“If I’m right, smile.” That was my father’s catch phrase. No one could resist it; he said it to me, to my siblings, my daughter, waitresses, and anyone else he liked or wanted to win over. It was his way to disarm people and get them to smile, even when they may not have agreed with him. As someone once said, a smile is the shortest distance between two people.
Mr. Bud, a name my teammates in college assigned to him and which he kept until he passed away, didn’t live long enough to see me start riding, although I know what he’d have said: “too dangerous, lot of nuts on the roads.” He was a “call me and let it ring once when you get home” sort of guy.
My father was my biggest fan in my competitive athletic days, and while he most likely wouldn’t have approved of my taking up riding, I know he would have loved tinkering with the bike. He was a mechanic with the same company from the time he left the Navy until he passed away. We’d have shared a beer or coffee while we checked valve clearances, changed chains, plugs, oil, and brake fluid. We’d have polished and tuned and maybe I would have been able to convince him to ride with my brother and me. His death passed the torch of responsibility for my mechanical (in)competence to my brother Dave, who is constantly amused by my “guess what I did” stories.
So often when I ride, small pieces of Mr. Bud come back to me. I find him out there on the road. Sometimes he’s the voice in my ear when I’m anticipating a driver doing something without warning; sometimes it’s just a memory of his late night trips to get my ’65 Fairlane started; and sometimes it’s just to try and find him in the best place I know where to look.
Sons ache for the fathers they’ve lost; I certainly do. It’s like the phantom pain of a lost limb I’ve often read about. The pain of something no longer there is hard to make peace with, and I almost hope I never do, because I like riding out to be with my father. I ride partly to deal with the loss and to spend a few hours remembering. If there’s a ride I’ve been on when I didn’t think of Mr. Bud in one way or another, I certainly can’t remember it. Riding is like that. You find what you need out there on the road, even if you’re not sure what that is when you set out. If I’m right, smile . . . see, works every time.