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What Learning to Ride a Bike Taught Me About Anger

'My kid hasn’t had any bike problems, but he’s sure had plenty of flat tires on his life’s journey.'

My dad was old school. Letting me win games was unconscionable, allowance money was earned through chores, and saying, “I’m bored” was answered with a mandate to wash the walls.

My grades were atrocious and my fondness for rough-and-tumble activity always seemed to end with a colossal mess or a broken object.

READ MORE: The Fatherly Guide to Anger Management

I loved playing any kind of game with my friends, but when they rode their bikes, I would sit in the living room and watch them through the bay window, wishing I could join them.

At seven, Dad taught me to ride a bike the only way he thought proper – no training wheels. Just take enough tumbles until you get the hang of it.

After enough falls, I did get the hang of it. Sure, I had scrapes and purple bruises, but since I was closer to the ground back then, the injuries weren’t so severe and a kid’s recovery time is pretty quick.

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With Dad holding the back of the seat and running alongside, I learned within a few hours. Instead of pedaling backward to brake, I would throw my arms in front of me, like I was coming to a wall (it didn’t work) and I would repeatedly crash my brother Tim’s bike into the ditch. After enough falls, I did get the hang of it. Sure, I had scrapes and purple bruises, but since I was closer to the ground back then, the injuries weren’t so severe and a kid’s recovery time is pretty quick.

By the end of the day, I had earned my reward: a brand new bike, which began my freedom; the opportunity to finally ride with the other kids in the neighborhood.

We rode throughout that summer. In rural Ohio, there were oh-so-many dirt paths to explore. Lots of planned-but-not-built subdivisions. Footpaths through forests. Streets that served only a handful of cars per day. And our personal favorite, Cosmos Lane.

Our split level was at the bottom of the steep Hill of Cosmos (surely not as steep as my memory makes it out to be). My friends and I would walk our bikes to the top of Cosmos Hill, pedal down as fast as we could, while getting chased by Trina the Dog, then slam on our brakes. The back tire would grip the road and skid to the side, while the front tire realized it was no longer leading. The momentary chaos and the ensuing re-establishment of control was intoxicating. The tire would leave a rubber tattoo to mark our territory.

One July late afternoon, before anyone had been summoned for dinner, we met at the top of Cosmos Hill.

“On your marks, get set, go!”

A bit chubby, but athletic, I thought I could win. As we tore down Cosmos, the self-created breeze felt cool against the summer heat. A few gnats flew into my mouth, but my glasses protected my eyes. Halfway down, Trina ran astride us, barking at us to surrender to her.

Skiiiiiid.

The game morphed from a race to seeing who could create the longest skid mark.

Walk up, race down, skiiiiiid.

“Mine’s longer.”

Walk up, race down, skiiiiiid.

“Whoa! Kevin made a double skid!”

Walk up, race down, skiiiiiid.

This was a great skid! I’d have the longest of the day.

POP!

I wrestled with the handlebars and was able to stop with my feet.

We stared, mouths agape, at my smoldering tire.

I found the hole, about an inch wide. There was no way I could cover this up.

“Ooooooooh, you’re gonna get it!” my friends took turns saying.

“Ah, it’s no big deal,” I said, staring at the hole as my brow furrowed.

I walked my bike up the driveway, the flapping tire announcing my guilt with every rotation. The garage looked like a gigantic open mouth, ready to chew and swallow me

I walked my bike up the driveway, the flapping tire announcing my guilt with every rotation. The garage looked like a gigantic open mouth, ready to chew and swallow me. What would happen? Dad had never hit me, but he sure yelled at me and this seemed like my greatest sin thus far. I considered leaving it in the garage and not taking it out for weeks. Then, when enough time passed, I would have feigned shock. “What happened to my bike?! The tire is flat! Tim, what did you do to my bike?!”

I closed the garage door and went inside.

I walked through the lower level, past my dad, who was sitting on the couch in his underwear, drinking beer, and watching an Indians game. I walked up the stairs to the kitchen, where my mom was preparing dinner.

Mom was easier to approach. If I were afraid of dad’s reaction, she could buffer it to him.

“Mom, I was riding my bike, and, I don’t know what happened, I just lightly braked, and all of the sudden it got all wobbly and I think there might be something wrong with the tire.”

“Your dad’s downstairs. Why don’t you tell him?” she said, putting a casserole into the oven.

“I’ll tell him later,” I said, turning away from her.

I heard her close the oven door. She must’ve seen the fear on my face. I heard the tenderness in her voice. “You can tell him now. It’ll be OK.”

I slowly plodded down the stairs. A descent into the dungeon. I felt my face redden as I suppressed tears. Halfway down the flight, I stopped. I could see Dad from my perch, the railing separating us.

“Dad?”

“Mmm-hmmm?” he grunted, swallowing a mouthful of Stroh’s as he kept his focus on the TV.

“Uh, I was riding my bike, and, uh, I had to brake because Trina ran in front of me and you taught me to brake for animals, and, uh, I think something went wrong with my tire because now it’s flat.”

I braced for the verbal assault.

He stood, clad his lower half in the shorts that lay by his feet, and turned the TV off. He started toward the garage. “Come on,” he said.

I followed him into the garage and he inspected the tire.

“Yup, it’s flat, all right.” He pointed to the hole. “That’s what caused it.”

“Oh yes,” I said, gazing at the hole and nodding as if he had just discovered the missing portion of the Rosetta Stone.

He removed the wheel and took it to the utility room, as I followed him like an apprentice. He took the tire off the rim and showed me the inner tube, which also had a decent-sized hole in it.

We went to the hardware store and got a new tire and inner tube. He paid for them both, not asking me for any allowance money to cover it. Back at home, he showed me how to replace both the tube and the tire.

As he lay the tube on the rim and semi-inflated it, he asked, “Did you think I was going to be upset with you?”

“No,” I lied.

“That’s good. Tires wear out and they need to be replaced, just like anything else.”

He finished replacing the tire, but it was too late to ride any more that night.

By the next day, I was again riding with my friends. This time, however, I had learned my lesson about skidding. After a day of skidding without me, the novelty had worn off for the rest of the guys, too.

Since then, I’ve become an avid cyclist and I’ve flattened more tires than I care to remember. But the prize has always been worth it. In cycling, just as in life, if you want to see the vistas, you’re going to have to patch a few flats.

But I was confused. Completely confused.

I soon let it go, just thankful there was no punishment.

I had let it go for over 35 years. But sometimes, the farther the distance, the better the view.

Yes, my dad was old school. But his dad was old world. Whereas my dad taught me to ride a bike by the sink-or-swim method, his dad taught him how to swim by, literally, the sink-or-swim method. My dad would yell at me when I did something wrong, but his dad would belt him.

I imagined my dad as a seven-year-old, walking his bike with a deflated tire home, trembling with fear of his dad’s wrath. I imagined his dad ripping him a new one, cursing him for his carelessness, screaming at him for not taking care of his possessions, and who-knows-what kind of physical punishment to “teach him a lesson.” I pictured my young dad crying, silently vowing to himself that if he ever had a kid who got a flat tire, he’d be merciful.

Since then, I’ve become an avid cyclist and I’ve flattened more tires than I care to remember. But the prize has always been worth it. In cycling, just as in life, if you want to see the vistas, you’re going to have to patch a few flats.

I’ve heard that violence is cyclical, that kids learn it from their parents. Just like a bike, the cycle goes round and round and round, never changing. Dad had put on the brakes and started a new cycle of peace.

I’m a dad now, too. In 15 years, my kid hasn’t had any bike problems, but he’s sure had plenty of flat tires on his life’s journey, from underwhelming grades to a room that qualifies as abstract art. I haven’t always been a perfect parent, but more often than not, when I’m tempted to cast my rage, the memory of my dad’s mercy stops me in my tracks and I take a small step in the direction of kindness.

This article was syndicated. Read Bob Chikos’ original post on Medium.

 

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