I thought I would share with you my father’s day gift.
My father is one of those who has the things in life that he wants. Life though, has been hard for him as it has for many of us. Since there truly isn’t anything physical I could give him that he would want, I thought I would write him a letter. My goal was to share with him an experience that changed me. This experience I doubt he will even remember, but I remember it vividly.
I hope you take the time to share your love with your father today. Find a way that he will appreciate, even if it’s just to write a letter and say, ‘I love you.’
The day had finally come – Christmas.
The anticipation running up to Christmas was atypical – incredible. I was 12 years of age and felt I was ‘coming of age.’ Life was good.
This Christmas, unlike the others, had been built up as one we wouldn’t forget. Our parents had listened to every single desire of our hearts for all the toys in the JC Penny catalog. My brothers and I would circle every toy on every page hoping our parents would see the circles and decide to buy every single one. I used red, Jason blue and Aaron green.
This Christmas turned out to be the year where I began to find myself. I was given one of those gifts that sets you free. On it’s face you see the gift as it is, but it’s what the gift does to you that is telling. The best way to describe this is to explain a story that happened to me on that day, with my father – the first time I heard him swear, and one of the many times he pushed me to be better than I thought myself to be.
First, let me tell you about the gift itself.
With 5 boys ranging from 1 to 12 years in age, Christmas was always chaos. Our mother spoiled us rotten. Every year she gave us as much as my father would allow, and probably more. She has never been able to restrain herself, and the 5 of us completely loved it. This year though, I was given a red, white and blue Honda jersey with my name on it. Jason and Aaron where given them as well. Knowing my father loves to surprise, I saw this as potential dreams coming true.
A Honda jersey meant a good chance I was getting something that Honda made, and the only thing I could think of was a motorcycle. My mind could barely register what that meant, a MOTORCYCLE for me. Only people like my older cousins got to own and ride their own motorcycles. My father owned one, and had taken me on rides many times. I had only rarely sat on one by myself though.
The dreams really did come true and my father told us to look outside. There, to Jason’s and my surprise were two motorcycles; a Honda XR80 for me and a Honda 50 for Jason. A perfect fit for us both. I jumped and hollered so all of high heaven could hear. We were also given yellow helmets, these were incredibly ugly on later reflection, but at the time – I didn’t care if I had cinnamon rolls tied to my head, I had just been given a motorcycle and all of the freedom that came with it. I was ecstatic with anticipation of getting on and riding.
My father spent a significant amount of time, as usual with a new mechanical device, explaining how to start it, how to care for it, what its limitations were and what his expectations of me using it were. I could care less. I just wanted to get on a ride, and quickly that’s just what we did. We rode up and down our driveway and all over the lawn for a couple hours. After lunch my dad announced that we were all going to Indian Dunes, a local motorcycle riding place about an hour away. Our cousins, the Kearl’s and Page’s, would also be coming with us.
I had died and gone to heaven. The opportunity to ride my motorcycle in real dirt, on real trails, following my bigger, older cousins. I couldn’t wait.
We arrived and the three families all piled out on the dirt with our motorcycles and gear. I and my similar aged cousins were so happy. To this day I couldn’t tell you if they also received new motorcycles, I just knew that I did, that’s all that mattered. I had found nirvana and could want for nothing else. My father got us all up and running, made sure each bike was working and that we all had our helmets strapped on nice and tight. Then we all went our separate ways. I followed my cousins, got stuck in the sand a few times, but generally had an incredible time. It was much harder riding in those conditions than I thought, but just as fun. I did crash into another youth, close to my age, that day – and scratched our motorcycles pretty bad. Both he and I ended up crying about the whole thing, but that’s what happens on motorcycles, you fall down and things get scratched.
Later that day our whole group ended up back at camp. After a rest the parents all decided it was time to go on a long ride together. We all got into a really long line and snaked through the riverbed and up to the mountain base. I remember Brad and Greg particularly finding a jump that went over the river and trying to jump it. We all eventually ended up at the base of a long and fairly steep hill. This hill was a fire trail, wide enough for a truck to drive on, but steep enough that very few trucks would have been able to drive up it. There were many people attempting the hill trying to make it to the top. Not many were successful though, most had to turn around and come back down. The hill was simply too steep, full of ruts and at the top it turned to the right –challenging to the best of them.
We sat at the base of the hill for some time. Watching people risk their lives was always exciting. Even my two oldest cousins, Brad and Greg couldn’t make it up the hill. I figured if anyone could make it they could. Their motorcycles were plenty big and they seemed to me to have the skills, but about 3/4 of the way up their motorcycles would run out of steam and they would end up having to get off their bikes and turn around – it was this part that was the dangerous part. Having to try and get off your bike and go from what looked like nearly straight up to straight down not only looked very difficult, but to me was simply impossible at my age and skill level. That’s why I was mesmerized with the greatness of those that could make it.
That is when my life changed, when the gift I was given set me free. You see, it wasn’t just a motorcycle, it was something that gave me the ability to stretch past what I knew, past my comfort zone, into a place that was new and challenging. Up until this time, my life had been fairly easy. That all changed when my father bent over and spoke to me.
My father was sitting on his motorcycle right next to me. He had my younger brother Aaron in his usual spot, on his lap between his legs. Aaron was eagerly holding the handlebars smiling ear to ear with anticipation of where dad would take them both next. I was smiling too, the giddy smile of Christmas happiness – until it occurred to me what my father was telling me to do.
“OK, it’s your turn. I want you to go up that hill.”
There were at least 12 to 15 motorcycles running around us, and we were in a fairly tight spot, there wasn’t a lot of room at the base of this hill and most of the engines were running. I looked at him with that dumbfounded look and said, ‘What?’ Because there was no way what I heard him say is what he really said, or could have meant to say.
“What?” I said again.
“I want you to ride up that hill.”
“Dad, there’s no way. I can’t do that.”
“Yes, yes you can.”
I had only been on this motorcycle for less than 4 hours total. My father had obviously gone insane. How could he possibly expect me to do something that even my super cousins Brad and Greg couldn’t do? If they couldn’t do it, how could I? No joke, his words put the literal fear of death in me. Falling down that hill would have meant pain, suffering, humiliation and then death.
I was obviously not moving, so my father got off his motorcycle and looked me in the eye. “Andy, you will go up that hill!”
At this point I began to cry. I simply couldn’t believe what he was asking me to do. I knew I couldn’t do it. I didn’t want to crash, I already knew that really hurt. I had no confidence in myself to be able to accomplish something like that.
“Dad, please don’t make me. I can’t do it. I can’t do it.” I plead like any child would before their executioner.
My dad went ape.
He yelled and used words that would get and hold my attention, even though I was blubbering like an idiot.
“You do exactly what I say. You keep the bike in first gear, don’t shift out of first gear. The reason none of these guys are making it up to the top is because they shift too high. Keep the bike in first gear and rev that engine up as high as it will go. Don’t worry, you won’t break it. Do exactly like I say and you will make it to the top, I promise.”
At this point everyone else could see what was happening. I wonder now why my uncles didn’t jump in to stop my father’s madness. But there I was, everyone got out of the way to let this boy, with a brand new helmet, brand new jersey with his name on it, brand new work boots, and garden gloves – you couldn’t paint a picture of what someone looked like with less motorcycle experience. It was me and the hill and now it was my turn. All the other riders had come down and everyone was waiting for me to kill myself. Peer pressure in these situations is the worst.
With tears literally rolling down my face, I looked at my dad and mentally said goodbye. I couldn’t say it, he wouldn’t have been able to hear me anyway, my engine was revving way to high. I popped the clutch and started up the hill. It’s pretty amazing what a motorcycle like that will do with someone that weighs next to nothing on it – and this is exactly what my father knew. He knew the motorcycle could make it up that hill. If I just pointed it in the right path, I would eventually make it to the top. As I made it up a quarter, then half way, and then past the spot where everyone else failed – my heart began to soar. I was going to make it, I was going to make it! Through my tears I smiled and knew every single person at the bottom of the hill was watching me, even my two oldest cousins that had tried and tried. They all watched me climb, and climb and climb up and over the top of that hill.
Immediately after that every person in our group came up the hill. I had shown them the model and now there was no doubt, it was possible to climb and they all did it. At the top my dad simply looked at me and smiled. He knew I could do it, I had been the one holding myself back.
Thank you dad for not only giving me a gift that asked me to stretch, but also believing in me enough to push me out of my comfort zone into a place I had never been before – self realization, self assurance, and the beginning of self confidence.
Happy Father’s Day