A few months ago, I invited my Dad – Rodd – and his wife, Mary, to Chicago to watch me in my first Olympic-distance triathlon at Big Foot State Park in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Six days ago, they arrived.
The oldest of his three biological children, I have a unique relationship with my Dad. The differences are many, the similarities few – and volatile. I inherited my excruciatingly short-temper from him. And while we’re both fighters, we’re also pretty sensitive, so it doesn’t take much for either of us to get our feelings hurt in situations where feelings need not be damaged. We have a hard time letting go of hard feelings towards the people that have hurt us. We’ll both claim to have grown from the situation, but if the offender’s name comes up in conversation, we have no problem rehashing the many ways we were wronged as if it happened just the day before. And as of Thursday, June 23rd, the short-tempered, overly sensitive, grudge-holding father and daughter were cohabitating in a 2,200 square foot apartment.
Within less than 24-hours, I had burst into tears and walked out of my apartment, leaving a confused Dad, Mary, husband and two children behind me. The morning started out rough – Dad woke up feeling ‘claustrophobic’ and I – with only 3 hours of interrupted sleep under my belt – woke up cranky and stressed about the race that was three days away. Dad and Mary took the kids to Target for a little bit of well-deserved spoiling (guess who came back with a Wii?) and I headed downtown with a friend to pick up my race packet (he not only got to drive, but he also got 30-minutes worth of tears). Carlo had to put in his two hours of time teaching summer school in the ‘burbs. We all arrived home at roughly the same time, and all still fairly tense.
Checking in with Carlo in the bedroom, I learned that his mother had a stroke early that morning and had been transferred from her assisted living facility to the hospital. The severity of the stroke was unclear, but he was told that her left side had collapsed and she was unable to talk. While waiting for a call from his sister (who was going to get some time with the doctor), Carlo joined me downstairs to fix what I thought was a squeaky brake pad. Neither of us have any mechanical skills, but based on the sounds the bike was making, I decided a trip to the bike shop was in order. Within minutes, we advised the family that we were taking a quick trip north to have the bike looked at.
I’ve been taking my bike – a ‘vintage’ (that’s code for two-days-older-than-Christ-piece-of-crap) Panasonic DX-2000 – to this shop in Evanston for about 3 or 4 months, and they’ve managed to never burst out laughing each time I’d roll Lorelai (that’s my bike’s name) in. This time, one of the guys at the shop told me my back wheel needed to be ‘trued’ up and that it could be done by tomorrow. At the sound of the word ‘tomorrow,’ my teeth clenched and my signature deer-in-headlights look took over my face. I explained to the guy that I was headed for Wisconsin by no later than 1 pm tomorrow and that my bike – the only bike I owned – absolutely, positively HAD to be ready by that time. The look must have been convincing, because he told me he’d try to have it finished by the close of business that day.
We had a confusing conversation with him about spare tubes and whether or not the CO2 pump I bought would work with my tires. I left the shop more anxious than I had arrived and compounded the anxiety by talking about Carlo’s ‘exit strategy’ so that he could drive 300 miles south to see his mom and then drive 300 miles back so we could drive 90 miles north to get to our hotel near the race site. By 2 pm, it was clear that my well-made plan for that day had just taken it up the ass.
Returning home, my dad – innocently enough – asked how my bike was and I was barely able to speak. Within minutes, there was a misunderstanding, which, on any other day, would not have been that big of a deal. But on that day, at that time, after the aggressive fisting of my daily plan, I lost it. Tears welling in my eyes, I calmly stood up and announced that I needed to take a walk.
“Tracy,” my dad pleaded, “this isn’t anything to be upset about.”
Me: “I need to take a walk.”
Carlo (standing at the door): “Hon. I have to go to Champaign now.”
Me (tears pouring out of my face): “Yeah. That seems about right.”
And then I walked my ridiculous, crying ass to the lake and sat down for a fantastic cry.
Once I returned home, my dad followed me into my bedroom and suggested we talk. And we did. We had it out. What had been sitting on my chest had actually been sitting there for some time, so our conversation was concise and honest. It turned out, we were both on the same page, but until the tears and subsequent conversation, we didn’t know it. And saying the things that had been in my heart and in my brain for so long felt like an amazing burden had been lifted. The phone rang. It was the bike shop. My bike was ready for pick-up.
I started futzing around with things in the apartment. After all, it was almost 3:30 pm – I had 2.5 hours to pick up that bike. Time was on my side. Things with Dad were good. The sun was peaking thru the clouds.
10 minutes later, the phone rings. It’s the bike shop. Again. Oops. Mechanic #2 looked at my bike. And something is wrong.
I tried to explain to Dad what the mechanic explained to me, even though I honestly didn’t have a fucking clue what he was saying. As soon as the mechanic said, “it’s not as simple as we thought,” that hot, humming sound took over my brain as my shoulders reached up to hang tight to my earlobes.
“Well, Tracy,” Dad asked. “Is it off by 1/1000th? Or 1/2000th? What’s the degree? See… when I build a gun…”
I saw more words working their way out of my Dad’s mouth. Words that implied the bike dudes may have had their heads up their asses and that he’d get them to give us a solution to this problem. And the reminder that he makes guns.
“I’ll come with you,” said Dad.
Driving back to the bike shop – my second trip in less than 3 hours and this time, with a different man – I couldn’t help but wonder if my Dad was going to go Troutman on their asses. “Troutman,” you ask?
When I was 5 or 6 years old, my Dad … but you can call him Rodd … took me to the local amusement park and at my request, put me on the Kiddie Roller Coaster. Within the first lap, I was horrified, screaming for him to get me off that ride. He calmly walked up to the guy that was working the machine and said, “My daughter is afraid. Stop the ride and I’ll take her off.” The douchebag operating the machine looked my dad square in the eye and told him that he wouldn’t stop the ride (which involved pulling a lever and turning a key) until it had completed three more laps. Rodd promptly picked the guy up by his neck and told him he’d kill him if he didn’t stop the ride so I could get off the coaster.
I never made it to lap three. And I’m assuming, the guy lived.
Years later, Rodd took me and my bestie, Brenda, on an all-day fishing/swimming/picnicing extravaganza on the Susquehanna River. We were about 12- or 13-years old that day, in our swimsuits with our awkward 12- or 13-year old bodies and at the beginning of our launch into the river, we followed two guys in a rental boat that had nothing but some fishing rods and a cooler full of cans of Bud. We know they had a cooler of Bud because we spent most of our day picking their empties out of the river (Nothing pisses Rodd off like jackasses that don’t respect his space. And if you didn’t get the memo, the Susquehanna is Rodd’s space).
Later that day, as we were leaving our swimming hole and headed back home, the guys in the rental boat, now completely shit-faced, passed us while yelling, “We want to fuck your daughters.” Brenda and I looked at each other in shock, as Rodd stood up and yanked the power cord of the engine in his bass boat and we raced towards the drunks in the rental.
What I’m about to say will sound like an absolute lie, but if you know Rodd, you’ll know it to be true. And if you don’t know Rodd, I’m confident that if Brenda reads this blog, she can verify everything I say.
Within minutes, our boat was next to their boat. Touching it, in fact. Seconds after that, my dad cut the power to our engine, planted his right foot in their boat (while his left was still in ours) and grabbed the first guy and screamed “Who do you wanna fuck now? Who do you wanna fuck now?” while punching him in the face. And then he did the same to the other guy. No. Shit.
Their boat took off and all we were left with was my dad who returned to the seat at the back of the boat to start the engine and the really weird silhoutte of the family about 100 yards away who only witnessed us ‘ambushing’ the other boat. Scorcese couldn’t write this shit, friends. It. Was. Real.
So now, I’m in my car, driving to a bike shop with guys I trust – with Roller-Coaster-Boat-Beating-Rodd in the passenger seat. All I’m thinking about is, “what’s the next nearest bike shop for me to go to after Rodd kills this relationship?”
We get to the shop and the mechanic I met with originally explains the problem. I’m under the impression that while my upcoming 23.6 mile bike ride on Lorelai won’t be a joy, it can still happen. So I’m interested in getting the right tubes and making sure I have the right CO2 pump in case Lorelai gets a flat. As I’m at the back of the shop, I can hear Lorelai: my dad is moving her back and forth and her back wheel sounds like a seal that is being gutted with a dull, dull spoon. The sound is annoying and I’m 30 feet away, wondering why he won’t stop making that bike make those horrifying sounds.
I return to the front of the store and a different mechanic – Justice -- walks up to me, Dad and Lorelai.
“Is this your bike?” he asks.
“Yes,” I say sheepishly, knowing inside that something really awful is going to be said soon.
“This bike is not safe to ride.” he replies.
Every voice in my head … I think I’m up to… um? 47? Yeah… all 47 voices started screaming. Loudly. I overcame a husband that headed south to see his ailing mom, an argument with my dad, the bike tire/tube/CO2 dilemma and now…someone was telling me my bike was dead. I had nothing left. Until Rodd, moving the bike back and forth so Lorelai made that nails-on-chalkboard sound said, “You can’t ride this bike, Tracy. You can’t ride this.”
“You can’t race this. This bike can’t be ridden.”
I know I said some stuff, and tried to rationalize the situation with both, but that is all foggy now. I do remember feeling like my eyes were about to pop from my head, and I had seriously considered calling my coach to tell her that I was going to pull out of the race, but we moved to the south of the store and started looking at bikes, my dad leading me and Justice.
Foggy, foggy, foggy. Try this. Sit here. Swing your leg over. How much space is there? How does that feel? Words, words, words.
My dad bought me an entry-level road bike. With carbon something-something. And blah-ditty-blah-blah-blah. This bike is BEAUTIFUL. 2 lbs lighter than Lorelai and something I could wheel onto a tri-course and not hear the mockery. That hateful, shaming mockery.
I’m 39 years old, and my Dad bought me a bike. Something about it causes me shame (I’m 39. Why can’t I buy my own damn bike?) and extraordinary happiness (My dad can help me, even if I don’t ASK him, he can help me if I need it).
While in the store, I came up with 10 ideas of how to pay back my Dad. Carlo and I were knocking ourselves out the rest of the weekend, picking up the tab for the hotel Dad and Mary had the night before the race, and even including desperate attempts at paying their tolls on the highway getting to the race. I have a hard time asking for help (another thing I think I have in common with my Dad), so this puts me in a weird place. It also puts me in a motivating place … I need to work. Market myself. Get work. I’m fan-fucking-tastic at what I do.
The bike, is beautiful. A Cannondale CAAD 8. I’ve named her June. She isn’t a magic bike – I learned that while I was on a 23.6 mile bike ride on Sunday. I need to figure out her gearing and how to work myself so I can get the most out of her. But in the two years that I’ve been competing in triathlons, this is the first time I’m excited to get on my bike. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been closing the door on the possibility of a 70.3 (a Half-Ironman). Since Friday…since Rodd… since Justice…since June, the door to the 70.3 in 2012 is slowly opening. Just a crack.
I’m still in awe over the entire experience. From spazzing on my dad, to getting the bike, to racing my first Olympic-distance triathlon. I don’t know when all of this will make total sense. But I do know that at 39-years old, my Dad came through for me when I needed help. And if I continue racing for another 1 or 100 years, I’ll always think of my Dad every time I’m on that bike.
Cheers, Dad, to the next 1,000 miles!