We never really did Father’s Day. It was after the school year ended, so I didn’t have to make all sorts of cute crafts for it. Because of this, I never quite remembered what day it was beyond “sometime in June.” I only recently realized it was always on a Sunday. I’m a little shaky on his birthday too. February 8th? February 12th?. My mom’s birthday was easy to remember–four days after mine. Dad’s birthday was never that big a deal. He hasn’t turned fifty yet. Maybe when he does we’ll do a big thing, like we did for Mom.
One of the reasons these events have been played down in our lives is that my dad worked his whole life. He was one of those dads. Not the kind that picks work over his family. He is the kind of man who works for his family.
When I was a kid, my dad would bike to work. I can pretend this had something to do with him wanting to take care of his body–something always important to him. We grew up kind of poor, but we still ate good food. Healthy food. I can pretend that he biked to save money, so he wouldn’t have to park in the city, because public transit didn’t like his work hours. During a portion of my life, he worked a night shift at Towers Perrin–now the publicly traded Towers Watson–maintaining early 90s’ computer servers. He was cool like that.
Dad loved his bike. It wasn’t until recently I began to care about bikes outside of wanting to be like my dad. I still remember his bike. The details. How tall it seemed when I was a kid. How impossibly large. My dad is about six-foot two. I have friends that tall, taller. A person who is six-two doesn’t seem like too much, but my dad is still just as tall to me as that large, white bike frame. He had mottled white, grey, and black tape wrapped around the curling handlebars. He had these grey shoes with blue laces that fascinated me. The bottoms had metal on them. I’d tried to walk around in them once and it was awful. They were also bigger than my face. These shoes locked into the pedals on his bike.
The seat was higher than the handlebars. The brakes and gear shifts were up front and fascinated me, as my bike had neither of these. The wheels were perfectly smooth. I used to touch them and spin them in disbelief. I’ve learned that this is a roadbike. My dad rode a roadbike around the streets of Philadelphia, to work after other people were already home.
On Friday, Mika showed me how to clean and lube the chain and gears on my bike. Saturday we rode up to Salem. I was told that the bike I’m riding needs the hubs overhauled if we’re going to keep taking weekend rides. I remember watching my dad do this. He would take the wheels off his bike and take apart the hubs. He would remove the metal ball bearings, soaking them in degreasing solutions. He’d clean the parts that encased them meticulously. He’d use toothbrushes and picks and q-tips. He used anything that would get the job done.
Sometimes he’d take the gears off and soak and clean them. Once they were degreased and dedirted, he would carefully oil them. He told me how you had to do this to keep them working. Otherwise, they’d get ruined.
I tell my dad about my bike rides now.
When we got back from Walden, one of the first people I told was my dad.
“I used to bike everywhere when I was your age,” he said.
When he was my age he had a sixth month old son.
I tell him about how far we’ve biked. How I’m doing. How I’m sore and changing. Later today, I’ll tell him about the ride to Salem and how hard the hills were. He’ll ask me something like if I gave up and walked the bike. Or if I’m hurt, sore, unable to walk. If I completed the ride. When I tell him how it all went okay, he’ll take a tone that says “of course” even though his words will say “that’s all that matters” or “good.”
As a child, I wanted to be just like my dad. All the time. Sometimes I was a little cruel to my mom about it and I feel bad for that. I wanted to be strong and powerful. I wanted to be able to fix things and make things work. I wanted to know about how the world around me worked. I wanted to be tall.
I gave up on those thoughts when I realized I was never going to be an engineer. That I didn’t have the patience for most physical activities. That I wasn’t especially good at math. That I’d stopped growing at five-foot seven. Now, I realize I am slowly turning into my father.(1) I have his values and his story. I have his strange meals consisting of things like kale and tofu, smoothies made with fruit and nutritive powders, and yogurt with peanutbutter in it. I have his elaborate meals that call for hours of preparation. I have his French House music playing. I have his forming self-identity that draws from family and an unrelenting desire to help them. I have his bike.
When I look at my bike, I remember my dad’s bike. I realize that what my bike is to me, his was to him.
(1) And my mother, but that’s something else entirely.