by Thomas Day
You have to admit that is a pretty arrogant title for a column like mine. Parental responsibility; as if I know something about that subject.
When our kids were little, almost 40 years ago, my wife and I were as careless about seatbelts and how our lifestyle affected our kids as any pair of dumbasses ever recorded by history. Yes, on a motorcycle and in my kids’ lifetime, I have always worn a helmet, gloves, boots, and some kind of jacket when I ride, but I am not an AGAT (all the gear, all the time) kind of guy. I should be. I try to be. But I’m not. I often bicycle without a helmet. Sometimes I don’t wear safety glasses when I use power tools. I’ve even been known to tack weld a spot or two without eye protection. I just squint.
My perspective has always been that, “It’s my life and I’m going to live it the way I want to live.” I don’t expect to, or want to, live to a ripe old senile and incapacitated antiquity. As Hunter Thompson once said, “I’d rather be shot out of a cannon than squeezed out of a tube.” Even knowing the end result of the necessary and unpleasant landing after the cannon shot.
In a demonstration of what a dumbass I really am, it has taken me most of my life to realize that my kids have taken cues from my attitude. And, like most humans, I’m most affected by my own faults when I see them in someone else.
For example, a pair of really nice people brought their son to a BRC a while back. He came to the class with great gear; an expensive and well-designed perforated armored jacket, a Snell-approved full-face helmet, quality riding boots, and racing gloves. He and his dad had spent a lot of time riding off-road and his skills were pretty good and heading toward excellent. He is a great kid, an excellent student, and left the class a better rider than I was at twice his age. If our kids are a reflection of ourselves, I imagined his parents might be approaching national role models.
To bust that bubble, on the last day of the BRC, his proud parents came to watch in full hardly-hardcase costumes; bare-headed, sleeveless leather vests, tennis shoes, and torn jeans. And it hit me how strong a message that was for their son. It’s, obviously, the same message I often sent to my own kids when I ignored seatbelts or tested the depth of a river by jumping from a 20 cliff into the rapids. Again, don’t mistake what I’m saying for pride in my behavior.
I do, however, speak from experience. The worst thing I can imagine is outliving my children. Maybe outliving my grandchildren would top that. Just after her 20th birthday, my youngest daughter was in a terrible crash. She, somehow, ended up on the wrong side of a Colorado two-lane and her Toyota pickup smashed head-on into a Ford F250 pickup at highway speeds. Her vehicle was unrecognizable and she suffered a half-dozen injuries that could have been fatal. During the week that she was in a coma and the weeks of her painful recovery, my heart broke so many times that I thought I’d collapse in a quivering heap for the rest of my miserable life. I don’t know any words that can describe that feeling and I’m not going to try to find them. Genya recovered and she has gone on to be a better person than her father, in every way. Our story had a happy ending, although we could have done without that plot twist.
Whenever I see a parent (always a father, in my experience) with a kid on the back of his bike wearing an adult’s helmet and no protective gear, or worse, I think about how badly that kid will be injured when Dad screws up. Let’s face it: anyone dumb enough to risk their kid’s life so thoughtlessly is going to screw up, sooner or later.
The obligation we take on when we become parents is the responsibility of constantly setting an example.
Saying “do what I say, not what I do” is a waste of breath. Our children either look at how badly we’ve failed, and try to do better, or accept our actions as the definition of how life should be lived and emulate us. How would you feel knowing that your example led to your child’s terrible injuries or death? Even indirect responsibility is a terrible burden. Believe me.