A Plus' Project Dad content is inspired by Chicken Soup for the Soul's Project Dad, a television series about the joy of fatherhood and family.
It's been more than a dozen years. Sometimes it seems like yesterday; sometimes it seems like a lifetime ago. My little girl finally had her own bicycle. Not a trike, but a real two-wheeler. The bike was the product of a successful visit to a nearby garage sale. It was the perfect pink, little-girl bicycle. My daughter loved it at once. I struck a bargain, stored our new treasure in the trunk and drove home. I couldn't unload the new prize fast enough. My little girl wanted her bike on the road now! It was a warm, sunny day, ideal for learning to ride a bicycle.
Parenthood is a long series of events, each of which falls on one side or the other of a basic parental dichotomy: We want our children to grow up to be independent, yet we want our children to depend on us. We seem reluctant to accept that the love our children have for us is based on what they feel, not what we do for them.
I can see my little girl sitting atop her new bike. She is so small, yet so eager. Her husky voice begs me, "Don't let go, Dad!" Her teeth are clenched. The dimpled pink hands display white knuckles. I keep one hand on the seat and the other on a handlebar. I jog slowly alongside the bike and rider. Occasionally, I remove one hand, but I hear, "Don't let go, Dad!"
Even allowing for the inaccuracies of my memory, she seems to have mastered this complex activity as she would later learn other skills and knowledge—quickly, but only after some frustration over her lack of instant expertise. She executed her characteristic, methodical attack on the challenge with a strong, almost heartbreaking, desire for success. Tentatively, I again removed my hand. "Don't let go, Dad!"
She bubbles with excited anticipation over her lunchtime sandwich. We rush back outside to the sidewalk test track. In spite of her anxiety about falling, the wobbling front wheel is beginning to stabilize. It won't be long now. I can feel her growing confidence. I have to jog a little faster. Her legs pump with newfound strength and confidence.
What event in child rearing presents a more poignant picture of growing independence? Learning to walk is a beginning of independence. Learning to talk and express original thought is also a step along that road. But these steps are gradual, and allow for some adjustment time for the parents. Learning to ride a bike is learning to fly — an experience that almost instantly gives the recipient a new, permanent and irrevocable freedom.
The moment has come. I've known for several minutes that she has acquired the magic "it" that makes this improbable form of transport possible. My daughter finally realizes it, too. Now, my hand no longer steadies her efforts; it is holding her back. My body lumbering alongside is not comforting — it is distracting.
"Let go, Dad!"
She takes off like a shot! Little pigtails flying in the air. She goes at least fifty feet before coming to a gentle stop in the grass adjacent to the sidewalk. She beams. She glows.
She has a grin that could only have come from self-satisfaction. I smile, too. Not just because I share her sense of accomplishment, but because I realize that she has begun a journey. She's on it, still.
Parenthood harbors sorrows and joys. Some events, inexplicably, bring both simultaneously. A holding on and a letting go. A little push on a bike. A hug and a blessing at the door before school. We are bound, as parents, to do both: hold and release, each in its own time. I willingly release my children to their futures. I encourage their independence to discover their strengths and talents. But let go? Never.
Cover image via volkovslava I Shutterstock
This story is from Chicken Soup for the Father's Soul: 101 Stories to Open the Hearts and Rekindle the Spirits of Fathers © 2011 Chicken Soup for the Soul, LLC. All rights reserved.