. Then, on the next exciting try, I felt an extra push from behind to get me up to cruising speed and I AM DOING IT, DADDY! I’M RIDING! I’M RIDING!
Of course, I fell off trying to stop, but he picked me up and brushed me off, commiserated over my scrapes and put me right back on. That time, I remembered that one pedaled backwards to stop the bike. The seat still bumped me in the back when I slowed enough to hop down, but that was minor compared to the flush of achievement and pride. I was officially a big kid.
It was like that all through my childhood and adolescence. My Dad was always urging me to do things I was afraid to try, gently but insistently showing me the way. When I was about eight and all the other kids were jumping or diving off the high board at the pool, I was only comfortable with the low board. Somehow, he knew that I had a secret longing to be brave like the other kids, so he made a deal with me. “I’ll catch you when you jump,” he promised. “I’ll be there to make sure you’re okay.”
And that dear man treaded water underneath the high board for at least forty-five minutes, shouting encouragement up to me as I stood shivering with my toes curled over the end of the board and my heart in my throat. He even had to take a rest for a minute on the side of the pool and he warned, “I may not be able to do this much longer!” Finally, looking down - ‘way down! - into his warm, brown eyes, I screwed up my courage and HUGE, RIPPING SPLASH! I surfaced to his wide grin - “You did it!
Actually, he did it. All through boyfriends and algebra and hairdos and college applications and first jobs, his encouragement and gentle prodding were what spurred me to achievements I might not otherwise have even tried. So much easier to wail, “Daddy, I can’t” than to put some honest effort into learning something new.
He wasn’t always successful - my hairdos were never very stylish (they still aren’t) and I never did get the point or the practice of algebra - but he always assured me “Of course you can!” and didn’t let me off the hook.
Life keeps handing me challenges - finishing college and grad school, learning a whole new set of job skills, finding my way through a divorce when everyone in the family was opposed, establishing myself in a new locale with new friends and challenging financial concerns - and each time another one pops up, I’m back on that bike with Dad’s wisdom and strength behind me, still learning to ride.