Photos by Remy Frank and Steven M. Green
“Dad! I have a surprise for you in the garage,” said my younger daughter. Normally, those words, based on her history while passing through puberty to her 20’s, would have injected a charge of fear and adrenaline into my veins, but Leah’s sly smile eased my trepidation. My mind raced; it must be another dog, or a stray cat, or perhaps a hydroponics setup.
She opened the garage door with a flourish befitting a TV game show hostess. There, proudly sitting front and center, was a Kawasaki Ninja 250, painted in a monochromatic pastel lavender hue. Stunned, I was rendered speechless. How do I handle this? I never taught her how to ride! She would get hurt; badly hurt. I had to protect her; that’s my job! Where did this inspiration come from? How should I react? After what must have been an eternity, the only response from my dumbfounded face was a soft: “Wow!”
I quickly scanned this alien craft. Rubber seemed good with plenty of tread. No signs of scraped body panels or broken pieces. The odometer revealed a reasonably low number. “What did you pay for it?” was about the most neutral question I could ask while my mind spun and my stomach continued to churn. The number seemed reasonable, and Leah began her conspicuously well rehearsed monologue touting the advantages of buying this machine, being especially proud that the purchase included a helmet that was painted to match.
My mind excavated into the deep recesses of my memory. Did she remember those pre-family photos of me mid-air on a dirt bike? Or was it the childhood rides I gave her on the tank of my little Honda that I kept around for friends? I searched for a catalyst for this folly. When Leah and her older sister outgrew diapers, like many of my friends, I gave up my two-wheeled passion for the duties of a family man. There were chauffeuring chores, trips to Disneyland, the beach, camping and hikes in the woods. Bicycling, a childhood way of life for me, was quickly embraced by the older daughter, but Leah only wanted to hang out around horses. As so it was to be for the next two decades.
A year after the Ninja unveiling, and upon graduating from college, I got another call. “Dad, my bike stopped on the beltway…. It just slowed down real fast and then quit, it also made a clunk noise.” I posed some questions to help determine the malady. Yes, there was plenty of gas. No, a tire was not flat. When I asked her to pull the dipstick and look at the color of the oil, she responded: “Where is that?” Cringing, my next question was: “Did you ever check the oil?” The long silence answered for her. I lamented not educating her on her new mechanical device. The next day, she found an engine on Craigslist to replace the one that just had its case pierced by the heat-scarred-blue big end of a connecting rod.
After dusting off my tools and busting some knuckles, I swapped the engines and took the reincarnated moto for a spin around the block. What a fun little machine! I had not been on a bike for about 25 years. Coincidently, Leah now needed a loan for her horse (yes, she still had hayburner fever.) She told me to sell the bike in exchange for the “loan” which, of course, would result in a negative 60 percent return, but that is a typical return for The Bank of Dad. I contemplated keeping the bike, but decided the 250 was a bit anemic after having owned, back in the day, such classics as an early CB750, a Z1 and a Husky 360.
The interlude with the Ninja did give us a surprisingly engaging dad-and-daughter project. I think she actually realized that I was not the dolt she thought I was when she shipped off to college. I was still not sure. But, the event did create a project where we did something together, acted as a team and shared sense of accomplishment.
A couple of years raced by after that Ninja episode when I got another call: “My boyfriend went to the Harley dealer and guess what he got for me to ride?” I had visions of a Sportster, so I responded with same. “No,” she responded, “I said I was a sportbike person, so I pointed to a bike and he got it.” Knowing her current boyfriend had more money than common sense, I played along and queried. Her response: “A V-Rod; the Night Rod Special.” Again, Leah left me speechless, and very, very jealous.
Her new foray into the two-wheel world came with a certificate to a MSF class. She implored me to also get a bike and ride with her and her boyfriend. My V-Rod envy pushed me to also take the MSF course and my passion was rekindled. I got a bike and we spent time riding together. Sometimes her boyfriend joined us and sometimes just Leah and I would ride. I learned that the bond that you feel when riding with someone is infinitely stronger when that person is your child; coincidently, so is the satisfaction.
Both the boyfriend and his V-Rod were gone two years later, but my own garage now housed a trio of bikes. Leah lives about a mile away and I gladly share my garage key with her. In the past year, we’ve carved canyons together, taken day trips just to have a picnic on a mountain top and have even ridden to Baja with some friends to camp on the beach. Our conversations around the campfire range from motorcycles to politics, and from personal feelings and relationships to life goals and accomplishments. In other words, they are great!
I always took being a Dad seriously, but with the motorcycles as a catalyst we’ve also become close friends. I guess this should not be surprising, since we hear over and over again that folks who ride, meet strangers; and then a beer or two combined with a couple of days of riding along the same roads together help form lifelong friendships. When this intense moto-bonding occurs with your child and they, in turn, become friends with your friends, it gives you a special parental pride.
I recently was at a rally where the new head guy at BMW Motorrad North America, Kris Odwarka, addressed the group. He threw out some staggering numbers that basically outlined that the number of motorcycles being sold now are a mere fraction of what was sold in the 1970s. He implored us make it our mission to teach young people about the joys of our sport. I had fumbled that play, but was now in recovery. I see the mutual joy that results in passing along our motorcycle passion from generation to generation.
I also learned a lesson along the way. You can never force your kid to like what you like, but you certainly can introduce them to it. I mistakenly assumed that because Leah was so dedicated to horses, she would have no interest in motorcycles. I was wrong. In fact, Leah pretty much discovered her love for motorcycles without me and then turned the tables, getting me back into something I had quietly, but greatly missed. The result is priceless. I have many friends that talk about riding with their sons. I learned that daughters ride just as well.
For now, we’ll keep riding and enjoying our time together. Her future commitments will no doubt alter our time frames, but not the increasingly close bond. Now, when she describes a date to me, the profile includes a note about whether or not he is a rider. A prospect gets extra points if he rides or wants to learn. He will still have to pass my acid tests—I’m still the Dad.
As for my older daughter, I did belatedly teach her to ride, but she and her hubby were starting a family with the familiar “no motorcycles for now” refrain. I now have a 14-month-old grandson and just bought him a three-wheeled, battery powered, toddler friendly, first motorcycle. I learned my lesson. I’m not going to let years of motorcycle-rich memories slip away with this little guy. And I’m really looking forward to the first three-generation ride.