Neil Humphreys: Being a Daddy is like Riding a Bike

Every class always has that kid. You know the kid. He or she is always the one who had That Lesson to pick up an invaluable life skill, the one your child missed, or didn’t understand or didn’t sign up for.

Somehow, his parents found the time, money or patience for That Lesson, but you didn’t. So the kid can do something that your child cannot.

And it breaks your child’s heart. With a tear-stained face, she drops the shards of her shattered heart into your hand. Self-loathing rules the day. She hates the world. You hate yourself.

And it all starts with that damn kid in the class, the kid who seems to be spending every waking hour having That Lesson.

He stood up first. He walked first. He said his first words first. He rode his scooter, swam a length, dunked a basket, scored a goal, cleared a hurdle, aced his homework, learned a second language, picked up a PHD and ran for Parliament all before your child.

Somehow, somewhere, his parents gave him That Lesson before you did.

And in our particular case, Daddy hadn’t devoted enough attention to That Lesson on bike-riding.

Our daughter was already at a disadvantage. She was born with her father’s two left feet and shared her mother’s discomfort for anything on two wheels.

Even with stabilizers on her toddler’s bicycle, she was mechanical, rather than smooth. She wasn’t a natural. We hadn’t produced a Tour de France winner.

That was OK. We were not particularly fussed. She could ride a bike in her own time.

And then the kid started to pass us as we walked to school. By four, he was overtaking us on a regular bike. By five, he was pedaling in the road during rush hour and passing buses. By six, he was arriving at school on a unicycle and juggling flaming skittles.

Each time he passed us, my daughter’s face changed. It was barely perceptible, but fathers see these things.

She ignored the prepubescent stunt rider and turned away or suddenly talked about something else, as if distracting both of us would banish the BMX bandit and stop him eating away at her self esteem and her father’s guilt.

Her paranoid Daddy didn’t help of course.

If it were up to me, she’d use a three-wheeled scooter and wear a safety helmet until her wedding day at the very least. (Incidentally, I must make a safety point here. Globally, it’s normal for a child to wear a helmet on bikes and scooters. Singapore is a worrying exception, not the norm. In Australia, it’s against the law not to wear a helmet. So other children may mock my daughter for wearing a helmet, but safety is on her side.)

Still, we had to play catch up on the bike.

The initial Daddy-daughter riding lessons were painful. There were tears, tantrums and petulant threats of running home and telling Mummy.

And that was just me.

When an exercise such as bike-riding seems so deceptively simple, there’s often a reflexive, instinctive tendency to sound like a Nike commercial and shout: “Just do it.”

In such instances, she pushed her helmet away from clumps of sweat-soaked hair and peered up at me. Her eyes glistened. She struggled to hold back the tears. In a quiet, dignified voice, she whispered: “I’m trying my best, Daddy.”

And I became the worst human being on the planet, without question. In such moments, dictators and despots have got nothing on me. I feel a wicked man.

So my guilt steers me towards the opposite extreme. I scoop her up in my arms and insist that it doesn’t matter. She doesn’t need That Lesson. I will carry her through life, literally if necessary. Should there one day be a cycling race in school, I will hoist her upon my shoulders and we’ll cross the finish line together.

But mollycoddling doesn’t help either. She needs a father not a nanny.

So we persevere. We plough through one psychological obstacle after another. And, in the end, we reach that invisible finish line. We complete That Lesson.

The moment she believed in her own balance, she pedaled freely for the first time. She pulled us both away. We took flight. We soared. We never wanted to come down.

Such moments make fatherhood. Bask in them. Hold them. Never let them go.

Her face glowed as she pedaled towards me. She radiated joy. I ignored the scratchy sensation at the back of my throat and grabbed her off the bike.

“I did it, Daddy, I did it,” she cried. “Now, can you buy me a bigger bike?”

About the Author: Neil Humphreys is one of Singapore’s best-selling authors. His works include Notes from an Even Smaller Island (2001), Scribbles from the Same Island (2003), and Final Notes from a Great Island (2006). Be My Baby (2008) chronicled his journey to parenthood and was his first international best-seller. His most recent Singapore book, Return to a Sexy Island (2012), was a No.1 best-seller and turned into a TV series. His illustrated book series – Abbie Rose and the Magic Suitcase – is proving popular with children all over the world and is currently being adapted into an animated TV series. Humphreys has written extensively for The Straits Times, TODAY, The New Paper, Esquire, Men’s Health, FourFourTwo and Young Parents. He currently lives in Bedok with his family and hopes his daughter will learn conversational Mandarin so she can teach her Dad.

Categories: Dad's Journey, Neil Humphreys

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