There’s a unicycle hanging in our garage. I know that because I bump my head on it two or three times every summer. It’s never been ridden. And that’s okay.
We bought it for Randy’s ninth birthday for about 75 bucks. He gave it a try, spending a total of maybe six or eight hours goofing with it. His brothers and sister also experimented with the one-wheeled contraption. Isaac probably stayed up the longest – eight or ten seconds. None of them ever really got the hang of it and the unicycle now hangs in my garage as a memorial to one of the great secrets of how to be a good dad.
I am absolutely sure that at least one of my kids had the physical agility and mental acuity to become an expert unicyclist. But each of them, whether they knew it or not, did a cost-benefit analysis of...
- the time it would take
- the amount of frustration they might endure
- dad’s expectations
- the reality that it might not even be possible
- and the immediate and long-term usefulness of having that particular skill
Does that mean I failed as a father? Of course not. Actually, that dusty unicycle proves that I was fulfilling one of the great responsibilities of being a dad. A privilege we have that no one else can do better.
Dads open doors. We place new opportunities in front of our kids, do a little song-and-dance sell job, and then get out of the way. We can instruct them, but we can’t do it for them. We can sign them up and even insist they give it a try, but we can’t flip that little switch in their brain that says, “I have found my life’s passion.” We can spark a vision, but we shouldn’t try to live vicariously through them.
You know what I’m talking about. You wrestled in high school, so you install a regulation wrestling mat in your basement hoping your son becomes a state champ. You buy a baby grand piano confident your daughter is going to wow a Carnegie Hall audience. A child shows a hint of artistic talent, so you run out and buy paint and an art easel envisioning a gallery of masterpieces.
Even if none of those things come close to happening, don’t you dare call it a fail. As a matter of fact, it may be just the opposite. The wrestling mat, piano, and art easel may actually be a conduit for some unexpected activity that does bring a new vision to your child’s life. Somersaulting on her brother’s wrestling mat may lead your daughter to a career as a world-class gymnast. The kid who lives down the street may drop by and noodle on that piano, motivating your kid to write lyrics to songs that end up on Broadway. The primary use for the art easel may turn out to be holding a giant sketchpad for Pictionary. As emcee for those party games, your son finds his niche as a motivational speaker or game show host.
Only God knows how all of life’s pieces fit together. As fathers, we’re called to keep opening doors of opportunity for our children. Some will slam shut. Many will remain open for years and then gently swing closed. Still others will open wide to real-life laboratories, classrooms, boardrooms, gymnasiums, galleries, and auditoriums.
So no regrets. Without hesitation, my recommendation to any dad of a nine-year-old is “Buy a unicycle.” The very worst that happens is they are forced to make a choice. Not a failure. Just a choice.
And who knows? Your son or daughter might just master the one-wheeled beast, run away, and join the circus.
All we can do is open doors for our kids. They are going to choose to walk through them or not. And that’s okay.