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On the Corner

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by Robert Docter – 

It was Independence Day–July 4. A high sky radiated a brilliant blue under a blazing sun as, together, my son and I rolled the fairly new two-wheeled bike out of the garage. The chrome spokes on its 12-inch wheels shimmered with their own sparkling pattern. It had been his “main” present on Memorial Day–his sixth birthday. Quickly, he spotted a difference. The training wheels were gone. A grin spread across his face as he did a little dance of excitement. His eyes were brighter even than the sun. My heart rate accelerated as well.

He was about to experience a bench mark–a never-to-be-forgotten passage. So was I.

As he rode during the training-wheel month, I had gone before him to clear the way, check the route, assure a measure of safety even though a fall was unlikely. Now, four wheels had become two.

He mounted the seat, one foot on the ground, the other poised on a pedal. I stood beside him, my hand on the seat. He looked at me. The grin had changed somewhat as the reality of fear spread through him. I experienced some considerable anxiety myself. His eyes changed to a squint. I tried to look confident and gave him some words of encouragement. I wanted to help him keep his balance. I thought about all that was required in the process–manipulating his weight, watching the speed of the bike and changing the direction of the front wheel. I discarded the lecture as useless. Too much information. “Just try to keep your balance,” I finally said, “and pedal. I’ll be right beside you, and if you start to fall, go for something soft.”

Just try to keep your balance.

What a lesson. I ran beside him, holding on to the seat lightly, pushing him gently, forcing a balance when he over corrected, helping him get the feel of balancing while moving on a two wheeled bike. We got to the corner and stopped. Somewhat winded, I complimented him and experienced a dÈjý vu moment when I saw my own father standing by that old red bike on which I sat poised, his hand on the seat, his chest heaving, his face grinning.

Once more, I grabbed the bike seat to steady him–pushed a little and said “Pedal!”

He did. I needed to steady him less now. I needed to run a little faster. I took my hand from the seat briefly. He pedaled on. I gave a slight push forward…and let go…jogging now behind him, keeping a watchful eye, shouting words of encouragement. He didn’t know how to stop and get off, so he collapsed on the front lawn, giggling. “Did you see that?” he called. “I did it!” I dove down beside him and wrapped him in my arms. We laughed together. Then, quickly, he had the bike up ready to go again. “Give me a little push,” he said. I did, and he navigated the block and the passage on his own.

“It’s like riding a bike,” they say. “Once you learn how to do it, you never forget.” I mean keeping your balance–being able to correct quickly when you feel yourself slipping–moving forward at a manageable speed–finding soft places to fall.

Sounds like life to me.

I let him go–shouting words of encouragement those years ago on Independence Day. Bigger, sleeker bikes followed. One took him from the Pacific across the Continental Divide. He gained his independence–kept his balance–moved forward at a manageable speed–and occasionally, he finds soft places to fall. I taught five more to ride exactly the same way. Now, I’m starting on the next generation.

I wish there were specific instructions for keeping one’s life in balance. I suspect what’s needed are training wheels and then a father who will first run before, then run beside, and then run behind–shouting words of encouragement. I suspect what is needed is stability, consistency, hands-on instruction and encouragement

Even now, under a high July sky we wrap our arms around each other and enjoy an intimate closeness reserved only for fathers. Once you learn how to do it, you never forget.

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