There’s a new guy in the picture. And he's stealing my thunder.
My boys got bicycles for Christmas, which they absolutely love. Apparently. I’ve never seen them ride them.
The bikes live at their mum’s house. They don’t fit in the boot of the new “get rid of that 4WD monstrosity and buy something more economical” car I bought a few months back.
It’s a tiny little thing … probably the kind of car you’d be more likely to associate with a budget-minded accountant than a hard-drinkin’ Aussie journo. Plus, it doesn’t have a tow bar which means a bike rack’s out of the question.
And yeah, I could buy another pair of cheap second-hand bikes off Gumtree – but there’s literally nowhere within striking distance of my place that’s suitable for riding them.
I live on the side of a pretty steep hill, on a very busy road, with so many driveways and typically inattentive locals that every other week some poor soul gets skittled by someone backing out to head to work.
So the boys … they go riding bikes with their mum. And (let’s call him) Paul.
Don’t get me wrong. Paul’s a nice guy. I’ve spent enough time with him and my ex to realise that they’re slowly falling into the kind of love that actually makes me really happy to see.
I f*cked my marriage up by drinking myself half to death. She supported me through most of it, and pulled the plug on the whole miserable charade when it was the absolute right time to do it – two kids deep and a mortgage that wasn’t going to get paid off if I kept drinking my paycheque every fortnight.
So I reckon she’s well and truly earned herself another shot at finding someone to be with. Someone who I know makes her laugh. Someone I know can provide stability and laughs for the kids as well.
He’s a good guy. But he’s been teaching my sons how to ride their bicycles.
Screw you Christmas
I won’t lie … the realisation that my kids had shiny new bikes under their mum’s tree on Christmas Day teed me up for a pretty solid week of temptation just to lie in bed, cancel all my plans, and get stuck into the booze again.
I did most of those things … I did go out drinking one night (not a great decision, given my ongoing wrestles with the bottle). And I did cancel a trip away to see my friends for a few days up the coast.
And I did spend a lot of time in bed, watching Netflix, eating home-delivered food and napping sporadically when my belly was full and I couldn’t be arsed getting out of bed to do anything.
I gave in to the post-Christmas pity party that I swore I’d never throw for myself ever again. Goddammit.
I’d start to feel better, and then all of a sudden, I’d be blindsided by the mental image of it being Paul, and not me, encouraging my boys as they rode their new bikes.
And then it turned to that horrible question of “what other dad moments am I missing?”
I turned myself inside out for days over that one.
New Year, New Me
The good news is we’re well into the new year. The better news is I’ve made a few breakthroughs which hopefully will help other dads who are going through the same thing.
Firstly, I reminded myself that no matter what happens, I am – and always will be – my boys’ father. Nothing can take that away from them, or from me.
(I secretly harbour a private glee that someday, one of my kids will definitely pull the classic “shut up! You’re not my real dad!” move on Paul. In a lot of ways, I’m not a nice person when it comes to stuff like that.)
Secondly, I spent time thinking about all of the milestones I was actually there for … the first steps, the first words, the first day of school for my eldest, the first fish that my youngest caught last year.
Those are proper dad memories to cherish. I was there for them and they were all glorious moments.
Thirdly, I got my head around the fact that because I’m no longer an everyday fixture in my boys’ lives, there will be moments I’ll miss. But that’s okay.
I’m lucky. I get to see them regularly. They come to my place to stay over four nights a fortnight, and I’m always here if their mum’s got something she needs to do of an evening.
If I miss a moment or two here and there, I should count my blessings that I get to be there for any of the ones I see, at all.
Lastly, I remembered something else.
I own a bicycle myself. It’s quite a nice one. My ex bought it for me when she’d decided I was letting my ‘dad bod’ get a little too broad in the middle, and that my legs could use a bit more muscle on them.
Sure, the tyres are flat and it hasn’t been ridden in two years but it’s there, and it’s waiting. Patiently. Lurking in my storage room … covered in cobwebs.
My boys only live about a kilometre from my place. I can (with a bit of training and if I can give up smoking again) ride there reasonably easily, hitch my bike to the rack on her car, and take the boys for a ride.
I’m not a big fan of making New Year’s resolutions (and it may be too late) but it seems a poetic time to be making a decision like this: to fix my bike, get myself into better shape, and stop letting little things get in the way of being a proper dad.
I’m sure Paul’s done a great job of showing the boys the basics of riding a bike.
But I’m 100% certain it’ll be me who teaches them the much more important lessons in life like how to go fishing. And how to play video games.
And how to ride motorcycles.