I can’t believe it’s been almost 10 years since I released my book, How Fathers Change Lives.
One of my favorite stories that came from the book was contributed by my nephew, Jason. In his own words…
* * *
It was 1981. We were having another bleak and freezing winter in Cincinnati, but Christmas was just a week away, so naturally I was feeling the “warmth” of the season.
At the top of my Christmas list was a jet black Huffy “Panther” BMX bicycle. I still remember the first time I saw it at Kmart with my mom. The chrome spokes sparkled. It had beefy riding pegs on the back wheel, trick handlebars, and “panther claw” grips. My heart pounded at the thought of riding this powerful steed.
But there was a parallel emotion… fear. The bike didn’t have training wheels, which still felt like a scary proposition to me at just five years old. My friend, Gatsby, tried riding without them. He took a nasty spill, scraping both knees and bloodying his elbows. Needless to say, I was terrified of the same happening to me.
So I decided it was too risky; not the bike for me. I remember telling my mom to erase it from my list. I asked for Legos instead.
Uncle Greg flew back from Phoenix to spend Christmas with us that year. At dinner a few nights before Christmas he said, “So, Jason, I hear you want Legos instead of the Panther?”
I replied, “Oh, I already have a bike, I just want more Legos.” Uncle Greg raised an eyebrow, smiled, and said, “Well, I hope Santa comes through with that.”
Christmas morning came. The truth? I was bummed. What a coward I was! Gatsby would be zipping around on his two wheeler. I’d still be creeping along with the toddlers on training wheels.
It was time for presents. When I unwrapped the Legos, I distinctly remember a palpable feeling, even at that young age. I think it was probably the first time I felt guilt, remorse, and anger for letting the fear get the best of me.
I trudged upstairs to my room. I knew Gatsby would be calling soon to ride bikes together. I couldn’t bear the thought. I buried my head in my pillow and started to cry.
Then I heard Greg yell from below, “Jason, come down here, I need help in the barn.” I slowly walked down the steps. About halfway down, I instinctively stopped, looked up, and there it was. The gloss black paint was gleaming in the light of the fireplace.
I looked around the room and saw big, beaming smiles everywhere. Uncle Greg’s was the biggest. He was giddy. And then came the breakdown.
“No!” I screamed, “I’ll crash and rip off my skin and be covered with blood!”
I raced up the stairs and slammed the door to my room. I laid down and sobbed so hard my ribs hurt.
I heard a knock at the door. It was Uncle Greg. “Can I come in?” he asked.
“I don’t care,” I sniffed.
He sat down next to me on the bed and said, “Jason, it’s time to tell you a family secret. We have something called special skin. Didn’t your mom tell you about it?”
“No,” I replied.
“It’s true,” Uncle Greg said. “When we crash it only hurts half as bad and heals twice as fast. That’s why you shouldn’t be afraid to get out there and ride your new bike. You will probably fall, but you have special skin, so it won’t hurt that bad and you’ll get right back up again.”
Soon Uncle Greg was watching me do figure eights on that Panther.
Did I fall? Yes. But it only hurt half as bad. I had special skin.
* * *
Over the years I’ve come to realize that courage is learned… and all of us should believe that we have special skin.