Editor’s note: In case you missed it, catch-up on Part 1 of “Hell on (Two) Wheels” before reading on.
OK, so we finally got home with a bike that: a) fit my son, b) had training wheels that were actually attached properly, and c) looked bad-ass cool. Check, check, and check. Now it was time to ride off into the sunset, right? Wrong.
This is where I learned more new stuff about being a dad and trying to teach one’s kid how to ride a bike:
- Riding a bike is hard, even with training wheels
- My son has no patience (nor do I)
- After five minutes he’s done. Swell.
Needless to say, we got past those issues over the next few days, and his riding sessions both lengthened and improved. Except… well… there’s more.
Here’s something else I should tell you about me… I have a bad back. Always have. I see a chiropractor (he’s a magic man), and thanks to his skilled hands and my ample insurance, I am able to live a relatively comfortable life (back-wise, anyway). Being hunched over, holding the back of my son’s bicycle seat, trying to help him up hills and maneuver the bike, was pretty excruciating. Thankfully a friend loaned me and handy-dandy “daddy bar” that attaches to the back of the bike so I can stand upright and still do work on the bike (if only a daddy bar was where daddies could go for a cold one whilst trying to teach their kids how to ride a bike!).
Next, my wife told me she read a tip about how wearing rollerblades can make it easier to glide behind the bike rather than walking or running to keep up with it. Well, as you’ve probably guess by now, I have a rollerblade story.
As a kid I loved roller skating. I grew up in the era of roller skating rinks, with their brown rental skates with orange wheels and orange rubber stoppers and disco music pumping overhead. I was never one of the cool kids with my own pair of black skates with glow-in-the-dark wheels and stoppers, but I rocked those rental skates like nobody’s business. Years later, before having kids, my wife and I decided rollerblades looked like fun. Fortunately we had the good sense to rent a couple of pair from a local shop before investing in what would have surely been excessively expensive, top-of-the-line models because (shocker) it did not go well. First of all, the stopper is on the back! What’s that about? My rental roller skates with the orange stopper always had the stopper on the front. That I know what to do with. A stopper on the back, not so much. Then there’s the whole issue of the wheels being all in one line. I get how that’s the appeal of the rollerblade, but it’s hard! I like my wheels two-by-two, and with disco music playing overhead. Anyway, that was the end of that. So when after ten years my wife suggested I strap on a pair of rollerblades as a means of helping my son learn how to ride a bike, I decided that simply wasn’t gonna’ happen.
As this story is running on a bit, let’s skip the next two weeks of my son mastering the training wheels, my back being geeked to no end, the training wheels coming off, my son and I getting really pissed at each other, and him learning some new words that daddy really shouldn’t have been saying, and jump to the moment when this all became one of the most worthwhile endeavors of my life thus far.
It was a lovely day other than the fact that a father and son, both with very little patience and growing levels of frustration were trying to get said son to master the two-wheeled arts. As with other advice, I decided to forgo the newfangled methods of teaching bike riding that include removing the pedals, teaching the kid to coast, and inch-by-inch, day-by-day, slowly getting there. No, I left the damn pedals on and just let him figure the damn thing out. Well, one day, he did.
I had him at the top of a hill with a very gentle grade and we started down as we had dozens of times before – me holding the “daddy bar” and my son wobbling his way along. And then it happened – the bike just kind of held itself upright and my grip on the bar loosened. Next thing I knew I was running behind the bike with my hand hovering over the bar, but not actually holding on. We made it down the hill and I asked my son if he realized what had happened? He hadn’t. I explained that I wasn’t really holding on very much and that next time I can probably let go and just run beside him. He was nervous, but game to try. We worked our way back up the hill and started down again. After a confident, smooth start I ran beside him, ever-ready to grab hold should it have been necessary, but it never was. He’d done it and he knew it. And then the moment – the realization – the smile that beamed from a proud six-year-old’s face. A moment I will never forget.
Since that day we’ve moved on to confident riding on flat pavement and we’re working on getting up those hills. And every new accomplishment is still exciting and leads to a relatively proud moment for both of us. But nothing comes anywhere near that smile after that first solo trip down that first hill. And everything it took to get there was so damn worth it (if I do say so my damn self).
David Paull is a father of two great kids – Jarod born in 2002 and Samantha born in 2005 – and also runs a small technology firm in Portland, Oregon. When not working or writing, David and his wife enjoy having fun with their kids and exploring new ways to keep their family happy, healthy, and sane. “Fresh Brood” appears regularly on in THE FATHER LIFE and tells stories of the trials and tribulations of raising a brood of one’s own.