Christopher Robin hated being Christopher Robin. With considerable reason: his father expected him to respond to fan mail and record “Winnie the Pooh” audiobooks, all before he was ten years old. Later on, he accused his father of “climbing on his infant shoulders”.
With a life that seemed predestined to carom between misery and tragedy, right to the final act where he sold the “Pooh” rights to establish continuing care for his cerebral-palsy-stricken adult daughter, Christopher Milne had one of the least charmed lives one can imagine. Yet there was one saving grace in his life, however minor: social media did not yet exist.
Just four years ago, shortly after the death of my friend Nick, my son John accompanied me to a skatepark for the first time. We’d planned to meet Nick there, but fate drew a flat line between the man who was my preferred cycling companion until that moment and the young man who would fill that role afterwards. John proved to be a quick study on the bicycle, perhaps more so than it appeared to others because it was rarely possible for us to ride more than one or two days a week.
As a BMX racer, the kid’s been pretty decent, notching twelve wins and an average finish of 2.6 out of sixty-one starts in which he’s faced an average of 5.8 riders, but from the first moment he swung a leg over a Cleary Meerkat mountain bike in September of 2017 his affinity has been for the big wheels. At the age of ten he cleared the 42-foot Candyland tabletop at AngelFire, putting him on part with Evel Knievel’s first two professional motorcycle jumps. He regularly places in the top ten percent of adult competitors on Strava downhill segments. Our local trails have a jump called “Jurassic”; it’s about 28 feet to the backside and it’s not common to see people clear it. John will over-clear it just to amuse himself, particularly if he can stunt on his aging father in the process:
This is still very much a part-time activity for him, however; he spends more time on mountain biking than he does on fencing or karting but less than he does on riding his scooter or playing/practicing airsoft. Doesn’t mean he’s not serious about it, just means it’s not all he does. I don’t push him to ride and never, ever make him ride.
Over the past few years, I’ve come to realize how rare that lazy-parent approach is. In the course of finding the often esoteric kid-sized bike stuff (like his Trailcraft Maxwell 26, further improved with Fox Factory suspension) I’ve become well-acquainted with the phenomenon of the Professional Extreme Sports Pre-Teen. The ur-example of this is Canadian teenager Jackson Goldstone, who was earning real money performing with Nitro Circus when he was fourteen years old and who has been compensated in one form or another for riding since he was nine or thereabouts.
Behind the Professional Extreme Sports Pre-Teen, of course, is the Professional Extreme Sports Pre-Teen Dad, who stage-manages his kid in a manner familiar to “Tiger Moms” everywhere. Of course, the Tiger Moms rarely have to deal with their kids breaking bones and/or going to the ICU with a brain bleed; this is all in a day’s work for the PESP-TD. His child, who in real life has an Appalachia-grade speech impediment and an inability to complete a full sentence, appears on the Internet as a never-ending source of quotable quotes to be shared with sponsors, promoters, Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, and so on. Almost always there’s a social media account in which the dad writes in the supposed voice of the kid:
“Another great #WhistlerBikePark #A-Line weekend with the #Spawn #Kotori featuring #RockShox #Shimano #IndustryNine components! Loved getting SHRED-TASTIC with the local pros! Just hope I can make it to #SeaOtter this year with support from #Trek #SessionDH #SDGComponents!”
The worst posts are from the hospitals, where the kid is swallowed by an adult-sized ICU bed and has both arms immobilized but is still supposedly posting with wild enthusiasm about #SeaOtter and #PNWComponents. All of these parents chasing the shadow of Jackson Goldstone, dreaming of the day they will stand just outside the spotlight as their son performs a quadruple backflip over a flaming schoolbus. They have the money and the time to make it happen. They have the work-from-anywhere dream jobs, they have the $125,000 Sprinter-based custom van, they have the home in Squamish and the cabin next to Windrock in Tennessee. The only thing stopping them from being the parents of a superstar is their own recalcitrant, sullen, overtrained and perpetually stress-fractured guinea pig of a 12-year-old.
Having never ridden at anything like the levels exceeded by their sons, these dads can’t see the difference between the easy sections and the difficult ones. They can’t identify a bad lip on a jump or understand why the trail becomes scarier when the sun bakes a fine crust of flesh-colored silt on top of the shit-brown forest dirt. Most of the high-speed, high-stakes riding requires a sort of unconscious reptile-brain talent for balance and subtle core movements; you either have it or you don’t, but there is also the chance that you won’t have enough of it. Not knowing how to develop that, or reluctant to believe that such a thing could exist, the dads attempt to redress the deficit through extra work, more days on the bike, more lift runs, more cross-training, more nutrient pastes, more square footage in the RV.
One in a thousand or so of these kids will become authentic superstars and build Aaron Gwin’s house:
The rest will run screaming from a bicycle the minute it is in their own power to do so. What will my son do, when he is no longer under my thumb? It’s a topic that has occupied a lot of my processing time lately.
About six months ago, I came to a decision: that when John turned twelve, I would remove him from my social media. While I enjoy sharing his talent and accomplishments with my friends, they are his to share, not mine. At the same time, I think twelve is too young for any child to participate in social media himself. (How old is old enough to do social media without screwing up your life? Judging from my own experience… I can only assume it’s older than 49.) Part of this decision came from thinking about how my parents viewed me when I was twelve. I hated the idea that they were sharing pictures of me with people, or telling stories about me.
It’s nothing but ego to think that I’m somehow more in touch with my son at the age of forty-nine than, say, my father was with me when I was twelve and he was thirty-nine. So this is the only right decision to make. I sat down with John to explain it to him. He replied that he didn’t really care, and that there were some videos or photos he wanted people to see. I told him that he was always free to review video and suggest distribution to his taste, but that our default mode would be radio silence.
Having done that, I then asked myself what else I was doing to oppress the poor kid. The obvious things — being old and ugly — are hard to address. Much easier, however, to not write as much about him. Not that easy, actually. I enjoy writing on parenting-related topics, for a few reasons. The first is that being a parent is my happiest task, better than winning races or buying weird stuff or engaging in late-Roman levels of personal debauchery, so I like sharing that with people.
The second is that I desperately want to be a still, small, voice of dissent in a world that demeans and diminishes being a “breeder”. I listened to that conventional wisdom for all of my twenties and most of my thirties. It cost me more than I can possibly express; I’m parent to one son instead of five because I wasn’t perceptive enough to see that I was being sold a bill of goods on that topic. Yes, I could have more children now — but if I struggle to keep up with my son on a bike today, how would I be with future sons, at the age of sixty or sixty-five?
By now, however, I think my readers, who are generally perceptive people, have picked up what I’m putting down on this topic. If you haven’t, I’ll bold it for you one more time:
Nothing is as rewarding as being a father. No bank balance, no watches, no cars, no travel, no food trucks, no threesomes, no THC or DMT, no trophies, no headlines. If God gives you the chance to do it, you should take that chance. If you think you’ve identified something that might be better than being a dad, drop me a line, and I’ll confirm or deny after speaking to the appropriate authorities. Thanks for reading.
With this goal accomplished, I think I’ll stop writing about parenting until my son is old to read what I’ve already written, offer his opinion, and guide me on what to write from that point forward. I’ve enjoyed writing our story up to now; it’s up to him to write the rest.
So with that in mind, happy twelfth birthday to my only son, the Ghost Rider*, the young man who handles a bike or a bass guitar or an èpèe or a 206cc kart like there could never be anything difficult about it, the quick wit who can drive adults to self-harm in Call Of Duty, the empathetic soul who spent years working with disabled children in his elementary school, my favorite person in the world and the only reason I bother to continue shuffling along this mortal coil. Everything I have is yours. Some of it you’ll want to sell pretty much immediately. The rest you can throw away.
We’ll see you next week on Riverside Green, where we will continue to cover a broad variety of non-parenting topics!
* “Ghost Rider” is not one of those faux nicknames like you see on every quarter-midget trailer (BRAYDEN “THE SPINERIPPING REAPER OF DEATH” JONES, age 5) but rather comes from a protest made against him at a BMX national, where he skipped the first heat and still transferred out to the main event. John would prefer to be known colloquially as Brotjäger, German for “bread hunter”, as in “let’s get this bread”.
For Hagerty, I wrote about my unassuming little Honda motorcycle.