On Jan. 13, it will happen to me.
Suddenly, and without warning, my oldest daughter will turn 19.
This morning, I came into work early and sat with my cup of coffee. It was my first opportunity to really contemplate this event without interruption or distraction. As I scrolled through old columns I’d written about being a dad, and specifically those about my oldest daughter, I was drawn to this piece I wrote when she was seven. She had just learned to ride her bike without training wheels. As I read it, it struck me how more than a decade later the experience, as well as the advice I had given her, still applies.
Metaphorically speaking, she is once again about to embark on life without training wheels. And just as I watched her back then, taking that first ride on her own, I couldn’t be more frightened.
Aug. 11, 2002…
We stood in the parking lot and eyed the expanse of empty, black asphalt.
“If I fall, it’s gonna hurt,” my daughter said, and absently rubbed at the notion of skinned knees.
I patted her shoulder, advising her to fall slowly — and immediately drew a disapproving stare.
“That’s not funny, Dad.”
Straddling her bike, which was now absent of training wheels, she surveyed the stretch of pavement from over the handle bars.
What lay before her was more than a riding surface free of obstructions; it was her first step toward independence. As with most “firsts” in life, the moment was an uneasy mixture of opportunity and risk, willingness and fate. We both understood that after only a few cranks of the peddle, if she fell, I wouldn’t be there to catch her.
As a parent, this would be my first step toward accepting that reality, and the notion of watching her peddle beyond the boundaries of my protection. Whatever mistakes she made, I would be too far away to prevent them—but close enough to see the hurt.
“Got your helmet cinched up good,” I asked, making conversation.
“Remember what I told you…”
“I know, I know,” she said.
I strummed my knuckles over her helmet. “Then let’s do this.”
She nodded, took a deep breath, tightened her grip on the handle bars — and rolled forward. While struggling for balance, she swung her feet onto the peddles and began turning the crank. Gradually, her speed increased. Her wobbling diminished. The pavement was passing smoothly beneath her wheels. Her smile broadened.
And I found myself alone on the asphalt, watching her ride away.
In that brief instant between momentum and balance, the world had changed for both of us.
For my daughter, it had broadened; for me, it had just gotten a little smaller — or at least my influence over it had.
After making a loop through the parking lot, she returned and skidded to a stop in front of me.
“Did you see that?!” she exclaimed, hands still locked onto the handle bars.
I gave her a squeeze. “Every second — I’m so proud of you.”
We looked at each other for a moment, then out over the distance she had just crossed alone. After a pause, she glanced up at me. “I did just what you told me to, Dad, and it worked.”
She then repeated the advice I’d given her.
Keep your balance.
Don’t forget to steer.
And if you fall down, it’s OK.
As she said this, I realized that maybe — just maybe — my influence still had a place in her broadening world after all.
(Ned Hickson is a syndicated columnist with News Media Corporation. His first book, Humor at the Speed of Life, will be released this December from Port Hole Publications. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at Siuslaw News, P.O. Box 10, Florence, Ore. 97439)