Richard Nelson

my dad & cycling

In cycling on 2005 April 5 Tuesday at 20:14:00

Watching the World Track Cycling Championships, which I did this weekend past in Los Angeles, somehow reminded me of my dad in relation to cycling.

My dad died in 1996, when he was 63, and I was 42. For many years we had been not exactly estranged but not close. In a phrase, he did not meet my standards. I once wrote, with respect to my own daughter, of my wish “to be the father mine wasn’t”. I resented my resemblance to him; my second wife knew the most hurtful thing she could say to me was that I was like my father.

I’m still uncomfortable with that resemblance, but my views of him are now softer, and this is largely because of my love for cycling.

I came to cycling early. I think – although I’m not sure – that I was five years old when I first rode a bike without training wheels. And my father was part of that.

I’d ridden a bike for “a while” with training wheels. In my untrustworthy memory of such early years, the bike was quite large, and the training wheels slightly elevated so that you were encouraged to mount and ride the bike in the proper 2-wheeled way. I hated the training wheels. They were uncomfortable and (in my five-year-old’s view) made it difficult to maneouvre the bike properly. So my father removed them – I remember that clearly – and took me onto our cul-de-sac and held the seat and ran with me until I could get up enough to speed to proceed wobbily by myself. This took a couple of runs on a weekend day, and then I was on my own, my father insisting that I could do it without his help – and my wanting to do it for his approval and my self-approval. And I did it.

A few years later, I think, while I was still very young, my parents decided I needed a new bike. Money was never plentiful in our house – my father made a reasonable amount, I suppose, for a salesman, but he was a spendthrift, my mother didn’t work outside the home, and they had four young children. But this must have been during a better period, or my father was feeling exceptionally generous, because I remember his agreeing to my getting every accessory imaginable for my brand new green CCM.* (The only accessory I specifically remember was a battery-operated siren that was, to my enormous chagrin, carefully vandalized where I parked it at school.)

Looking back I can see that I was always more of a cyclist than most of my friends or classmates or brothers. I rode everywhere, and with the literal recklessness of a child. It’s strange that I so readily put away the joy of cycling twice in my life – in my early teen years and again in early adulthood – but it’s otherwise been a constant, and one to which memories of my father are alloyed.

When I see my eight-year-old granddaughter on the too-heavy, too-big red bike she loves, I see myself at the same age or younger, and I now see myself, not as “the father mine wasn’t”, but being my father at his best.

* At that time, and for most of the 20th century, Canada Cycle & Machinery was the country’s leading bikemaker.


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