Dad Bod: Uberparents

Words and illustration by Stephen Haynes

What’s the goal of being a parent? To see your kids get the basic tools they need to go off and try to succeed in life? What about your goals as a cyclist? To crush your personal best on Strava while commuting to work? Ask a hundred people these questions and you may well get a hundred different answers. What’s always fascinated and beguiled me is the inherent competition between both parents and cyclists when talking to other parents and cyclists, like there’s some abacus wielding surveyor tallying up all your notable contributions to both pursuits.

I’d grade my performance as a parent at about a C+ or B-; Proficient, with some room for improvement. I love my kids dearly, but the mental and physical energy it takes to parent is beyond explanation, and sometimes pizza and television is the break we all need from one another. I feel the same way about cycling. Yes, I love riding bikes, but I’d prefer to do a 4-mile ride to and from the grocery store than a 40-mile gravel ride any day of the week. Hell, I’d prefer to eat pizza than do either of those if I’m honest.

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Of course there are parents and cyclists who are the inverse of me; the yin to my cynical yang and I often succumb to idyll worship when in the presence of such uber-specimens. I can quickly feel like a lesser being when engaging in casual conversations with these folks, as the one-upmanship game goes on unabated. “Oh, your Jimmy is taking swim lessons? That great, my daughter just got her green belt in Krav Maga.” “Oh, you rode 10 miles yesterday? Good for you! I did a century before work this morning.” The underlying statement of course being “I’m better than you.”

Perhaps it’s my insecurity talking but sometimes I feel like I’m failing my kids because they aren’t getting MENSA-like scores on standardized tests, taking orienteering courses, or learning how to field dress a bull moose. Especially when the uber-parents’ children are doing these things and more. Instagram updates showing their prodigal sons and daughters topping out on their first solo-lead climb, Facebook posts proclaiming their little geniuses won the statewide spelling bee, Tweets announcing to the world that their beloved mini-me’s asked for a second helping of kale! It’s all too much, and it’s also a trap.

Being a good parent, in my opinion, means knowing when and where to push your kids. Similarly, being a good cyclist is based on pursuing what interests you about cycling. Both require you to foster the interest and bolster the effort with encouragement and, at times, tough love. The uber-parents and uber-cyclists of the world are a myth perpetuated by ourselves. Love what you do, love your kids and go enjoy both with the time you have. Also, eat more pizza.

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Dad Bod: Fanboy

Words and illustration by Stephen Haynes

It’s natural for us humans to emulate those we look up to. In fact, it’s part of how we learn. As a kid, I’d watch surf videos and daydream about what it would be like to be as good as the dudes in the movies, traveling the world in search of waves. It’s also natural for us humans to compare ourselves to one another through competitions of one sort or another and eventually my friends and I started taking part in local surf competitions.

Now, I was never a very good surfer and I was consistently outmatched in competitions, my dream of being a jet-setting surf ambassador dying a little with each loss. Still, the combination of emulation through watching and expansion through competing made me better. Not much better, but when you start at the bottom, there is only one way to go.

I’d like to say I grew out of this watching and emulating as I got older, but I didn’t. Now, instead of surf videos, it’s the mountain bike downhill world championships and now, like then, I try to channel the pros on screen when I’m riding (emphasis on the word try). This applies to road rides as well. Pondering what it must feel like to ride in the peloton during the Tour de France, or one of the brutal, cobble-strewn Spring Classics. Maybe even stand up and try to “crush” some of the rolling hills in my suburban Pennsylvania town. Legs burning, heart blowing up; this is what the pros must feel like topping out on Alpe d’Huez! Perhaps it’s delusional, but I love a good daydream.

Eventually, a friend talked me into doing a mountain bike race, promising donuts if I showed up, a good incentive for anyone with my physique. It was a small local deal with a total attendance of about 200 people. It was fun and challenging and I failed miserably, just as I had done at the surf competitions all those years ago.

Yet, while I was pedaling hard enough to coax the Bavarian Creme I’d eaten pre-race to make its way to the back of my throat, I was channeling riders whom I’d seen on television. I was Steve Peat, or Lance Armstrong, or whoever, pushing myself beyond the normal, trying, in my own limited way, to be better.

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The main take away was this: I could ride trails I was familiar with in about half the time that I’d normally ride them and could clear obstacles I normally had a hard time negotiating because I was doing them at speeds I never would have thought to explore on a casual ride. The experience of racing expanded the horizons of my thinking about riding bikes and made me slightly better for the effort.

As a parent I’ve tried to instill this lesson in my kids, encouraging them to compete in the things they’re interested in, whether it’s the school art competition or a kids mountain bike race. Simply putting yourself out there and testing yourself can expand your own self-image and prompt you to greater things. It’s not about winning, it’s about doing.

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