It was a blue bike, with training wheels. And he was very proud of it. Of course, he didn’t know how to ride it, but he’d sat on it plenty of times while making really fast sound effects. So when the winter finally faded into spring we pulled the little blue bike out and I pointed it in as straight a line down the sidewalk as I could.
He was about 5 or so I think, the spring before Kindergarten. And he wanted to ride his new bike. I put the helmet on him and he got on. I gave him a little push and off he went.
Pretty quickly my internal warning light started blinking. He wasn’t slowing down. I didn’t count on a five year old having no spatial or inertial instincts. He was approaching the corner at a decent clip while I was jogging after him, designing in my head the “Bad Dad” tattoo that surely would soon be adorning my forehead.
Without slowing down, but making tentative attempts at turning, he rode right off the curb, crashing into the street. Like a bad after-school special, I saw his helmet roll out into the street. In my head it was doing so in slow motion with a tragic, melodic dirge drifting down.
He wasn’t seriously hurt. Some painful and impressive scrapes, and he was scared. He did not at that point have any intention of riding that blue bike again.
A couple years later, She and I were doing some Christmas shopping at the mall. We’d dropped the boys off at the daycare center for what we thought would be a few hours. After an hour or so, we got a call that we needed to go back. When we got there, they showed us into the little office. Our son was sitting next to an employee, smiling and waving at us, which did not match the story we were then told. They started by telling us the other boy and his family were no longer welcome there. We were told my son and this other boy had been playing air hockey. The puck hit the other kid in the knuckles. He got angry, ran to the other end of the table, and punched my son in the face, breaking his glasses, bloodying his nose, and knocking him to the ground.
The craziest part, we were told, is that our son stood up, put his twisted glasses back on and asked the kid if he wanted to play again.
His first few semesters at a University were unsuccessful. Unsuccessful enough that he eventually received the dreaded, but expected, letter informing him of his dismissal. It was devastating. Having received the same letter 27 years earlier, I knew how he felt. When it happened to me I was embarrassed, angry. I knew I’d done it all on my own, the victim of nothing but my own choices. Every time I saw that cowboy logo or mascot it was a slap in the face.
But he didn’t quit. He didn’t leave town. He went to the local community college, and over the course of a year, rebuilt his transcript. He then undertook the process of petitioning back in to the University. A process that required meeting with professors and deans, explaining to them what he’d done and how he’d changed.
And yesterday the Dean of the business school signed the last piece of paper, admitting him into the University and the business school.
He’d done what he’s always done. He stood up.
We tell our kids we’re proud of them. We tell them because it’s true. We tell them because they need to hear it. I know they sometimes wonder why we’re proud. I know parents lack credibility and they probably think that we’re proud of them because as their parents, we have to be.
No, we’re proud of them because when we weren’t looking, they picked up the little blue bike and dragged it back out to the sidewalk.