The other day I was called by a single mom and asked to assemble her son’s shiny new bicycle. It was his birthday gift, and the task of building such a thing was a little beyond her comfort level or ability. Since I have known them both for quite some time, and because I have become somewhat of an expert on handyman-type stuff, I was the guy she called.
The project didn’t take me long at all, with my bag of tools and a glass of iced tea. And as I later stood and looked at the completed bike, I thought back about my own memories of my childhood BMX.
When I turned 7, I came downstairs in the morning to see a brand-new BMX bicycle. This contrasted with what I had before in several ways. First of all, the banana-seated, yellow monstrosity that was in my family’s garage could have never been described with the word “new.” It was a faded yellow, and not a cool sports car yellow, but the kind of yellow that is not complete unless speckled with copious amounts of rust. It had a sissy-bar behind the seat followed by a large rear fender. But, the handlebars were really the coup-de-gras. I have never since seen such a deep U-shape, and they terminated in plastic hand grips that I’m sure at one time had streamers dandily flowing in the wind. No, I suspect the word “new” was barely applicable even when it was purchased from the Sear’s Catalogue sometime around 1963.
I had acquired it on a Saturday morning when my mom returned home from a garage sale. Even though it was so early in my life that my memories seem like the dream sequence in a bad soap opera, I remember instinctively knowing that this had the potential of both causing me to be beaten up by other boys, but also to pay large amounts of money to therapists throughout my adulthood. I can’t blame my mom, though. She knew that I was a boy, and a boy needed a bicycle. She also knew that we couldn’t afford to buy a new one, and this was the best that a single mom could do.
Also, this hunk of metal and rubber could not be called a “bicycle” either. It did have two wheels and pedals, but inherent in the definition of a bicycle is that it can be used as transportation, which this could not. While this art piece was a sight to behold, I could not actually ride it, no matter how hard I tried, and oh how I did try.
After several months of flopping over, I decided that I was the sort of boy that was somehow just dysfunctional. I wasn’t the bicycle riding type, I was the—being pushed for a few feet and then falling into the rose bushes type. So, at the risk of death I decided to just look at it and avoid it, rather than spend more time de-thorning myself.
What we didn’t know, was that whoever owned it in the past had been in some accident that left the frame bent, possibly an intentional crash to desperately avoid being seen riding it. Lance Armstrong himself could not have ridden it after such a distortion. This problem was finally discovered when my grandfather (who I never saw ride any bicycle before this or after—and could barely drive a car) hopped on and promptly crashed sideways into the aforementioned rose bushes.
Eventually, my mom began dating the man who after a time became my stepfather, and on my birthday a new BMX sat in our living room. It was beautiful. It had chrome everything. The handlebars were not U-shaped. In fact, they were beautifully straight. The seat looked like a bicycle seat, not a banana. There were cushioned wraps that protected you when you did awesome dirt-bike tricks that the neighborhood boys would gaze at in wonder and never consider beating you up…ever, and no sissy-bar at all, saving tons of future money on psychotherapy. It was amazing, and it was mine.
Shortly after breakfast, we went across the street to a church parking lot to see if I could ride it, where my new step-dad announced, “He won’t need those training wheels. Let’s take them off.” And you know what? He was right. He pushed me for a bit, and then released me, and I rode…alone…without falling. The feeling of freedom was one I would never forget. I was the bike-riding type of boy. I could do it after all.
I’d like to say that was the start of many things my step-dad taught me about how to be a man, but that would be a lie. I can count on one hand the number of times he spent any appreciable time with me teaching me anything. The truth is, when I work on my lawnmower engine, remodel a bedroom, or assemble a bicycle for a friend’s kid, it is mostly because I’ve somehow figured out how to do it all on my own (or at least from watching YouTube). I’ve learned to enjoy doing those things out of necessity and challenge, not from some formative childhood apprenticeship, but I have learned to do them.
So, as I stood there looking at this boy’s new birthday bike I had great hopes for him. I know that I could never be to him anything like the father every boy needs. God has placed men in his life who love him and I have to trust God to follow that process through. And I hope that maybe someday he’ll get a call from some woman he knows, asking him to assemble a shiny new birthday bike. —Ryan