“Before I got married I had six theories about raising children; now, I have six children and no theories.”

—John Wilmot

No matter how fast I go, I will never go as fast as I thought I was. That sentence, though grammatically disastrous, will be recognized as true by the daddies (and yes, mommies, but this is a Father’s Day column) among us.

I used to scoff at them, you know. The dads with photos of their newborns or toddlers taped above their gauges, maybe with some kind of syrupy-sweet cliché, like, “stay safe for your babies!” written on it. They were fast and smooth on the racetrack and the backroads, but they always held a little in reserve, as if winning a plastic trophy or ordering first at the Sunday-morning breakfast joint wasn’t the most important thing in the world.

Later, those guys would have their sons or daughters with them, and it would (usually) slow them down enough so I could pass them, even as middle age added good decision-making to my bag of riding tools. But it never made much sense – why hamper your riding experience with a kicking, whining kid on the back? That’s what babysitters are for.

Duke’s Den – Father’s Day

And then my son emerged into the world. I spent the next few months in a baby-scented haze, and at some point I think I may have ridden my motorcycle, but I’m not sure. After a while, things started to settle down and I partly got used to having a kid – I’ll probably never fully adjust – and settled into a routine. Then one day, the Wife told me I could go on my regular Sunday ride, so I went.

Author’s son, contemplating how many Lego kits the author could have bought instead of a second SV650.

Author’s son, contemplating how many Lego kits the author could have bought instead of a second SV650.

Everybody passed me. And you know what? I couldn’t have cared less. The thought of being hospitalized – or worse – and leaving my wife to take care of the baby was horrifying. I imagined stumping after a toddler with my leg in a cast, or being the object of pity at Trader Joe’s trying to drag a tantrum-ing 3-year-old away from the candy aisle while my motorized wheelchair knocks over the banana display.

Even as he gets older and (kind of) listens to what I say, I have no desire to be called by the preschool while I’m taped down to a backboard at Marin General. “Hello? Yes, this is Isaac’s dad. No, I won’t be able to pick him up. In fact, I can’t pick anything up. What’s that? The late pick-up fee is $5 a minute? I’ll be right there. Can we land a life-flight helicopter on your roof?”

And man, oh man, as much as I want to live out the fantasy of riding with my own flesh and blood, the thought of him injured in a motorcycle crash is also too horrible to contemplate, especially if it was my fault (because it’s pretty much always my fault). Does that ever go away? I can’t imagine ever feeling good about him getting on a motorcycle, which of course makes me a hypocrite. With my luck MO will last another 20 years and he’ll read this and use it as ammo to justify buying a motorcycle.

Last week on the ride, riding buddy Frenchy was there with his 6-year-old riding behind him on his Multistrada, and he was riding almost as fast as he does solo. I think his son makes him go faster when he senses him slowing down. At breakfast, I heard some bad news – one of my other friends had lost his 37-year-old son a few days before, a victim of a troubled life. The rest of the ride was bittersweet, because losing your child must be, hands down, the most awful, terrible thing. It’s unimaginable and unmentionable and it pains me to type this paragraph or to even come up with a good concluding sentence.

Evidence of an awesome moto-daddy: Elena Myers with her first-place Supersport trophy, c.2010. Elena’s dad, Matt, carefully nurtured his little girl’s talent at his go-kart track in Stockton.

Evidence of an awesome moto-daddy: Elena Myers with her first-place Supersport trophy, c.2010. Elena’s dad, Matt, carefully nurtured his little girl’s talent at his go-kart track in Stockton.

As we neared the last leg of our regular 100-mile route, I was riding behind Frenchy and noted his son’s limp form securely fastened to him in his buddy harness. Frenchy saw me looking at him and mimed “sleep” with his hands and helmet, and then lightly touched the little guy’s leg. My helmet’s Bluetooth speakers chose that moment to start playing Bruno Mars’ “Count on Me” and of course I started sobbing.

Here’s a thing I don’t understand: fathers that rarely show affection towards or touch their kids. I can’t touch my son enough. I sometimes wonder if people think I’m weird, but I just can’t help myself. I’d schmear him on a toasted bagel and eat him up if I could. For all his failings as a father, my dad didn’t skimp on the touchy-feely, either. How could you?

So maybe that makes it worth it. Riding two-up with your son or daughter is a way to have him or her close, to feel their small, trusting hands and lively, compact frames. Isaac’s childhood hasn’t gone by fast – ’tween you and me, it’s kind of dragged – but I know it won’t last forever. One day he’ll be gone, or I’ll be gone, and all that will be left are memories. I don’t know about you, but my best ones have motorcycles in them. Happy Father’s Day.


Gabe Ets-Hokin is an influential American painter and a major figure in the abstract expressionist movement. He is well known for his unique style of drip painting.

  • JMDonald

    I was not lucky enough to have children but some of my friends that do often remind me how lucky my wife and I are that we don’t. They see their kids as a burden. It is a good thing when children are recognized as the gifts that they are. Glad to know you see it that way.

    • http://www.motou.info Gabe Ets-Hokin

      You caught me on a good day…

  • Old MOron

    Good on you, Gabe. Just don’t let Isaac come under the influence of Uncle Sean. He’ll be fine.

  • Larry Kahn

    I ride slower because I have four mean little dogs that no one else would be able to keep.

  • John B.

    It sounds like you have the most important parts of parenting figured out. Fortunately, fatherhood is one endeavor where “your best” is in most cases more than adequate. Of course, a little luck never hurts. Happy Father’s Day.

    • http://www.motou.info Gabe Ets-Hokin

      To quote Woody Allen, 90% of success is just showing up.

      • John B.

        What a coincidence!! Woody and Soon-Yi’s wedding anniversary falls on Father’s Day this year!!! Woody also said, “The heart wants what the Heart wants.”

        • http://www.motou.info Gabe Ets-Hokin

          Yuck!

  • Trevor

    I’m a new father of the world’s cutest, giggly, rambunctious 7-m.o. son, and have a daily 125 mi. r/t motorcycle commute. My new mantra, when I find myself getting impatient, or zoning out is “Ride like a dad.” That always works to tame the throttle-hand(maybe not always to legal limits, but at least reins in the squidly excesses), re-focus any lagging attention, and shut down potential road-rage at the idiot cell-phone zombies veering too and fro.

    It’s not about being first, or right, it’s about getting home in one piece to kiss my wife and son.

  • Gee Bee

    darn it… got something in my eye… kinda watering right now. brb: let me get a tissue.

  • Gruf Rude

    Children cut WAY back on my motorcycling, partly due to the big bump up in responsibility and partly due to the logistics. Hauling toddlers to daycare, school, etc., etc. is much easier done with the van than the cafe’ racer . . .

    • c w

      That’s what (insert whichever spouse doesn’t ride) is for.

      • Gruf Rude

        And if the spouse rides and both of you work full-time, the priorities shift to raising the kids. Now that they are both college-educated professionals, it was much easier to find time for that solo ride to Alaska.

  • Vijay Ranganathan

    Well written Gabe, recently starting to ride with my 6 year old (though very short distances), this is something that I certainly relate to, .

    I liked this line …
    “Riding two-up with your son or daughter is a way to have him or her close, to feel their small, trusting hands and lively, compact frames.”