Many meaningful memories of my Dad include a red 1968 Kawasaki 90 motorcycle. He bought the bike as a cheap way to get back and forth to his doctoral classes, first at the University of Colorado, and then, the University of New York at Buffalo.
But the best part was that he bought a second black helmet.
I can still immediately recall the excitement and nervousness I felt in my stomach while threading the strap through the two D-rings, pulling it tight, and wondering if I did it right and if it was tight enough. But he would check it and it always was, and we would head down the driveway, my arms wrapped around my father’s waist, trusting him to get us there, but never consciously realizing or recognizing that trust. He was driving: so we would be safe and make it to where we were headed.
Of course, there’s the story of one winter in Buffalo where the bike started sliding on the ice at the top of a big hill, and Dad lay it down and, as he slid partway down the hill himself, watched his KZ 90 slide through the stop sign and intersection at the bottom. But he was OK, and the bike was fine, and nobody was coming through the intersection when it happened. We never had any excitement like that when he took me on the bike.
I think of one outing fairly often. One morning in North Tonawanda, NY, we took our fishing poles and tackle bag and rode out to a small stream nearby. We parked on the wide dirt next to the stream and climbed down the bank to the moving water. Standing on the rocks, casting red and white spoons with tri hooks into the stream, we felt the pulsing bumps as the trout took the hook. I’m sure we caught a few, and I know that the time we spent together that day was precious to both of us. For him, taking time away from studying was a big cost, and for me, being with my Dad, getting a motorcycle ride, and fishing in that suburban stream created a deep, happy memory.
Much, much later, after my own family was started, we discovered that my son had trouble sticking his tongue out. Now, this normally is not such a bad thing, but we discovered that my son’s frenulum, a small piece of skin connecting the tongue to the bottom of his mouth, was attached, which would cause articulation problems later. As a Speech Pathologist with a private practice, my father coordinated with one of the physicians he worked with to perform a procedure to clip Jake’s frenulum. Jake was wrapped up in a tiny Velcro papoose, and within about 20 seconds, accompanied by a screaming infant, the doctor grabbed his tongue with gauze, snipped, and released Jake back to his mother’s arms.
As traumatizing as that was for all of us, I trusted my father to keep Jake safe. The seeds of that trust started long before the procedure, when I was just a kid myself. There’s a trust and a bond that’s created when you come through for your kids. It goes deep; hopefully deep enough to overcome the distance created by adolescence, college, moving out, getting married, working, and living life in a family of your own (Harry Chapin notwithstanding). At least that’s what I want for my kids and me. I think it can begin with a motorcycle ride, wrapping your arms around someone you trust, experiencing an adventure, and coming back safe and sound.