Monday, August 17, 2015

Good Bye, Dad

Me, receiving the flag that had been covering Dad's casket, from one of the representatives of the United States Navy who honored Dad by participating in his funeral.

A recurring theme of this blog is that life is complicated and sometimes difficult, and that it often gets in the way of cycling. Over the last few years, I have spend a considerable amount of time in California taking care of my parents. Mom died before my first blog post, so her care did not receive much mention here. In contrast, visits to Dad were frequently mentioned1. Sadly, I will never have the privilege of mentioning them again, because Dad died a few weeks ago. We had a lovely funeral service for him, beginning with a military burial at the Sacramento National Cemetery followed by a luncheon where we all shared stories about Dad. One of my stories concerned cycling, and I thought it would be appropriate to share it here.

How Dad Taught Me to Be a Bicycle Racer

My Dad was a gifted athlete. Despite being somewhat short, he was a highly successful basketball player in high school, in college, and in The Navy. That being the case, I always worried that it might have made him sad to have had as a son one of the most untalented athletes on the planet. Eventually, I did find my sport, bicycling, and even got to be rather good at it, but even that began somewhat inauspiciously.

The story starts when I was in elementary school. Most kids, when they get their first bike, ride for a few weeks with training wheels, not really using them, and quickly thereafter, head off down the road on two wheels. Not me. I wore out my training wheels, and when Dad finally had no choice but to take them off, all I could do with my bike was fall over. Dad's solution to that was to start me out at the beginning of our driveway, and to use a piece of chalk to mark the spot where I fell over. Thereafter, my goal became to get past that spot before falling over again, at which point, Dad would move the line and I would now attempt the surpass the new, harder goal. Despite the lack of promise this evidenced, Dad kept at it and eventually taught me to ride a bike.

Fast forward a few years to High School, and I had taken up bicycle racing. Despite the fact that this is perhaps the most boring sport on the planet to watch, Dad was an enthusiastic participant, driving me and the other members of The Modesto Roadmen all over Northern California to race. I remember him telling me "Never play by the other guy's rules." I had no idea what he was talking about at the time, but I now realize that bicycle racing is highly strategic and that the winner of a race is often the guy who makes the other riders ride his race.

If you know anything about bicycle racing, you know that falling off your bike is a big part of it. I remember one race where I was involved in a particularly nasty crash near the finish. Back in those days, we didn't wear the hard, plastic helmets of today, but thin strips of lightly padded leather, so I was pretty shook up and disoriented by the crash. By the time we got home, I had recovered and was able to tell Mom all about it. I regaled her with tales of abrasions and lacerations and finished with "...but after all that, I still would have been able to finish if some fat old man hadn't pulled me off the course!" At this point, Dad cleared his throat and said, with remarkable calm, "I pulled you off the course, David." He had been protecting me from being struck by the riders behind. Dad was not old then, though he eventually got old, and unlike me, Dad never got fat. However, he also never gave a thought to the unpromising material he had to work with, but gave of himself without reserve so that I might develop the love of a sport which I am still enjoying today, sixty years later.


1) Posts mentioning trips to California to care for Dad:

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