lt’s been said that I’m prone to exaggeration, that I have a wild imagination, that I am good for telling stories and promoting outlandish ideas but am basically useless – in the way that a horse-drawn hoe is now useless – in doing anything practical in the modern world, and the fact that this is being supported by my inability to teach my son such a basic skill as riding a bike without training wheels is building a craziness inside me that is almost impossible to contain.
For the past hour at the local athletics track, for the zillionth time in the past few years, I’ve been watching out for Lewis while pushing Tyson on his long-handled Trike and running behind Archie as I stifle my frustration into some form of encouragement – ‘Balance on the middle wheels. Keep your body centred and still. Become one with bike and bitumen, Arch. Become one!’
I’m super-conscious of a woman who has started jogging around the track and as I yell out to Lewis to, ‘Stick to the outside lanes!’ I note that Archie’s balance and poise has improved noticeably and I call him to stop, whip the spanner out of my pocket and remove the training wheels. Two old men have taken their place on a park bench by the track. They’re talking and pointing at us. My every move is being observed.
‘There you go, Arch,’ I say.
‘I want my training wheels.’ he says.
‘The only way to get used to riding without training wheels is to practice.’
‘I don’t want to.’
‘And I don’t want to clean toilets or watch my footy on a tiny 42 inch Plasma but sometimes you just have to get on with it Arch.’
Exactly opposite I notice that Lewis has ridden right in front of the jogging woman and caused her to stumble and jump out of the way. He stops, watches her move past, then hops off his bike and sits on the ground. ‘Shit,’ I say.
I’m now conscious of the fact that the woman is probably pissed off that I’m letting my kids ride on an athletic running track and to avoid confrontation I take the handle of Tyson’s Trike in one hand and Archie’s seat in the other and start pushing them around to the most stubborn male in the history of my family – Lewis.
‘Go Archie,’ I say, as I push and release him. ‘Ride like the wind.’
Inspired by a bit of forced movement he begins to peddle and makes several meters before he swerves so erratically that his handle bars turn a full 180 degrees. He steadies himself on his feet. The look on his face is one of determined defeat.
‘Keep at it, mate,’ I yell, as the woman gains ground and I push Tyson just a little faster.
The old guys on the bench are chuckling and when I reach Lewis I noticed that the woman now has to run around the stubbornly stationary Archie. There is a craziness building inside me that, coupled with my knowledge of Lewis’s almost insurmountable will, causes an irrepressible angst to claw at the inside of my stomach.
‘Come on, Lewis, let’s go,’ I whisper, forcefully.
‘No,’ he says.
‘Oh, jesus man, come on… I’ll give you a lolly…’
‘Where is it?’
‘I don’t know… I don’t know… listen, I will get you a lolly okay… I can get you a lolly… I can get you a lolly like that,’ I say, clicking my fingers.
Lewis takes to his feet and says, ‘I want a chocolate Big M,’ as he throws his leg over the bike.
‘Okay okay,’ I whisper, ‘… a chocolate Big M, they’re everywhere… I swear to God I saw about five in a shop just this morning…’
I’m out of time. To convey a sense of remorse I attempt to raise a hand to the woman as she approaches but because some of my fingers are occupied by the straps of a Helmut and one decent sized spanner I accidentally flip her the bird and this combined with my bald head, my thin-lipped annoyance and my heavily furrowed brow seems to accidentally convey just the right amount of psycho to tip the balance of power in my favour. She almost stops short, then ambles past to finish her lap, does some arbitrary stretching for all of thirty seconds while looking over her shoulder, before semi-sprinting to her car.
I watch her fishtail it out of sight and I am suddenly aware of the words Archie needs to hear. He swerves in behind me and stops, his shoulders slumped, the look in his eyes reminds me of a fish flipping in the last slimy puddle of a drought-stricken dam.
‘You can ride a bike, Arch,’ I say, keeping my determined face on. ‘It’s just that you’re not doing the right things inside. I can tell because of the look on your face. You have to really, really want to ride. Never ever give in. I need to see your face looking like you really really want to ride. Get right inside Arch and then you’ll get it right on the bike.’
He hides his face as I feel a clawing at my legs and while I’m resetting Tyson on his Trike I notice Archie trying to take off. His lips are pursed and his brow is furrowed – he’s got the sort of look that could send a female jogger sprinting for her car. He starts and stops a dozen times before he snakes his way for a few meters and begins gathering speed. He starts to giggle and I start clapping, ‘Hold on to her, Arch. Keep her steady’.’
I watch him make his way around the track. Right around. As he passes the old men they clap and hoot and holler and when I raise my hands in triumph I almost scream, ‘Freedooom’ like Mel Gibson in Braveheart but I stop myself, realising that even though the energy of the scene fits perfectly the context is completely inappropriate.
Archie is riding for the first time ever. It’s a brilliance in my life that will never be repeated.
Lewis, Tyson and I make our way around slowly as Archie laps us several times. Finally, he stops and when I kneel down to tell him how proud of him I am his smile is overwhelming and I have to wait for the lump in my throat to pass.
‘Did you see everyone looking at me, Dad?’ he says.
‘I did mate. They couldn’t believe you were riding so well.’
‘And a boy on a scooter almost crashed trying to look at me…’
‘Everyone wants to look at you!’
‘I know. And Dad… there were two magpies looking at me as well.’
‘Yeah?’ I laugh. ‘What do you reckon they were thinking?’
After a moment, he says, seriously, ‘Maybe they were thinking that boy’s going to fly soon?’
Only a hug can follow that. ‘Take off mate. A few more laps and then hometime.’
Tyson is screaming to be picked up and as I throw him in the air a little and get him giggling I see Lewis on the opposite side of track, sitting next to his bike – Sir Stubborn. As I walk the 150 meters to get him moving again I think about all the doubt and frustration I’ll face over the next several years as I coach them both to their first solo ride and I haven’t ever felt happier.
My sons are brilliant. I know that. But I also learnt something about myself that I’ve long suspected – I may not be as practically minded as some but I’m definitely more useful than a horse-drawn hoe.