The father put the little pink and purple bicycle with the streamers on the handlebars and the white training wheels in the backseat. He put the rider of the bicycle in the front seat.
"Where we going, daddy?" the 5-year-old girl rider wanted to know.
"To practice your bike," said the father.
He drove from the street that has a little incline and a few passing cars and prying eyes to a flat parking lot with no traffic. Out came the bike and the crescent wrench. The nuts were loosened and the training wheels came off and now there was no turning back.
The little girl put on her helmet, and the father fastened the chin strap to make it fit snug and tight.
"But daddy, I can't ride my bike without training wheels," the child said.
"Of course you can," said the father.
The girl perched on the seat. The father told her to keep her eyes forward, don't watch her feet, don't look at the handlebars.
"Just pedal, pedal," he said.
He held her up and gave a push and held on for several feet. When he let go, she of course looked at her feet and the handlebars and stopped pedaling. The father swooped in to grab her before she fell sideways.
"I can't do it," she said.
"Sure you can," the father said.
So six, eight, 10 and more times, that father gave a push and the girl tried not to look at her feet and hands. All those times, that father was there to catch her.
Finally, because the father has too little patience because he is not a mother, he pushes and trots beside her with a hand on the bike as she pedals. This time, he lets go. She pedals about 18 inches and falls in a heap.
"Daddy, I can't," said the daughter.
"Yes, you can!" yells the father.
She is back on the bike now, the tears are falling and she says, "Maybe I can practice tomorrow instead."
The father says no, today.
And because kids are great, she doesn't cry that dad shouldn't be yelling like fathers sometimes do. The kid allows the father to regain his composure, which he should not have lost but did.
"Let's try again," said the father.
The little girl is back on the bike and her braids stick out from under the helmet and the father wipes the tears. From a neighborhood across the street, a group of 10 teenage boys run by with a soccer ball.
"You can do it!" screams out a kid who must have remembered when he learned how to ride a bike without training wheels and a father helped him.
The next few pushes, the girl is pedaling, her eyes stay looking forward and she gets a few feet.
"You go, girl!" yells out some young lady from a passing car.
The daughter falls down like she had been pole-axed by a jouster's lance.
"It's too hard," she whimpers.
The father who has taught two older daughters how to ride a bike years before says no, it is not too hard. It may be too hard for knucklehead impatient fathers, but it is not too hard for little girls.
A lady strolls by walking her dog and says, "What a big girl, riding her bike."
"Lady, you just saved me from myself," the father whispers to himself.
The little girl's eyes brighten. The girl gets back on, despite tears, and the father says "Ready?" and she squeaks "Yes."
"Pedal, pedal, don't stop," the father says. "Pedal. Pedal."
The little girl pedals and looks straight and what she sees is freedom in a life without boundaries, and she rides toward it. The father runs alongside but doesn't hang on. The girl pumps her tiny knees and the bike surges forward for feet that become yards. She rides until she can't go anymore because there is no more parking lot and her face is glowing even when she bumps the curb.
And that father who was running alongside breathlessly grabs her before she falls in a heap.
Of course, the father forgot to tell her how to stop.
"I did it, daddy!" the girl shouts.
Yes, honey, the father says. "You did it!"
The she rides again and again.
I know all this because that little girl is my youngest daughter and that hapless father is me. And I learn yet again that kids can do anything. It is only others that hold them back.