On Your Bike: navigating the cycle path of fatherhood

During the summer holidays my youngest son learned how to ride a bike.

He is seven years old and spent the last eighteen months trying to master this skill.

Naturally I felt very proud of his achievement, and loved seeing him cycling around the park by himself.

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He was so damn happy and that made me happy, too.

But I also felt a massive sense of relief.

You see my eldest son can’t ride a bike. No matter how many times we tried he always gave up after just a few minutes, and eventually outgrew his bike.

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This made me feel like an utter failure. I somehow felt like less of a dad, that I was less successful than other dads.

In truth, I felt ashamed.

But why did I feel like that?

Why did I feel the need to judge my parenting ability against my children’s successes or abilities?

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Why do we even need to measure our parental skills anyway?

Where does this need to achieve come from?

Is it purely a dad thing?

I have so many questions and not many answers.

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My eldest son just isn’t interested in cycling or learning how to ride. That’s no-one’s fault; it certainly shouldn’t be seen as a failure on my part or his.

My youngest son, however, was desperate to learn how to ride. He had seen all his friends cycling at the park and wanted to be like them.

But it didn’t come easy to him. He lost patience with himself and got frustrated every time he fell or slipped or lost balance. He frequently gave up.

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But he was determined to get the hang of this balancing and peddling lark.

I was inspired by his determination to get it right.

My son kept persevering and, eventually, he got the balance just right, his legs figured out how to peddle, and there he was, riding across the park, free.

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I guess fatherhood is a bit like that.

Sometimes as dads we get stuck in the wrong gear while trying to figure out how to be the best dad we can be.

Yet we keep peddling up that hill and never give up, with the knowledge that we’ll eventually coast down the other side, with the wind in our faces and the wheels doing all the work by themselves.

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I saw pure jubilation in my son’s face that day. He told me, smiling broadly, “Who needs a car when I have a bike?”

When the next hill challenges us I know we will keep going, pushing through the tiredness, blood, sweat and tears. Because that’s what dads do.

Sure, sometimes the metaphorical chain comes off, but we pause to fix it, add a little oil and carry on peddling up that hill, because what other choice do we have but to keep going?

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Just don’t ask me to wear cycling shorts.

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