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My Father

My father died in 1996 and it is not unusual that I would be thinking of him at this time as today was his birthday.

I am who I am today because of my father. Because of him I got into cycling and later racing, which led to framebuilding. Therefore, if not for my father I would never have built frames and would not be writing a bicycle blog.

For most of my early years he was gone. Called into the British army at the start of WWII, was gone for almost five years, and then came home briefly before going away again as part of the Normandy Invasion. I was nine years old when the war ended and he came home for good.

The only existing pictures of my father and me together are baby pictures like the one above. I can’t help thinking how proud he looks holding his infant son. Later our relationship would degenerate into mutual feelings that would vary somewhere between a strong dislike and deep hatred.

He was a cruel, sadistic man who one time stubbed a lighted cigarette on the back of my hand, just because he though it funny. He was an ex-amateur boxer, and wanted me to take up the sport.

At age, 11 he would have me jump rope for an hour at a time. We would put on boxing gloves and he would spar with me; invariably he would become angry when I didn’t do as he showed me, and would punch me real hard. I was knocked unconscious on several occasions.

My father never owned a car or learned to drive; a bicycle was his only transport to get to work each day. I will say one thing for my father he worked extremely hard; if he lost a job he would find another very quickly. He was a laborer with very few skills and worked a series of back-breaking, hard, menial jobs.

At times he worked long hours and made good money. He was generous with his money; incapable of showing love, I think he gave money away in lieu of affection. I was age 13 when he bought me my first brand new bike; it was a Hercules Roadster.

Not one piece of aluminum on this bike, even the mudguards were steel; it had a three-speed hub gear, and must have weighed 40lbs.

This bicycle became my escape from the torment at home. I had school friends who lived as far as 15 or 20 miles away and I would ride over to spend an evening with them, often it meant riding home after dark.

Weekends it was not unusual for me to ride 100 miles on my own. I can remember getting severe bouts of the bonk, (running out of fuel) and knocking on a stranger’s door to ask for food.

At age 15 I was attending a technical school, learning engineering. The school building was part of a complex that included a community college. Some of the older students that attended the college owned racing bikes with names like, Paris, Hobbs of Barbican, and Claud Butler. At every opportunity I would be drooling over these bikes; it was the start of a love affair that still lasts to this day.

My father came through again and bought me a modest Dawes lightweight, with a four speed Simplex derailleur. I joined a cycling club and started racing at age 16. With all the miles I had done over the years I did well and won a few club level races, and for the first time in my life people were telling me I was good at something.

Even my father showed some interest as long as I was winning, but when I didn’t he would tell me I was useless. More than anything, I wanted him to come out and see me race; but he never did.

At age 16 I began work as an engineering apprentice, and rode my bike to work every day. I arrived home one day and my mother told me my father had been involved in a serious accident at work.

He worked in an iron foundry at the time, and he and another man opened the door of the blast furnace. There was what is known as a blow back, and the two of them were completely buried in hot coals. Coworkers pulled them out immediately but they were seriously burned from head to toe.

My immediate thought was, “I hope the bastard dies.” Then I quickly saw my mother’s concern, and realized for the first time that she truly loved him. I had always assumed her feelings for him were the same as mine. My mother, who also suffered abuse, would constantly vent her frustrations over my father, with me. A form of emotional incest that was her only relief, but constantly fueled my hatred for the man.

I went to visit him at the hospital; it was a surreal experience. I saw a large piece of featureless blackened raw meat sitting up in bed; the eyes and the voice were all I could recognize, and a cigarette, stark white by contrast, sticking out were a mouth should be.

This was a day after the accident and I can only imagine the tremendous pain he must been in. But you never would have known it as he casually talked to me as if nothing had happened. To show pain would have been to show emotion and a perceived weakness. He was left with bad scars on his arms and body, but his face healed completely unscarred.

I left home at age 19 and a few years later moved away. After that I never saw my father for 25 years. I was living in California and sometime after my mother died in 1982 I wrote to him. I tried to come to terms with our relationship but later when I visited with him, the hatred and nastiness on his part was still there.

We talked about my childhood and he could not accept that he had done anything wrong, let alone ask for, or accept forgiveness. I had to wait until after his death to finally forgive him. Forgiveness is more for the sake of those sinned against, than for the sinner.

In 1996 he went for routine surgery for a bladder problem; there were complications and he had a second operation. His heart gave out under the anesthetic; he was 86. A good age considering the alcohol and tobacco abuse he had put his body through during his life.

If there can be a defense for this man, who was after all human with human weaknesses. Like many others, he went through almost six years of hell during WWII, killing people, witnessing death on a daily basis. Then was expected to come home and live a normal life. He never talked of his own childhood, but I’m sure it was bad.

I often wonder what if my father had been killed in the war; I never would have known him. I would have these pictures of this handsome man, and my mother would have no doubt told me wonderful stories about him. I would have spent my entire life trying to live up to the image of a man far greater than he could ever be in real life. Would I have turned out any better, or worse?

My father really thought that what he did was for my own good; and maybe in a way he was right; I am happy with who I turned out to be. I would not wish my childhood on anyone, but having said that I would not change a thing either.

I got through it, I survived, and maybe I’m a stronger person because of it. My childhood and my father are long gone, and anyway I realized a long time ago that no matter how hard I try, the past will never get any better.

Reader Comments (9)

Thanks for sharing such a thoughtful post. I have father issues too, and with forgiveness, it's often two steps forward, one step back (or sometimes more), but in the long run, it's the best thing to do.
December 2, 2006 | Unregistered Commenter Vera

I remember a similar story like this that you shared here before, maybe it was a year ago, and it is still just as moving.

Thank you for sharing this.
December 2, 2006 | Unregistered Commenter Tim Jackson- Masi Guy
After I read this - I couldn't help but think how crazy wars are - I've seen it impact different people so differently, with some folks never being able to sort it out. Not that experiencing anything horrific justifies abusive behaviour - but boy, I see these young men doing and seeing things that no one should have to do or see. The fallout - even you all these years later. I just really dislike war. Really nice post.
December 3, 2006 | Unregistered Commenter Pam
My Father died in 2003. I read a story like yours, and I realize just how blessed my family was. My Dad was a kind, gentle man who gave up his own dreams to provide for his family. Like most of the men of the WWII generation, he had been taught to be closed with his thoughts and feelings, but I never had any doubt that I was loved. I am so sorry the abuse you suffered. You would have liked my Dad.
December 4, 2006 | Unregistered Commenter idaho-udaho

Hi Dave, Just read your blog 'My Father' and I have to say it made the tears well in my eyes. But for a few details it mirrors the same sort of life I had with my father. War combat does strange things to good people and I too wonder what my life would have been like had I had a normal upbringing. My early years were memories of my father, a WW2 soldier, waking up screaming and my mother and my brother and I lived in constant fear of attack by him. A leather belt is something I never wear as that was used on my brother and I most every day. The bicycle was my only escape. I was 11 year old and got a paper round which I walked and saved to buy my first second hand bike, a Rudge, (wish I had it now) and my life changed forever. It's funny when you think about a set of metal tubes and wheels can lend itself to such a terrific feeling of just 'Being.' I was also in the army and did my bit for Queen and Country. Their are no winners in War, and never will be. I keep sane on my bicycle. Thanks for the openness with something that still causes pain. A brilliant web site by the way. To the road less traveled, red wine in moderation, intelligent conversation and the love of steel frames for bicycles. Go well my friend.

December 10, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMike Dimmock

Brave of you to write about your father so candidly. Forgiveness is never easy but it's the only way to get peace sometimes.

October 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterStephen_mc

A very thoughtful post. I lost my Dad in 1997. He was saddened by his WWII years because he didn't get into action. He joined the US Coast Guard on D Day, because the lines in Downtown Chicago were too long for the Army & Navy.
He was issued an M-1 and got to guard the Chicago River locks entering Lake Michigan. Then a train ticket to Seattle. When he got there to ship out to the Pacific theater, "Roosevelt" gave the freighters scheduled to be used to the "damn Russians". Later he finally got productive and rather wonderful duty on the Great Lakes first icebreaker, the USS Mackinaw. So he helped the war effort piloting this boat through the ice from Duluth MN through Lake Superior, and down Lake Michigan, Huron to keep the Iron Ore boats sailing to the steel mills of Gary, Detroit, Toledo, Cleveland and Ashtabula Ohio to become tanks, jeeps, and boats that won the war in Europe...
He was an artist, but slaved in a mfg. plant as a offset printer for non-union wages (remember he hated Roosevelt and those unions akin to the Commies).
He drank too much, but he taught and played golf with me in my teens, AND bought me a bike or two, allowing me transport.
He never drove, primarily due to the cost of them vs. canvas, paint, and collecting stamps, coins etc. He always rode the bus, and EL-trains, or walked to get around this fair city. That is, until I returned the favor, introducing him to a bike builder, shop owner who sold him the first in a series of bikes that he rode from 1973 until his death.
The gift of bikes from our fathers, such a legacy for the post war generation (baby boomers).
ps. I still commute on a bicycle, and am the fifth driver of my three car family.

June 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPaul

I also have a cigarette burn in my hand. I got it when I was ten when our farmhand brought me to school in his bike while he was smoking.

My father never stayed at home too. He is always in his farm and he would just go back home to repair things. he never bought me a bike, my mother did or anything of that sort. I hate it when he comes home because that means we will all be beaten up with his belt or the mistakes we have committed for the weeks he's been away.

We just had an argument because of my uncle. He sided with him even if all the people could say that what he did to my family was wrong. I just renewed my faith and even if it is so hard to forgive him, I tried my best to go home and speak to him. I didn't go well and I think he was hardened by the fact that it was I who approached him. I think I've boosted his ego by doing so. Anyway, I sincerely hope that in time I will completely forgive and forget what happened.

November 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPedals Cycling


With the 2012 Tour de France having ended almost two weeks ago I could not help but to think of my Dad, who succumbed to cancer last September. He was never a fan of cycling and I don't think I ever saw him on a bicycle, but as it became apparent that his time was growing short he actually sat nightly with me and watched a good number of stages during the 2011 Tour. Not because he suddenly found an interest in cycling, but because it was quality time to be spent with me while there was still time left. Now I will think back fondly of my Dad each year at Tour time......

August 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRandy England
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