When I was learning to ride my bicycle without training wheels, Dad patiently walked alongside as I figured out how to keep my handlebars straight. Tom had already taken off down the street, and I badly wanted to ride after him and demonstrate that I too could ride my big new bike. I told Dad to let go, grit my teeth and leaned forward on the bike seat.
After only a few slow pedals, I felt the bike begin to wobble, and I came crashing down on the street. I let out a wail of frustration and pain, rubbing my scraped leg. Dad walked over, trying hard not to laugh, and helped me get to my feet and right my bike again.
“I’m never going to be able to do this,” I said.
“Don’t say that,” Dad responded. “Just give it another try.”
I sat on my bike again, and as Dad began to push, I began to pedal. I pedaled as hard as I could, and, feeling stronger, I yelled over my shoulder for Dad to let go. As I rode down the street, I looked over my shoulder and saw Dad smiling and clapping far behind me. “Go Ellie!” he called. Dad knew I would be able to ride my bike, and he let go when he saw that I was ready.
When I think of all the things that Dad did for me, I always come back to this memory. To me, it represents the qualities that I appreciated most about my dad: his patience, his support and, most of all, his unflagging belief in me. Even in graduate school, when I was by all accounts an adult living my own life, I would call Dad for advice on problems big and small. Car’s battery died? Forget AAA; the first person I called was Dad, who would calm me down and walk me through the steps I needed to take to solve my problem. Conflicted over what path I should take in my post-graduate career? Dad always had an answer, and he wasn’t afraid to tell me his opinion. But at the end of our conversations, Dad would let me know that it was my choice to make. Even as he did that, he told me what every daughter wants to hear from their dad: that it all would be OK, and that he loved me.
I won’t be able to call Dad anymore now, but in the moments when I’m yearning for his support, I remember when he taught me how to ride a bike. He gave me the help I needed, and then he stood back and watched me discover that I could do it on my own. Dad’s love was the steady foundation from which I leaped to accomplish my goals, and it continues to give me the strength I need to pedal on.