Words and illustration by Stephen Haynes
Lots of people look down their noses at students who gets C’s in school. There is a certain stink to getting a C that somehow says “you’re not cut out for this type of thing”. Why do we do this? Getting a C is essentially passing the course! The student is neither very good, nor very bad, but simply has a passable grasp on the subject. What’s wrong with that?
I know lots of people who, in their professional jobs are simply passable (myself included if I’m honest) and I think that’s ok. We expect greatness from every “professional” we encounter without considering their level of interest, natural ability, personal stress, accountability, maturity, self-respect and a host of other things that make us all infinitely unique.
If I’m paying someone to do my taxes or install a new furnace, I want the person to be proficient, but I’m not expecting the best. I can’t afford the best! Proficient will do. If I dodge an IRS tax audit and have hot air coming through the vents in the winter, then I’ve gotten what I paid for.
The reason I bring up the subject of passably proficient is that I see a lot of the same thinking in the parenting world, specifically, but certainly not limited to, fatherhood as I know it. I see myself as a solid C+ dad, maybe a B- working toward a firm footed B.
As such, keeping my kids alive is the first, and most important hurdle in my mind. Secondly, I must help feed and clothe them and make sure they are loved, which they are. Beyond that, children are fully poseable, infinitely influenceable vessels for whatever interests you both concoct along the way, including cycling.
Now as a dad working in the cycling industry, it is often thought that both my children are future badasses in some cycling discipline, and maybe they will be, who knows? For now though, they are so thoroughly sick of hearing about anything cycling related that getting them out for a quick mountain bike loop or even to hit up the local rails-to-trails is akin to force-feeding your dog a pill it really isn’t interested in taking.
So, my wife and I have plenty of bikes and bike stuff prominently placed in a high traffic area in the house with the hopes of piquing the kids interest via passive osmosis. Of course it’s all white noise to the kids. It may as well be flocked wall paper with kitschy little designs of dachshunds in tutu’s interspersed with filigree. In fact, the flocked wall paper might garner more attention.
As funny, sad or irritating as this luke-warm interest from my offspring sometimes is, I am reminded of my own enthusiasm. An enthusiasm that waxes and wanes sure as the moon, though less beautiful and with a less far-reaching impact. Sure, I like to ride my bike, but I don’t do it every day (or week, or month sometimes). I’m also thoroughly non-competitive, so while I may take part in the occasional regional race, it’s out of a sense of personal boundary pushing. I’m not delusional enough to think I could win anything.
I love cycling, but I love other things equally as well, if not more; like drawing, painting, comics, music, movies… My high school self would actively ignore the (insert any subject) teacher to focus on whatever notebook masterpiece was taking shape. I see my kids ignoring my attempts to teach them the virtues of cycling as I once did my teachers, to focus on things they’re more interested in.
Of course, in most schools, there comes a time when a test must be taken to prove your knowledge of the subject and also to prove the proficiency of the teacher. This is where being a C+ student meets up with being a C+ dad. Like the inevitable test, I do, on occasion, make the kids strap on a helmet and go pedaling off into some relative unknown, whether they’ve been paying attention or not. Like a certain mohawk sporting teenager, sweating out an eleventh grade History exam, I nervously walk the line between blind confidence in some innate ability, and absolute terror.
The kids and I generally make it through the ride with minimal grumbling and a sense that we all did the best we could, equipped with the passably proficient skills we possess. For extra credit, we may stop for donuts on the way home and while that probably won’t improve our riding skills, it’ll leave the kids with a sweet memory of cycling which is all I want to impart on them anyway.
Words and illustration by Stephen Haynes
What would life look like right now if my wife and I hadn’t decided to have kids? It’s a question that seems cold in the face of actually having children, but ask any parent whether they’ve conducted this thought experiment and they will answer in the affirmative. If they don’t, they’re probably lying.
I’ve asked myself this question a handful of times in the 15 years since having kids, and not in the yelling, arguing, pig-headed moments you might automatically expect. Often these moments of reflection are encountered when I’m engaged in doing something alone, like being out on a long solo ride, or spending hours plein air painting. The thought occurs to me: “Is this what it’s like for those without kids?”
I proposed to my wife one summer evening at a stoplight while riding our bikes back from a dinner (where I had planned to do the deed, but chickened out). A few months later we moved from our childhood home in Southern California to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I started at college and she became a bike messenger. While we’d left a lot of the temptations of the past behind in California, a constant stream of alcohol, cigarettes, weed and the occasional hit of acid were still present in our lives.
Post graduation, instead of deciding to have kids and subsequently get (relatively) healthy by quitting smoking and giving up acid, what if we’d doubled down and engaged in all the heady, international, drug-crazed adventures some of our friends took part in? What if I’d decided to re-form my old punk band and tour around Europe and Japan (with wealth and adoration almost certain to follow…)?
My favorite non-kid daydream involves following in the footsteps of Disney studio artist and animator Eyvind Earle, who, in 1937, at the age of 21, rode his bike 3,000 miles in 45 days from Hollywood, California, to Monroe, New York. He made 42 watercolor paintings along the way and showed them at the Charles Morgan Gallery in New York City, in a solo art exhibition.
This dream combines two of my longstanding life goals: riding across the country and having a solo art show in a New York City gallery. The painting along the way is an added bonus, though I can’t imagine having the focus or desire to paint anything meaningful after riding my bike for 8-10 hours.
It’s entirely possible that I’d have ended up in dire straits on the wrong end of some sort of terrible addiction; who knows? The point is, you can’t go backwards, and thinking about “what might have been” is a little foolhardy at best, and unhealthy at worst.
In the end we decided to have kids, and while I may never have a solo art show in New York City, or tour Europe and Japan with my old punk band, I can still ride across the country and paint what I see along the way. Better yet, I can try to instill in my kids (and subsequently myself) the focus and attention such activities require and maybe inspire them to come along with me, or go out on their own.
This is the first in a series of columns at the intersection of parenting and (sometimes) cycling to serve, not as a manual for child-rearing, but rather one parent’s anecdotal struggle to preserve his sanity and waistline. It will be an adventure, for sure.