To Fear or Persevere
If we take the time to look back over our lives, we often see that the big moment we’re experiencing in the present, was actually a myriad of small decisions before that. In fact often-times, those little decisions are barely noticed at the time. Sometimes it’s less a conscious decision and more a piece of advice or encouragement that comes our way. Following that little bit of encouragement changes the course of our lives in sometimes small and sometimes monumental ways.
My dad taught me to ride a bike.
I was older than most but still couldn’t ride it without training wheels. Why? I was scared. The thing that would make the most sense would be to say I was scared of falling, but that’s actually not true. Kids fall. I’d probably fallen hundreds of times in my child-life. So, what was I afraid of. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to do it.
I was afraid I’d try and fail, then try and fail again, and again and again.
I was afraid I’d be the only kid in my school, the only kid on my street, in my neighborhood- who couldn’t ride a bike…ever.
The sad thing was…I loved riding my bike. Pedaling as fast as I could and then coasting down the street, my friends beside me doing the same thing – it was pure joy! But I was getting too old for training wheels, so I rode my blue bike with the long banana seat less and less.
I didn’t talk to my parents about it. I didn’t talk to my friends about it.But one day, as if he had read my mind and wasn’t going to allow fear to keep me from this joy, my dad said to follow him. We went to the garage where he took a few tools off his workbench. To my dismay, he rolled my bike to the driveway and proceeded to take the training wheels off. Dread rolled over me. I was certain that without the training wheels on, I’d never ride a bike again. That made me so sad. I turned to walk away.
“Where are you going?” Dad asked.
“Inside,” I said.
“No,” he said gently. “You’re going to ride this bike.”
I looked at it. It was impossible. My heart pounded.
“But I can’t.”
“How do you know you can’t?”
“I’ve tried. I’ve tried to balance without the training wheels touching the ground. I can’t do it.”
“Oh, those wheels just make it harder,” he said. “You’ll do better without them.”
Dad aimed the bike, with me on it, down the street. He held onto the back of the banana seat, steadying it. He gave me instructions and then ran behind me as I pedaled. I could feel his strength holding the bike upright. I glanced back to see him running behind me. He let go and the bike leaned sharply to the side, but he caught it before I fell. He repeated this over and over. The bike fell to the side, me on it, every time he let go. It was my worst fear realized.
It was getting dark.
“I can’t do it,” I finally admitted.
“Yes, you can,” he insisted. “This time, I want you to focus on the Prickly Tree (a giant blue spruce halfway down the block).”
I felt sorry for him. He was putting so much effort into this. So, I decided to try one more time.
“OK,” I said weakly.
I looked down the block at the Prickly Tree and started pedaling. We sailed down the block, my dad and me. When we were almost there, I turned around.
We sailed down the block, my dad and me.
My dad wasn’t there. He’d let go. I was doing it on my own. I made it to the Prickly Tree, then stopped and looked back. Dad was all the way back at the house, standing in the middle of the road with his hands on his hips.
“I did it!” I said when I got back to him.
“Yes, you did,” he said.
My daddy did something for me that day. It wasn’t the mechanics of taking the training wheels off or the fact that he’d run a marathon behind me.
He believed in me. He was there. He was there for me as I did something scary; something I’d never done before. Just knowing he was there gave me strength.
40-plus years later, I got to return the favor.
An Amazing Moment 70-Years in the Making
My father was chosen to be honored by the Seattle Mariners for his service during WWII. They allowed one person to go down to the field with him. So, during the 4th inning, I stood next to him in the breezeway just steps from the field. Since there was a lot of walking to get to the field, he’d used a wheelchair, with a kind attendant to push him.
I leaned down.
“How ya doin’?” I asked.
“I’m nervous,” he said. “Is this really happening?”
“It’s really happening,” I said.
“Should I use my cane?” he asked. “I think I can do it without it.”
“Then do it without it,” I said.
I put my hand on his back.
“You’re going to do just fine,” I said.
He stood up and leaned on his cane as #35 went up to bat.
Moments later a red carpet was rolled out and my father walked out, leaving his cane behind. As the story of his service during WWII was told over the speaker system, and photos of him were displayed on the giant screen, he waved at the crowd. Then it happened. People began standing.
All over the stadium, more than 40,000 people stood to their feet – clapping and cheering.
My father, who never expected to be recognized for his service, who kept his stories deep inside for more than 50-years, was finally getting the recognition he so deserved. He reveled in the moment. As he walked back to me, people in the bleachers nearby yelled, “Yeah, Murray!” He waved, shook a few hands.
Our eyes met.
“You did it, Dad!”
A Thousand Tiny Decisions
Life is funny. We never know where the smallest of decisions might lead. 13-years ago, my father handed me two notebooks full of letters that he’d written to his “folks” during the war. That unassuming beginning would eventually become a book, Breaking the Code: a Father’s Secret, a Daughter’s Journey, and the Question That Changed Everything. From the moment he handed me the notebooks until now, a thousand other little decisions were made; some of them mine, others his, and still others made by random people along the way; the women in a writer’s group who encouraged me, the editor that “got it”, and the publisher who took a chance on an unknown author. All each of us can do is begin. All we can do is make that small decision. It takes faith to do what you were meant to do.
It takes faith to do what makes no sense and what seems impossible.
But that’s what makes impossible dreams come true.
When all of this began, I never dreamed I would be a part of my father finally being recognized for his role as a code breaker during the war. But a thousand tiny decisions later, that’s exactly what happened. You just never know.
To watch the video of my father walking onto Safeco Field, click on the link below;
Starting Over at Mid-life
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