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Fatherly Advice on Bikes, Cars, and Noses

June 15, 2013

Father’s Day is one of those rare holidays I don’t hate. Not only is my father still alive, but his ability to keep track of that holiday is so poor that he will be pleasantly taken aback when I call to wish him a good one tomorrow.

Besides, he will doubtlessly acknowledge that, while the timing of my recent visit to him and my stepmother in Wyoming might have been a bit off for that occasion, I have in fact just finished celebrating Father’s Week with him. Sure, I spent a good deal of time learning how to care for and ride a horse with my stepmother last weekend, but I also allotted some of my physical activities time for golfing and biking with my remaining biological parent.

The former activity was mostly to humor my dad’s interest of recent years, but the latter was an appropriate one to undertake with my father right before Father’s Day. My dad did, after all, spend what he declared “the most humiliating day ever” teaching me how to ride a bike on that auspicious holiday five years ago.

Yep. You read that right. Five years ago. After I had graduated college and was, in fact, a quarter of the way through a Masters program. Turns out stubbornness runs in the family, and I refused to ride in or on anything that didn’t have a minimum four wheels when I was a kid. This refusal came back to bite me during the soaring gas prices that predated the Great Recession in 2008, when my car for the summer took only premium unleaded gas. Making up for fifteen years of lost time suddenly looked like a pretty good idea.

Alas, though I learned the basics, I never did get confident around to ride around head-scratchingly bike-lane-free Denver. General shakiness in my overall balance combined with a wariness of whizzing multi-ton metal objects that can (and, if my own mumbling about the “stupid hipsters” on roads is anything to go by, would) kill me make me less than an ideal road cyclist.

Which was why this particular visit with Dad was an eye-opening experience. We traveled along heavily tourist-trafficked highways to reach various destinations in and around Jackson, and not knowing, or pretending not to know, any better myself, I handled street crossings and charges up the middle of a lane whose traffic was going the opposite direction with a faux-cheery, “Okay, Dad!” I stayed close on his back tire and smiled sheepishly at the passing cars. Much to my own amazement, there were no trips to the hospital.

But the biggest adventure of the week came when my dad decided he would accompany me on the drive back to Denver, pick up a few things he had stored here, and rent a U-Haul to take them to his new residence. Although I rather enjoy the benefits of solo road trips, I gave a cheery, “Okay, Dad!” and grimaced as he shoved a table saw and Shop-Vac in my trunk. Apparently there was to be a miscellaneous items swap.

The road trip itself was rather pleasant. I got most of my taste in music from my dad, so his driving playlist was figurative as well as literal music to my ears. Plus, he drove five out of the eight hours, which was truly blissful on a journey that covers some of the most boring stretches of roadway in the United States of America. You cross the Continental Divide twice in Wyoming, but since it looks nothing like this, it’s easy to assume that WYDOT is trolling you with those signs.

The excrement hit the air-conditioning unit, to quote Kurt Vonnegut, only when we got into town. My dad wanted to meet a friend the next morning for breakfast, and that required him having access to a car. His plan was to jump-start the sports coupe I inherited from my mother but haven’t driven much because those tend to be next to worthless on icy mountain passes.

“Do you have a back-up plan if we can’t start it up?” I asked.

He thought for a moment. “No.” Then he frowned at nothing in particular. “Why wouldn’t it start?”

“Well, it’ll likely start. It just might not…go anywhere. It’s really been a while since I’ve driven it, and the last time I waited this long, I couldn’t actually get it on to the street without jumping it three more times. Then I had to park it there and call AAA.”

He snorted. “It’ll start. It just needs time to kick over, that’s all.”

“Suit yourself.”

An hour later, I struggled to choke back the, “I told you so,” although suppressing it was pretty easy considering how grouchy my dad was at this turn of events. Even once he called my grandmother and perked up visibly at being able to borrow her car, though, I made a special effort to refrain from commenting.

“I should’ve known,” he mused as we headed to dinner. “I counted on that car being available. That was a mistake. It’s cost me nothing but time and money, and it’s never failed to let me down.” He nodded gravely. “I think it’s your mom’s way of getting revenge.”

We shared a chuckle at that. “And you wound up with the cat just after she died, too! The cat you were allergic to!” And we shared another laugh over my mother and her seeming ability to hold grudges over perceived slights unsupported by objective evidence.

It seemed a fitting culmination for the week, in an odd way. Not only had I learned, by overhearing the phone conversation in which my dad rented the U-Haul, where I got my odd but useful habit of memorizing credit-card numbers so I can rattle them off for Chinese delivery without making a grab for my wallet, I also figured out that car drivers generally prefer not to go to jail for killing cyclists, even if those cyclists are behaving stupidly. Also, don’t mash genitals with crazy, but if you do, find a way to laugh about it.

And perhaps the most important bit of advice I got this week came when we got to dinner that night. My dad had just finished washing his hands.

“I’m gonna go do the same,” I said, jumping up from the table.

“Well, don’t pick your nose.” He brandished a used and abused paper towel. “It’s really dry. Mine started bleeding.”

So in his honor, I will endeavor to keep my fingers booger-free today and tomorrow, because it hasn’t gotten any wetter. Happy Father’s Day, everyone!



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