Weekly Roundup: The Secretive Parent Edition

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.

33 Replies to “Weekly Roundup: The Secretive Parent Edition”

  1. AvatarChris FOM

    We have six, ranging from [almost] 11 to 6 months. Sometime around the birth of our second my wife and I decided that one of the most important gifts we could give our kids was no social media presence. And we’ve pretty well stuck to that. There are pictures at births, and earlier some funny quotes, although for a long time even those have been gone. Otherwise we let grandparents post pictures but we post nothing. No pictures, no quotes, nada. The older our kids gets and seeing what other people post the more we realize our decision was far better than we ever knew when we made it.

    Reply
  2. AvatarNightrider

    Happy Birthday to John!

    ” Step right up, chum, and watch the Kid lay down the rubber road, ride to Freedom!! “

    Reply
  3. AvatarLynnG

    Jack, well put, to many parents live through their children, you live for your child. I may be wrong but I do not think I am, when I say, years from now John may not remember the $7,000 mountain bike you had made for him, but he will remember when he missed a jump and wrapped said bike around a tree and his father with his two metal pinned together legs carried him back up the hill. Best, and Happy Birthday to John…..

    Reply
    • AvatarIce Age

      My mom and dad encouraged me to pursue my interests and hobbies, but never told me that I HAD to do any of them. If I took a break from any of my interests, they didn’t get on me about it.

      In taking a hands-off approach, they gave me a gift of incalculable value – the ability to still enjoy the things I’m interested in.

      These days, when I draw, or write, or go for a drive, or build a model, I can do so completely free of any poison that exists for other people whose parents forced them to pursue their interests competitively when they were 12, and who in doing so destroyed the natural desire to pursue these things that would’ve otherwise manifested in the child.

      Reply
      • AvatarJohn Marks

        I heard one parent talking about a kindergarten-through-elementary school that “prides itself on its academic rigor.” ___For KINDERGARTEN.

        Said parent stated, “That school sucks the joy out of childhood.”

        ciao,

        john

        Reply
  4. AvatarNoID

    Not to be pessimistic, but your experience with five children would likely be worlds different than your experience with one, and not all of them better. I started at 18 and now have 4 children, the oldest 13, and I struggle to pour into them at the level they deserve. I’ve not seen anyone with more than two children live the kind of life you do with your son, so don’t be too fast pining glances over the fence at those bigger lawns.

    Of course I had (self-imposed, consciously chosen) challenges having kids so young, and I’m trying to do better now that so much time has slipped away, but there are years I can never get back because we were in survival mode for so long.

    We also took a detour into foster care, which was…an experience to say the least, one I wouldn’t necessarily trade because it opened our eyes to the reality of broken families and the doubly broken social care system in our state, but again it was a huge emotional and temporal black hole that required so much energy to be spent on kids who were not ours.

    Reply
    • AvatarRonnie Schreiber

      I have friends and colleagues, evangelical Christians and orthodox Jews, who have large families. One of my supervisors at DuPont had 10 kids (the only guy I knew who owned a 15 passenger van and wasn’t an orthodox Jew). My friend Eli and his wife have 12 kids. My rabbi and his wife have 10. No, they aren’t encouraging their kids to participate in competitive sports, they are more concerned with raising children with their family’s religious values, and in that they generally succeed.

      It’s a question of priorities. On my son’s 10th wedding anniversary, he and my daughter in law (who is expecting their 4th child) took a short two day trip to the Florida keys (where he rented a Mustang convertible). Parochial school tuition is more important to them than fancy trips overseas..

      Reply
      • AvatarDisinterested-Observer

        It is literally the best thing in the world. When they play [sport] that they happen to be very good at I live and die. They say and do funny things. They are incredibly brave. I think nothing of asking them to do something that in retrospect is wildly inappropriate for their age. Afterwards I’ll be like “damn, shouldn’t have asked them to start that fire/shoot that coyote/drive that motorcycle”* but they just get it done.

        Like Jack I came to it late and probably my biggest regret in life is that I did not do it sooner/have more but unfortunately that ship has sailed. But who’s to say if I would have been able to handle it anyway? I’m kind of a dumbass.

        Anyone who is reading this, you’re probably as qualified as anyone so have a bunch of kids. They’re great. Sleep is overrated compared to having a little boy or girl who is awesome at something. Literally anything. They could get in to cross-stiching or basket weaving and you would be jazzed about what they can show you.

        *some of these examples may be exaggerated for effect.

        Reply
  5. AvatarGene

    For what it’s worth, I skipped fatherhood and went straight to being a grandfather. My wife had kids young with her first husband, I was convinced I wasn’t worthy of being the kind of parent mine were…then the grandkids came in a giant wave. I have 10, at age 42 (he said, inviting all the judgment and scorn an admission like that may bring).

    When the first one was announced, I was not prepared. “I can’t be grandpa. No way. Not ever.” And yet, aside from purchasing a Driveshaft Through The Skull t-shirt, it has been the great joy of my life. Forming bonds with them, the weight and honor of their love and trust, and the privilege of being the favorite in a few cases has brought me a meaning and purpose I could never have fathomed.

    Reply
  6. AvatarCarl Haynie

    Jack you are one of my favorite writers, entertaining, honest and brutal to a fault. Happy Birthday to John, a very lucky boy indeed. My last child turned 12 when I was 58 but at that point I was happy to enjoy his athleticism and joie de vivre without any competition from me.

    Kudos to your recognition of the joys of fatherhood, there is nothing nearly as rewarding.

    I respect your decision on Johns privacy, but I will miss the updates and your joy in his joy. His decision to resume social media on his own may be sooner than you think.

    All the best.

    Reply
  7. AvatarIce Age

    If one could somehow gather all of history’s Great Men together – all the emperors, warlords, conquerors, kings, generals, CEOs, high priests and self-made billionaires – and ask them what drove them to achieve, how many of them would say some variant of, “I did it to impress my father, the biggest son-of-a-bitch in the world.”

    Is that the pivotal prerequisite for success? A terrible relationship with one’s father?

    Reply
    • AvatarThird Owner

      That is perceptive, and I agree. In most cases there was a reason for the inner drive. One such case is the great boxers: most had a childhood with an outsized element of violence, which was mostly directed at them – Jack Dempsey, Mike Tyson, the list is endless.

      I have an opposite case on my hands: I’ve lived FOR my son since the day he was born. Not spoiling, but being supportive in everything, and not forcing to engage in any activities he did not want to. The result: a close father-son relationship, but also a complete lack of ambition.

      Jack: you may not realize that you have the luck of your son being an eager participant in the activities you also prefer. Consider the opposite a particular kind of hell. This latter makes a special case for having multiple children.

      Happy Birthday to John, and congratulations to you as well.

      Reply
      • Avatarhank chinaski

        “I did it to impress my father, the biggest son-of-a-bitch in the world.”
        “The result: a close father-son relationship, but also a complete lack of ambition.”
        This is a tough needle to thread, harder even than the helicopter/free-range balance and likely cyclical over generations.

        “Nothing is as rewarding as being a father.”
        I expressed this sentiment to my younger, a mid-teen as of this week, who suffered through a weeklong family road trip marking the occasion (steaks were large and clays were blasted). I fear that the ever growing grrrlllpowrrr movement may be an impediment. Pity.

        Happy Birthday to John. I’m sure your readers will miss these pieces, as will I.

        Reply
  8. AvatarJohn C.

    I wonder if the fathers that Jack described, and told us that he is careful not to be one, that stage manage one aspect of their son’s life, do it because they are absent in the day to day. Thus the occasional weekend become as carefully planned out as an expensive vacation. This is in the hope that the father’s limited presence is more memorable. Whether it is or not is probably dependent on how well the mother and her boyfriend or new husband are doing with the much more important drudgery of meals, homework, and stressors of the day to day. If the day to day goes badly, the mini vacations will probably just make the boy resent the mother and actually make everyone’s life worse.

    Happy Birthday to John B. from John C.!

    Reply
  9. Avatar-Nate

    Happy 12th birthday to John .

    You’re parental musings have been very good and sharing them IMO was a fine thing to do as so any have no real idea of what to do with children .

    So says the man who never wrote a word about upraising children .

    Carry on then .

    -Nate

    Reply
  10. AvatarComfortablyNumb

    Happy birthday, kid!

    I enjoy the musings on parenthood, so I’d prefer you keep them coming, even if you don’t mention John by name. It’s impossible to distill the parent from your worldview anyway. At first I was dismayed at the pansy I became when I had kids. Now I just realize that it was a shift in priorities and general self-awareness. I’m infinitely better for it.

    Reply
    • AvatarBenjohnson

      Isn’t that the truth! For me – having kids kicked my ass and forced me to become the man I should have been.

      Knowing what I know now, there’s a certain lament I have for some of my friends that are childless in that I knew they could have been a great father to an adoring child. They’re going though this life missing out on one of it’s greatest challenges and greatest rewards.

      Reply
  11. AvatarRonnie Schreiber

    Nothing is as rewarding as being a father.

    Or as challenging.

    By the way, being a grandfather is pretty cool too.

    Reply
  12. AvatarMike

    Great article. I’ll be sharing it with the wife.

    We have 2, the oldest of whom will be turning 7 in a couple months. I’m not far behind Jack’s age, either, though I’m still closer to 40 than 50. We’ve tried to let the kids steer their own course, as much as appropriate for their ages. My daughter decided this winter, herself, that she wanted to “race bicycles”, so as soon as the nearest BMW track to us opens (they’re doing some resurfacing; there’s another track not too much further away but their outdoor masking policy is absurd, so we won’t be going there. It’s also too close to the stupidity zone of D.C.) we promised to take her for a practice day. I plan to let her take the lead- if she likes it, we’ll go back. If not, no harm done.

    Reply
  13. AvatarOne Leg at a Time

    Two of your best pieces. I hate to lose your thoughts on parenthood; but I appreciate the reasoning behind the decision.

    if you read Christopher Robin Milne’s books, it does appear that he came to terms with his father and his fame. I was glad for the happy(ish) ending.

    As for the Stephen Crane lines – I totally would have jumped out of the car and introduced myself – but since I am neither gorgeous, nor a woman, the effect would probably have been a bit underwhelming.

    and hey! a shout out to Southern Indiana! (Yes? I don’t think there is another Newburgh Powersports…)

    Reply
  14. AvatarSobro

    Happy birthday to Baruth the Younger. His talents are evident and I look forward to hearing about his exploits once he decides to go TikTok.

    Reply
  15. AvatarBbros

    I’ve really valued parenting so far, even just 7 months in. I broke my ribs skateboarding at the skatepark in front of him about 3 months in. I’ll be wearing a helmet from now on.

    Ever race at Bumps n Berms in PA? I had to drop out as an 11 inter in my first season when I couldn’t get a ride to the races on Sundays anymore. At that point I was clearing the doubles. Ended up being an ok 400m runner in college, but I wonder if that power would have been put to better use on a BMX track.

    Your son must be proud of that top shot! It’s pretty cool how popular MTB and pump tracks have become lately. I see some broken collar bones in my future for my son’s sake.

    This is my cousin’s back yard, and I won’t be surprised if his daughters are able to complete that line by high school: https://dropincoffee.com/blogs/news/west-fork-stoke

    Reply
  16. Avatartrollson

    I really wanted to know more about the Christopher Robin back story, but I was unable to read through more than a third of the linked article. Don’t miss these other children’s books everyone should read in their lifetime.

    Reply
  17. Avatargtem

    Happy Birthday to John!

    Your parenting topics are some of my favorites to read, as a young father to a (almost) two year old boy it is particularly relevant and interesting stuff. We’re hoping to have #2 in the works here very shortly, God willing.

    Reply
  18. Avatargtem

    Your CB1100 review is very timely, as you saw I just acquired a pair of UJMs of my own.

    All of this snowballed from initially getting my old XS500 finally plated and back on the road (legally) this spring. Then I sent over a listing to a 5k mile ’79 XS750F in Illinois to my brother, next thing I know I’m picking the thing up and holding it for him in my garage. Why should he have all the fun? Two weeks later I’ve located a pair of “running when parked” old Suzuki GSes: a ’81 GS1100E and a ’79 GS750E. So I find myself hauling them home along with a bunch of nice parts (two sets of 4-1 pipes, and a spare engine for my 500 Yamaha that the seller threw in). Just went through the carbs on the 1100, almost ready to bolt them on. From there it’s bleeding the brakes and putting some fresh rubber on and a new battery and I should be good to go. The 750 needs a few more odds and ends, going to save that as a project for over the winter.

    I owned a super clean ’78 GS1000C (base model with spoke wheels and single disk) back in college, bought for a steal at $950 with intentions of another cost-to-coast and back trip like I did on my 500 in 2008, but that never materialized. I did a few overnight camping tours to the Adirondacks and PA on it then ended up selling it. Regretted it ever since.

    I’ve owned newer/faster machinery: a ’99 Bandit 1200S for a few years after moving to Indiana, in college briefly a ’01 Bonneville with 1500 miles that I got for a mere $1500 (sold for $4500, that thing bored me to tears). The Bonneville felt rather compromised: way too smooth and quiet for a twin, just felt kind of contrived. I think the Kawasaki W650 is a retro twin done better, but I’ve never ridden one.

    But man there’s just something about the classic UJM aesthetic and ergonomics, not to mention how easy they are to work on. Wide plush seats, upright seating, good looks, and in the case of the later big bores (like my 1000 and especially this 16 valve 1100), quite modern levels of performance. That ’81 1100E knocked down an 11.1 quarter when new, and that’s before you start fiddling with it.

    Different kind of riding now that I have a son, mostly just easy little 20 minute spins up in farm country, away from anything resembling traffic. I will say I’m planning a nice longer ride with my brother from his place in rural Central PA up to my parents in the NY Finger Lakes. Again, nice back roads, but bad drivers can be anywhere.

    If you can’t already tell I’m pretty excited to dip my feet back into motorcycling after a bit of a hiatus.

    Reply
  19. AvatarScout_Number_4

    A very happy birthday to John. Like many others, I will miss reading about his exploits but completely understand why he won’t be in these pages anymore.

    All the best to father and son.

    Reply
  20. AvatarAoLetsGo

    Happy Birthday to your son and nice job so far on being one of the “good” Dads.
    All the best for his next 12 years which will probably be a greater challenge than the first 12.
    But as they say “you got this!”
    My son passed his test this week and became a PE (professional engineer) it was a very happy moment for me to tell him how proud I was.

    Reply

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