I like to think of myself as a good dad.
I try to do the right things when it comes to my two sons. I try to protect them where needed, and let them learn the hard lessons first hand when possible. I give them good advice – or as good as I can come up with on the spot – and try to be there when they need a helping hand, or maybe just a sympathetic ear.
I am now actually a pretty good father, but I have to admit that it took me a while to get here – 19 and 21 years to be exact. Those are the ages of my boys, and when those numbers were smaller I, well, wasn’t quite the skilled parent I am now. In fact there was a time when I wasn’t too smooth at this gig at all.
But that’s usually how it goes, isn’t it? We start out not knowing very much about how to raise kids and end up knowing quite a lot. For instance, early on I can recall watching my oldest boy when he was just a toddler – I was so afraid he’d get into something and hurt himself on my watch that I used to trap him into the living room with couch cushions – and the two of us would then just crawl around the thickly carpeted floor until naptime (sometimes his, sometimes mine).
With his younger brother it wasn’t as easy, because that one could find trouble like a drunk finds whiskey – he just seemed to have a nose for it. As a result my youngest was in and out of emergency rooms five times in his first six years. Thankfully none of those visits left any permanent marks – or marks I can still find on him anyway. And, like his older brother, very few of his brushes with catastrophe are directly attributable to my actions. But there was one particular day on which I was watching both of them that a correlation can be drawn between a decision I made and an almost disastrous outcome.
It happened sort of like this:
I’ve always tried to stay in fairly decent shape – and biking is one of my favorite ways to do that because it combines a workout with the opportunity to go fast. But biking is tough to do when you’ve got a three year old and a five year old whose mother is at work. So to get around that I went out and bought one of those trailers that you tow along behind your bike.
It was fully enclosed with a sort of mesh cover that let air flow in, but would deflect, ideally, debris kicked up by my back tire. And it was big enough that two kids could be strapped into it, side by side. I made sure before I bought it that the straps were strong. They were sort of like the seat belt arrangement you’d see in a race car, with a belt across the lap to keep kids pinned to the bottom of the seat and two more straps that crossed the chest, to keep them pressed against the back of the seat.
And it proved to be a pretty safe arrangement. I tested it out with short trips at first – like around the block – and the boys loved it. Then we’d go a little further the next time, and even further after that. I was satisfied with myself because I’d worked out a pretty good plan – there was only one problem with it. You see I also had a dog – well, technically a dog but really more like an eating, breathing, pulling machine – who loved to go on walks. Any time the boys and I were out front Watson would just beg to go on a walk (pull) around the block. And we’d usually oblige. I’d put the leash on him, and we’d proceed to walk around the neighborhood – me on my back legs and he on his, as he strained forward against the leash with every ounce of his being. I really didn’t mind his pulling because it was a workout for me too. Tae Bo has nothing on holding back a 70 pound hound for a 20 minute walk.
One day, as I sat in my garage considering my new bike trailer, with its handle across that back just in case you wanted to detach it from the bike and use it as a push trailer, a solution to the boys vs. dog quandary occurred to me. It was a flash of brilliance. Of course, I thought, why didn’t I think of this before? I’ll just tie Watson’s leash to the back handle of the boy’s trailer! That way as I’m pedaling down the street with the boys he can trot along behind us – I’ll get my workout, he’ll get his, and the boys will be safely strapped inside their little racing trailer.
There’s one detail I have yet to mention that could have affected the possible outcome of the scheme I was considering – and that is my dog Watson loved to chase cats. And as fast as he was he’d often catch them too. When he caught up with them he never really did anything to them – for him it was all about the chase – so he’d kind of jump around and wait for them to run off so that he could chase again.
Aside from my failure to consider the possible cat scenario I had what I felt to be a good plan.
The first Saturday morning after having formulated my plan I assembled my rig. I hooked up the trailer to the back of my mountain bike. I strapped the boys into the trailer. And then I put a leash on Watson and tied the other end of the leash to the handle that ran across the back of the bike trailer. As I straddled my bike I remember feeling a sense of pride. I was a man, with a bike, and I had kids, with a trailer, and I had a dog, who was coming along. I was like a medieval land baron surveying all that he owned – I looked out over my possessions, and my minions, and saw that all was well.
As I pedaled down my driveway and turned right onto my street all was still well. As I pedaled down my street and then turned right onto the next street all continued to be well. But what I saw as I turned onto that street created a pit in my stomach like Captain Ahab likely felt as he saw the White Whale coming for him. There was, in the middle of the lawn about two houses up on the right, a big old calico cat sprawled out and basking in the morning sun. If my heart didn’t need to pump blood to my legs it would have stopped right then and there.
Okay John, I thought to myself, keep your cool. That cat is still lying there – which means it hasn’t seen Watson. And if it doesn’t move then Watson may never even see it. And if he doesn’t’ see it you will, all four of you, just glide on by all easy peasy like.
So as the cat bolted from the lawn and down the street away from us at cheetah like speed I had a pretty good idea of what was coming next. Yep, I look down to my immediate right to see Watson beside me, straining to run faster. The thing that was not allowing him to run faster was the leash that was still firmly tied to the bike trailer. But because Watson was now beside me that meant that the trailer could not still be directly behind me.
In sprinting forward toward the fleeing cat Watson had pulled the trailer sideways, at which point the edge of a wheel caught and flipped the trailer over on its side. It was now being drug from the front by me and from the back by Watson. From Watson I only had to glance back a further couple of feet to see the trailer being drug on its right side, complete with both my sons still firmly strapped inside. And they were smiling – yes they could have been grimaces, but I like to remember them as grins. And it’s all about what we remember, isn’t it?
I remember being a really good dad.