Sometimes riding a bike isn’t really about bicycles. I was in the office the other day when the phone rang. It was G-JiT, a/k/a Geriatric Jedi in Training. “Hey, are you busy?” he asked.
“Not really,” I admitted, looking guiltily at the FB news feed.
“Can I treat you to a burger and beer?”
“Is that even a question?”
He laughed and a few minutes later we were enjoying the sunshine while awaiting a cyclist-friendly-healthy double char burger with cheese, avocado, caramelized onions and all the trimmings, washed down with an IPA. G-JiT showed his calorie consciousness by going without the bun.
We got to talking about family and kids because, well, we’re dads. “Man,” I said, “those photos you’ve been posting of your son Nic on Facebook are something else.”
“You like them?”
“They’re fantastic. As one of the worst people to ever paddle a surfboard, I’m in awe of people like him. How long has be been a pro?”
“Oh, he just got sponsored, actually.”
“Really? How old is he? I thought he was in his mid-to-late-20’s.”
“No, he’s only twenty-one.”
“Damn.” I mused for a minute. “That’s a tough world to make it in.”
G-JiT and I sat there in silence for a minute, thinking “dad” thoughts, the ones shared by every man who’s ever had a son. It’s an ancient thought, and it goes like this: I want my son to have a good life, and in order to have a good life he has to succeed at something, and in order to succeed he has to have passion, and in order to have passion he has to take risks, and in order to take risks he has to fail, so in order for him to have a good life and find success he must also fail. This thought was followed by the other “dad” thought: I hope my son doesn’t fail.
“It’s his passion,” mused J-GiT. “But pro surfing and pro cycling, you know, everyone wants to be the next Slater or Merckx.”
I am of course nothing if not filled with stereotypes and prejudices. “Well, it’s sure going to be hard for him to go college if this doesn’t work out. It only gets harder as you get older.”
G-JiT nodded. “He was at San Diego State University.”
“At least he took a couple of semesters before he dropped out?” I asked hopefully, knowing that it’s still brutally hard to go back and get your degree once you’ve quit.
“He never dropped out.”
I must have looked amazed. “Really?”
“Oh, far from it. He graduated with honors in business management in three years and walked into a fantastic job offer from Morgan Stanley.”
I hesitated for a moment, thinking that I’d had too much too drink and had lost the train of the conversation, hoping that by nodding politely G-JiT would say something to cue me back to the actual topic. “Wow,” I said, as he kept looking at me as if I had understood.
“Yeah, he had a few weeks in between graduation and the start of his job, so he took a surf trip down to Puerto Escondido. That’s where all those Facebook photos were shot. Then some guy came up to him on his last day there, it had been, you know, three weeks of non-stop monster surf at the Mexican Pipeline, and this guy who’s a lifeguard, one of the old school, he said, ‘Hey kid, what’s your name? I been on this beach for twenty years and I’ve seen it all, the pros, the wannabes, the broken necks and broken backs, and I’ve never seen anyone charge it like you’ve been doing, day in and day out.'”
“Damn,” I said.
“So Nic came home and he was really up front and said ‘This is my passion and I want to pursue it so I won’t ever have to look back and say “what if?”‘ He wasn’t asking our permission, but he was asking for our blessing.”
I took another sip of beer and the “dad” thought continued. You know the one, right? The one that says “Good lord, that’s such a risk, the risk of failure is so high, couldn’t your passion be for computer science, or for electrical engineering?”
I thought about all the fathers in the world who have told their sons to dream big dreams and reach for the sky, only to bring them down hard when they do. I thought about the words of another friend, who always says “Don’t go for what’s likely, go for what’s possible.”
“What did you tell him?”
“We talked it over, my wife and I, then we told him that now was his time. And we were in his corner all the way.”
I got goosebumps. A little later we started talking about cycling again, which, it turned out, we’d been talking about all along.