The Mighty Viking

Conquering those things we must, one story at a time

The Sweeper

The Sweeper

We sat at a diner, musing over coffee in our  leathers discussing route options for the next two days.  It was my trip, but I was still undecided about the choice of two possible routes for the first couple days.

My dad made his position clear.“Well…whichever one you take, when you look back I’ll be there.”

As with most thoughts worth having, this one rattled around in my head for a while over the next set of miles.  My dad and I have been riding together – in one capacity or another – for a long, long time.  I wasn’t exactly one to tuck in behind and just hang on for the ride.  I’ve always been the one to see a road, and think to myself, “huh…I wonder what’s down there?”

And more often than I can remember, I found out.

There’s something you should know about motorbike riders.  On group rides, there are two particularly important people. The Road Captain, and the Sweeper.  To be honest, most of my riding has been done on my own, without either one.  But when I do ride with a group, I’m usually the Road Captain, mostly by virtue of being the only one that’s been where we’re going.  There’s a lot more that goes into being a good Road Captain – a good sense of judgment, the ability to say “no” to one’s own curiosity in deference to the group’s intent to get where they’re going safely.  I’ve been a lot of places, I know a lot about the landmarks, the best diners, the best coffee, the best beers.  The interesting characters and history and scenic views – I make a decent tour guide.  And I can do pace calculations in my head pretty well.  On the other hand, those behind me learn pretty quickly that those scenic stops can come up all the sudden, and I’m not so good at accounting for the group behind me.  I’m good at making seasoned riders out of the folks behind me.

The Sweeper’s job is to be behind.  If someone breaks down, or needs to stop – whatever – the Sweeper stays back, and does what’s necessary to keep the group together.  That’s not to say he takes care of all the problems.  He’s back there to keep contact between the straggler and the group, and if there’s something he can do, fine.  But mostly, the Sweeper is just there.

My most consistent Sweeper has been my dad.

My first multi-speed bike, 1969, Loma Linda. Dad's already riding sweeper.When I was 2, and the front yard was still That Big Place I Haven’t Fully Explored Yet, every time I looked back, he was there.

When I was 8, and the gate was opened to me for the first time to take to the streets, I flew dow the asphalt.  And when I looked back, he was there.

When I was 16, and after years of being on the back held the throttle of my own motorbike on the street for the first time, I looked back, and he was there.  He wasn’t telling me what to do, or which way to go, or how fast not to go.  He had been there himself, and had some rough idea of how fast and far I could go.  He wasn’t there to instruct me.  He was just…there.

When at the age of 17 I told him my plans for my future, he wasn’t at the Door of Opportunity ushering me in.  He wasn’t pushing me into one Hall of Study or another.  He was just there.

When at the age of 19 I held the arm of my true love, and told him I planned to commit the rest of my life to her, he was there in the front row of the church.  Right behind me

When at the age of 21 my hand held the pen that would sign my name to an enlistment in the Navy, I looked to him.  He neither pushed nor pulled – he was just there

And here on this day halfway through my 52nd year I started east on another cross-country ride.  I asked him to ride a was with me.  And when I didn’t know which way I wanted to go, he only had one promise: whichever way I went, I could look back, and he’d be there.  Sometimes he’d help.  Sometimes he’d just talk while I figured out that what I had wasn’t a panic moment.  Sometimes he’d just watch – because, dang it, I was just that entertaining

And that’s the way it is with fathers.  They live their life.  They learn what they can, and if they do it well, they come prepared to have confidence in their children.  Or at least to act like it.  I don’t know if I’ve been so good at it with my own kids as he was, but then, I was kind of a different kid.  He seemed to understand that giving advice, trying to assist, involving himself until it became HIS life – wouldn’t really work.  Sometimes I wished, perhaps, that he’d have helped me a little more actively than he did.  But I can’t say I ever really felt left to my own fortune.  Always the Sweeper – he was there, but not to make me feel like a helpless tourist.  His presence gave me the hope that staying on the road was worth it, to at least someone.

These days, I’ve become the Sweeper.  I’m not quite as adept as he to be the one that has done enough on my own, and ready to be the one behind.  But I’ve learned enough of fatherhood to know that we each have to ride our own ride.  The single hardest thing about fatherhood, for me, is not getting on their bike and riding it up the road a spell for them.  It leaves them no more able to ride than before, and me 10 miles down the road from my own ride.  Their ride is their’s, alone.

And frankly, the most satisfying place in the world is behind your child, watching them succeed.

 

 

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One Response to “The Sweeper”

  1. Al Patzke says:

    Excellent story that every father/son team should read.

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