My Dad & biking make life feel safer

man-on-racing-bikeMy father, Sanford Cleveland Kahrmann,  taught me how to ride a bicycle. To this day, when I’m on my bike, he is present. And for me, when my father is present, all the world feels safer. Anything with his presence helped heal the wounds of the day. Today, Saturday May 2, will be first time on the bike this year.

My father died at unexpectedly when he was 55 from peritonitis. I was 15. While we never got to be adult father and son, adult friends, we were friends. I absolutely reject the notion that parents and their children can’t be friends. Rubbish. If you become friends with a family member, the friendship is all the more sacred, and stronger.

I learned how to ride a bike on Buchanan Street in Pearl River, New York. My first two-wheeler was a Huffy. Now, I don’t know this for a fact, but I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if the name was picked because of the bike’s weight, again, just a guess, but I’d say my bike weighed somewhere in the neighborhood of 200-zillion pounds. At least I thought so. After all, the name Huffy made perfect sense. If you had to pick up the bike and carry it for any reason, you’d be huffin’ and puffin’ in no time.

Nevertheless, it was my first two-wheeler. I was proud of it. A grown-up bike.

My Dad put training wheels on in the beginning. I didn’t know kid in the neighborhood who didn’t feel the painful stain of  stigma (usually self-inflicted) of having training wheels. Not just because you wanted to ride a bike like the older kids, but their name. Training wheels! No self-respecting kid in the neighborhood was comfortable being seen with training wheels.

All the kids in my neighborhood, boys and girls, were self-respecting. We wanted our training wheels taken off our bikes, as soon as possible.

Finally, the big day came. My training wheels were coming off! Holy crap! I sensed I might be experiencing a wee taste of what it was like to become a man.

The moment was as ceremonial as it gets. I got on the bike – Wait!

A sidebar, if you please. I had short legs.  may be worth noting that inch-thick blocks of wood were clamped to each side of the pedal by a generous wrapping of duct tape, all so my feet could reach the pedals.

Back to the story.

The ceremony was underway. I am balancing on both wheels supported by my father who is on my left and holding onto the back of the bike seat. I start to pedal, and we get underway. My Dad jogs alongside, holding onto the back of the bike seat.

My confidence grows. I am pedaling!

Now I am becoming a man!

Now I look to my left; my father isn’t there anymore.

Now I am careening onto the Costello’s front lawn!

Now I am toppling over!

Now, of course, I am trying again.

It took about two more tries to get it right, but soon I was riding my bike. Picking up speed. You discover one of the reasons people talk about the wind in your face.

There was a freedom to be had when I’m on my bike. Still is. Our movement is our own, and, for me, there’s the gift of knowing my father is part of my every stride.

I Knew

While it can be all of unsettling and scary, change can induce growth, open doors, shed light on the possibilities in life that heretofore have been hidden in darkness. And so it is that I am deeply contemplating change.

There is no doubt that March 28 has me thinking hard and feeling deep. I will enter the minute my father never reached in life at 1:44 in the afternoon, and from then on, my life will be for the two of us in a way like never before. My father was born on February 20 and died at age 55 on August 16. I was born October 2. I am 55. If you count out the same number of days from October 2, you arrive at March 28. My father died at 1:43 in the afternoon.

I remember. I was 15. Around 1:30 that afternoon a couple of friends of mine who knew my father was not expected to live through the day came with me on a walk from my house into the Village of Nyack. My father was in St. Luke’s Hospital in New York City. We had received a call that morning saying he would not live through the day. My mother had chosen to stay home and not go see him, explaining to us that he was unconscious, in an iron-lung, and wouldn’t know she was there in the first place. Then and now her choice to not be at his side, let him die alone, staggers me.

We were 10 minutes or so into our walk when all the air went out of me and I doubled over. I knew. Out loud I said, “He just died.” My friends said, Naw, common, Pete, he’s okay. He’s gonna be okay. Their words were a lifeline. I grabbed on.

We bought soda and candy and walked back to my house. I went into the kitchen. My mother was standing at the counter with her back to me. She was cutting up vegetables. She turned to face me. Her face was almost stern. She said, “Peter, it happened.” My father was dead. I walked over and hugged her. I went into the living room where my friends were waiting. “He died,” I said. We left the house. My mother was still in the kitchen cutting vegetables.

As March 28 draws closer, I am contemplating change. I may resign from one position, focus on another, write more than ever, and create my own bucket list. There are some people and circumstances I will shed from my life.

There are some things that will not change, now or ever. I will, now and always, write and read. I will, now and always, fight for the persecuted. I will, now and always, cherish my relationship with nature. I will love those close to me with all my heart. And always, always, I will go through my life with my father at my side, now, on March 28, and beyond.

Yes, it is true, change can be unsettling and scary. It can be freeing too. And of the many things I know about my father, I know he wanted me to be free – to be me.