I figured that, as a gymnast, Hannah’s keen balance would make the process of learning how to ride a bicycle easier. I was wrong. For two or three afternoons she mounted the bike and I ran alongside her, mostly holding on, but occasionally taking my hands off the handlebars and the back of her neck. She wobbled and weaved. I ran until I struggled to catch both my breath and Hannah, but still nothing seemed to click. Frustration overwhelmed me at one point. “I guess I failed as a father in this, too,” I growled one day.
“You’re not a failure,” Mary scolded me. No, I’m not. So I persisted despite the breathlessness and the pain in my hip.
As I pushed and guided and held on and let go, I noticed Hannah riding with her head down, eyes focused on her feet. “Look up,” I panted. “Look where you’re going, not down at your feet.”
“Okay, Dad,” she said, glancing up for a second, then dropping her eyes again to her nicely-tied shoes.
The focus on her feet reminded me of when I took country-western dance lessons twenty years ago. Younger and way more energetic, I looked forward to the free lessons at several of the local honky tonks. I learned the two step, the three step, and my favorite, the Fort Worth shuffle. Problem was, I had a tendency to look at my feet instead of focusing on the girl and the other couples behind her. Result: not only was my dancing style jerky and hesitant, I invariably ran my dance partner into fixed objects, like walls and other struggling dancers. It was not pretty. “Quit looking at your feet,” the instructors would tell me. I had to learn to look straight ahead and trust that my feet would do what they were supposed to do, embracing the music and ignoring my deer-in-the-headlights gaze. When I finally learned to look forward and move to the rhythm, my dancing skills improved dramatically. Girls actually wanted to dance with me. As I ran beside Hannah, I tried to convey this life lesson between great gulps of air.
But after two or three afternoons in the driveway, Hannah’s bike riding still remained jerky and hesitant, especially after she drove it off the cement and into the grass during a turn. She became one with the bike and the driveway, crashing in a tangle of pink metal and hot tears. To her credit, though, she climbed right back on and tried again. She’s persistent like her Old Man. But after a few more turns around the driveway, I was done. So was she.
“Can you put the training wheels back on now?” she asked, wheeling the bike into the garage.
“No,” I barked, glancing at the corner where I’d hidden them. “I threw them away.”
A few days later we were both ready to try again. She climbed onto the seat and placed her right foot on the pedal. I grabbed the handlebar with my left hand and wrapped the fingers of my right hand around the back of her tiny neck. The theme song from Chariots of Fire played in the background of my mind as she nodded and I began to run. When we got up to speed, I felt something in Hannah’s body shift. She settled into the trajectory, her frame relaxed, her face remained pointed straight ahead. I let go. She rode all the way to the end of the driveway as if she’d been riding a bicycle for years.
I caught up to her, helped her turn around, then let go again. We repeated this several times, then she wanted to make the turns by herself. By the end of the hour she was riding circles around me. Literally. “This is fun, Dad,” she told me recently as she rode her bike with some friends on a dirt driveway in the middle of the country. Yes it is, I thought. Yes it is.
Copyright © 2015 David C Hughes