With as much excitement coursing through my veins as there was fear, it was really just the happiness of knowing that I would finally free myself of the training wheels.
"Don't let go!" I shouted to my Dad, as he held on to the back of my Schwinn Stingray, running with me as I pedaled nervously.
"OK, I gotcha!" he said.
Maybe it was the tall handle bars with the streamers hanging out of the grips, or maybe it was the banana seat with the sparkling flakes, or maybe it was because all the other kids were riding Stingrays, I just felt a sense that I had graduated from a little boy to a big boy, with my dad behind me helping me along.
Pedaling faster the more comfortable I became, the neighborhood seemed bigger. It was like discovering new streets. I turned down a different street, and then turned down another, riding past houses I had only been able to do from the backseat seat of our family car.
I made another turn, and another, exploring new areas.
There was no end to where I could go, the feeling of freedom and a boy filled with adventure.
"Are you still there?" I shouted to my dad.
He didn't answer.
I turned my head around, and he was gone. He had let go somewhere along the way. I couldn't even see him. I figured I had pedaled so fast, he couldn't keep up. But the truth is that I was doing fine on my own, and I only needed him to hold on for a short bit.
Even though I was just six years old, I somehow felt confident I could ride back home by myself. There was still some nervousness, But I still knew I could do it.
And when I got back home, I found him putting the training wheels away.
The Navy has a way of separating little boys from their fathers. The words, "War is Hell", has more than just one meaning.
Just a year later, my father and mother divorced, and I saw less and less of him. He wanted to start a new life, and a few years later, married a new wife who gave him a new son. And despite me pulling on his arm to stay, he had to let go.
It was just a year ago my wife and I filed for divorce. While moving out of the house, I dusted off some of the old books my father bought me when I was 3 or 4 years old. I found old photos of him and me with my toys. I found a tennis trophy he won, and a plaque thanking him for his service in Vietnam.
In my adult years, I had tried to reestablish that father-son relationship I knew from my childhood, but as it turned out, I wasn't a child anymore.
Life was never meant to be fair. Those who complain will never move on, and those who never move on will always be left behind. That's the lesson I learned.
But he was there in my life just long enough to leave a mark on me.
I was able to build a successful career for myself. I was able to start my own business and travel the country on my motorcycle. He was able to fill me with the spirit of adventure, a feeling of freedom, and a sense of wonder. He filled me with his spirit, the same essence that had made him want to join the Navy, to discover new worlds and experience new things.
But I realize now that my father's death is the start of a new relationship with him. He's no more farther away than my voice or my thoughts. I believe he understands me clearly now, and knows that I never really said goodbye. I now have a direct, unfiltered line of communication to him.
I never did learn of what he did with those training wheels. Maybe, they never really existed.
As it turned out, he only needed to hold on to me for a short distance.