More Than A Bike

In navigating the masculine journey, emotional memories from the past come to the surface for healing. Some of these memories can be life-altering ones. “More Than A Bike,’ represents an emotional crisis I experienced as a 10 year-old. I have had to process this disappointment, and accept that I had a complex need that did not get fulfilled.

All I dreamt about for months before my 10th Birthday was of a brand-new bicycle with a banana seat and high handlebars.

Down the street, my friend Donny Rowden got a brand new ‘Fastback 100′ for his 10th birthday, a bright orange, motorcycle-like chopper bicycle with high handlebars, long black seat, and a gear shift on the ‘sissy bar,’ a dream bike for any 10 year-old boy. Though I coveted it, I knew I would never get a ‘Fastback’; with five kids in our family a gift like that would have set a precedent too expensive for my parents.

As the winter snows melted, in opposite measure did my excitement build for THE DAY when I would receive the answer to my dreams.

That evening, the blessed day having arrived, I ate my supper so quickly I did not taste my food. Mom brought out the cake. All present sang me ‘Happy Birthday’ and I blew out the candles. As we ate our cake,  Mom handed me a Birthday card and a round tube, about a foot long, gift wrapped.

This was odd; I had expected Dad to invite me into the garage where I would find to my delight and glee, a brand-new bicycle with high handlebars and a banana seat. Confused by this unexpected turn, I unwrapped the cylinder to find a tube of ‘Smarties.’

“Here is a little gift to help you wait for your new bike,” mom said apologetically.

To say I was crestfallen would be an understatement. Waves of disappointment washed over me as my spirit crashed straight into a wall of disappointment. A truck full of Smarties could not pay for the excitement I felt waiting, yearning, desiring my new bike. I wanted to cry, but choked back the tears. This was not how I had imagined things happening.

From then on, I waited eagerly for Dad to come home from work wheeling a new bike into the house. Weeks passed, the snow banks disappeared, the roads more perfect for bike riding, and each night I was disappointed. Up and down my spirit went, from the highs of imagining my new bike to the lows of disappointment. This was becoming a problem for me.

In my 10 year-old way, I escalated my disappointment into something much more serious; I decided the lack of a bicycle meant my parents didn’t love me. I fell into an emotional crisis I could not rectify.

By week 3, I was panicking from the thought that I was not loved, my heart a desert of disappointment. The thoughts of not being loved fed feelings of emptiness. I grabbed a screwdriver, went up to my bedroom, and aimed it at my heart, as if suicide was the only way out.

Finally, on the 1st of April, the long awaited day arrived! Dad brought me into the garage and showed me my new bike! All disappointment dissolved. I walked through the door into the garage expecting to see my answer to everything! And there it was, a brand-new shiny red adult bicycle, with regular handlebars and a regular seat.

O God, how disappointed I was again. This was nothing like anything I had imagined. Doing my best not to upset my father, I put on my best show of “O thank you; it’s what I always wanted!” and took it for a ride.

What was there to be happy about? Yes, I liked the shiny red paint finish on it, but it was an Edsel compared to a Fastback 100.  Certainly, it was nothing to ride down to John Dearness Public School and show my friends.

A few days later, I screwed up the courage to remind my father that I wanted high handlebars and a banana seat. Dad responded quickly and brought home a banana seat (that smelled wonderfully of plastic) and a pair of high handlebars.

When my father put them on my bike, he couldn’t get the handlebars through the steering column, so – to my horror – he took a hammer and pounded them through, denting either side of the bars. When finished, my adult bike, all disproportionate with high handlebars and a banana seat, looked like something strange out of a Dr. Seuse story.

I’ve often thought how this experience affected me in my adult life. I don’t get excited about birthdays. My wife, Ysabel, loves birthdays and celebrates them with Latin fervor (food, drink, and a party with dancing). I also realize that I don’t expect good things for myself – despite the obvious contradictions of having a beautiful wife who loves me and is the joy of my existence. I live in Banff, Alberta, one of the most beautiful places in the world – and I get to share its beauty with people from all around the world who pay me well to talk about the Canadian Rockies.

But I’ve come to the conclusion that the bike I had wanted – the one with high handlebars and banana seat, was more than a birthday gift; it was a sacrament of initiation and affirmation. It was symbolic expression and realization of my desire for life, of my great happiness at being alive, and the deep thrill I felt as a boy feels who was growing up. That bike of my imagination was something I needed to be celebrated as confirmation that life is good and that my desires for fullness of life were good.

How could my parents know that all this was going on?  How could they have known what the bicycle with high handlebars meant to me? Certainly, I didn’t tell them how I felt. I have come to learn that, the desires of my 10 year-old heart were beyond the ability of my parents to give me.

I realize now that sacraments bring graces only God can give and that the deepest desires of the human heart – the deepest desires of my heart – can only be met in union with God.

Categories Blog Post, Book Excerpt | Tags: , , , , , | Posted on November 15, 2018

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