Who's Braver: Grandson or Grandfather?

Jun 28, 2017

A three-year old doesn't realize it, of course, but at that age every day is a rite of passage, says commentator Robert Chipkin. And surely few can compare with the day that child leaves the tricycle behind and heads down the driveway on his very first bicycle.

What I hadn’t banked on was my own rite of passage. It smacked me in the face recently when I visited my grandson and found him wobbling his way to independence under the watchful eyes of my daughter. But he was missing the one ingredient I'd always believed was absolutely necessary for the gravity-defying task that lay ahead. Training wheels. 

“Kids don’t use them anymore,” my daughter explained, as if I'd just asked why the bike hadn’t come equipped with a rotary dial telephone, VCR or buggy whip. "He’ll get the hang of it himself, Dad."

Sure, I thought. And then we can go straight to letting him drive a car.

But I bit my tongue -- the default position for all grandparents. Instead, I flashed back to the sunny morning so many years ago of my daughter’s maiden bike voyage. Teeth gritted, eyes flashing, she determinedly forged onward, while I trailed valiantly behind, one hand in a death grip on the back of her seat, and the other steadying the training wheels, shouting, "Faster! Faster!" -- but really meaning, "Slower! Slower!”

And just as I recall the sheer improbability that anyone would ever learn to ride a bike to anywhere other than the nearest emergency room, I can hear her voice echoing through the years, saying, “Dad, this will never work until you let go.”

And so I did. Not realizing all the letting go that was yet to come. Flash forward. I'm letting her go to college, and decorate her room to look “just like home,” which really meant "not like home. " That was followed by sentences that gradually morphed from “when I come home” to “when I visit home.”

Blink again, and I'm at the altar letting her go into the arms of a man who never knew her as a girl -- on training wheels or otherwise.

So much letting go. You’d think I’d get used to it. But no. I take one more stab at conveying fatherly wisdom, metaphorically disguised as the nuts and bolts of bicycle safety. Until it occurs to me that those shaky training wheels of yesteryear I am so stoutly defending were never for her; they were for me.

Turns out that for this grandfather-in training, letting go is an ongoing rite of passage. It's going to take some more practice before I get the hang of it.

Robert Chipkin lives and writes in Springfield.