I was nervous to start with. So was Gabe. The training wheels were off, it was dusk, and there was a warm breeze blowing in from the bay tousling his hair. He was desperate to become part of a club he had been obsessed with from his time wobbling around in nappies. He was desperate to start riding. He wanted to be mobile.
I said, Gabe I’ll hold you so you can get the feel of the bike and balancing. Remember to keep your head up and to keep peddling. He nodded and we started. I ran alongside holding him and gently letting go, letting him feel the bike balancing with him on top and the concrete below.
Not noticing any wobbles, I let go and as the sun started to set and a tan guy in weird exercise shorts skated by checking out the Swedish backpackers, Gabe started to ride a bike.
It was a beautiful moment. Gabe was riding a bike and I experienced one of the greatest gifts I’ve given in my short time as a parent. For some reason seeing Gabe riding confidently, negotiating joggers and roller-bladers and the sheer joy of the moment overcame any of my previous lessons – why Australia Day is Invasion Day, how to make up nonsense songs, how to hammer a nail, and what sleeping in means to me.
Maybe it was seeing his incredible joy at the discovery of a new experience. One so tangible, close, and attainable when compared with the other lessons of childhood which can be somewhat harder. Even throwing and catching a ball can take time to learn. And now Gabe was riding a fucking bike all by himself.
Riding a bike is important in our culture (in many cultures). It is a cornerstone lesson that all other lessons hang off. Learning how to ride a bike is a lifetime passport to freedom, grace, and speed. It is one of the only leisure activities directly associated with sex – like riding a bike. When riding a bike, you’re more connected with the world, you’re sensuality, liberated from paying bills, earning money, washing the dishes, and sweeping the driveway.
On a bike, you’re no longer an adult with adult concerns, you’re a kid, you’re ageless. You’re like Gabe with wind in your hair, and joy in your heart.
Novelist and future-seer H.G. Wells said “Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race.” After seeing Gabe riding around the St Kilda foreshore, I have to agree with H.G. Wells. Life is good on a bike.
I’ve come close to experiencing the same type of joy, the joy of discovery, in the past six months. Albeit in a clumsier, less elegant way.
After leaving full-time employment and having a break while deciding what I would do next, I discovered I needed a new set of skills. Resilience, honesty, transparency. Not that I was completely dishonest, a flake, or really secretive, but since childhood I had developed a set of behaviours designed to protect me from feeling true vulnerable emotions.
With a lot of time and uncertainty in my life, I was forced to understand that in some ways I was a bit of a creep. A grumpy dad, an unhelpful husband, a TV watcher in the evenings, a smoker (and liar about smoking).
I was looking for freedom, liberation from the habits of the past which kept me flat-footed and trudging along towards somewhere distant in the future. But I had no idea how to find it. In some ways I was like a helpless child trying to cope with some big emotions and anxieties about the future. I’ll write about it more one day, but in the moment I spent with Gabe I saw the same wobbles as I learnt how to balance, and like him felt exhilarated when I recognised that I was learning how to fly.
Learning how to ride a bike is incredible. Spending a lifetime learning is what makes us extraordinary.