The nut slipped from my fingers and fell. The little bastard went right into the pocket near the starter motor, a deep nook where small things easily hide. It was not a terribly important nut, just one from a battery terminal, and posed no threat to the motorcycle as it sat quietly. But once the bike was barreling down the road at 70 mph, that nut could make its way into the open primary and damage a pulley or even explode the belt. To make matters worse, it was aluminum, so the magic wand with a little magnet on the end for removing steel bits from tight places was worthless.

God damn nut.

But the real issue was not a rogue nut. It was the sloppiness that came from feeling rushed. Since my son had been born, time spent working on bikes grew scarce. Riding too. Being a father occupied the bulk of my time, leaving little room for tinkering on two-wheeled joy. So when I did manage to get into my shop, everything was done at a fevered pace. The pressure was on. The clock was ticking.

And nuts were dropped.

Gage was born fifteen months ago after a change of heart. For years my wife Elizabeth had not wanted children. Their crying drove her mad, and the suggestion of being anchored to a totally dependent life form was ludicrous. Her opinion was different only for a brief period when we first lived together in Baltimore. At that point, she wanted to have, as she put it, “an entire hockey team of kids.” Elizabeth had played ice hockey in full gear for years and loved recounting the times when she checked some guy into the boards or knocked out somebody’s tooth. They were good memories for her, which at the time played well with the idea of kids. But as these memories waned, so did her desire to have children. And soon she convinced me to keep it just the two of us. It was an agreement that stood for a decade.

Then she changed her mind. Countless reasons could have fueled her sudden desire for motherhood – a ticking biological clock, friends having their own, a genetic hardwire to nurture – but they all came to the same result: Elizabeth now wanted a baby. The idea had been nagging me too. It seemed to be something that I wanted to do in life. An experience to be had before growing old. And so it was not long before we agreed to parenthood. We commenced the best part of the process, then settled in when the deed was accomplished. Nine months later our son arrived.

Gage was a great baby. He seldom cried, slept like a champ, and quickly learned how to smile, a power he skillfully used to diffuse tension. In fact, he seemed to have an innate ability to wield cuteness each time we were just about to wring his neck in frustration. Sometimes it was a giggle. Other times it was a warm coo. And from time to time, a fart far louder than ever believed possible from such a tiny person. For two people who had been reticent to become parents, our son was clear proof of Nature’s shrewdness in doling out kids.

Gage became the second person for whom I would freely give anything. Elizabeth was the first, but for her it was not the same. She was an adult and could take care of herself, making decisions and fending off the daily threats of life. As a rule, I always waited to defend her because she was a fierce competitor who fought like a cornered badger when pushed. Gage, however, was helpless. Dependent in every way. And it was this helplessness that cultivated in me a willingness to give unconditionally to another person. For him, there were no limits. True, there were times when I grumbled about missing some motorcycle event for his benefit, but there was nothing I would not hand over for him unquestioningly. Including my life.

Such radical changes in perspective come with fatherhood. And while the transformation is natural, it can not be explained. It can only be truly understood through experience.

This was best described to me by a fellow I met one day in the park. He was a lanky man with dark curly hair and a worn baseball cap adorned with the computer company logo of an apple missing a bite. We stood talking as our boys played together in a sandbox.

“My wife and I were on our way home to San Francisco and had to stop,” he said. “My boy Sagan was about to go thermonuclear in the back seat, so I pulled off the highway and found this park.”

“Sagan.” I said. “That’s an interesting name. Where did it come from?”

“Carl Sagan.”

“Are you an astronomer?”

“No,” he replied. “I just love the show ‘Cosmos.’ Growing up, I would sit and watch it for hours. It changed my life. So when my wife and I were picking a name for our son, I cajoled her into going with it.” He smiled as his wife theatrically scowled at him from behind his back.

The man and I silently watched children go about their park business until I asked my favorite question of other new dads: “Have you had a hard time adjusting to having a kid?”

“God yeah. Life’s changed in just about every way. It’s crazy now. Overwhelming. And I sometimes feel like I hardly know my wife anymore. We just go about taking care of this new, little person inhabiting our home.” He paused in thought, then continued, “But as hard as it gets, it’s worth it. The good stuff outweighs the bad. And honestly, I never thought I’d enjoy being a father as much as I do.”

I nodded, noting the way he looked at his son. The way he spoke. His sincerity. It was not the lip service given by some parents hoping to project enlightenment.

He continued, “I used to try explaining to people without kids what it’s like being a parent, but you can’t. It’s like trying to explain LSD to someone who’s never done the drug. They just gotta do it themselves.”

“Good analogy,” I said contemplating the idea. “Mildly disturbing, but good.”

“The fact is,” the man said as he prepared to leave, “that people just can’t understand how difficult having a kid is without doing it. How some moments are so stressful you want to smash things and scream. How every facet of life feels rushed.”

His words ran through my mind as I tried digging the nut from the motorcycle. First I used my fingers, but that failed. Next, I tilted the bike left and right until the bottom frame rails touched the floor. No nut. As a last ditch effort, I stuck the air hose in the deep recess and blasted away at different angles. Nothing emerged beyond puffs of sand from a long past trip to Mexico. Defeated, I plopped onto my shop stool and glared at the bike.

When confronted with a problem like this, I often refuse to walk away. Fixation clouds my judgment. Pressure builds, followed by frustration, which sparks anger with a dash of self pity. This, in turn, bleeds into my view of everything and everyone around me. I curse the bike for not working. I curse the tools for failing to do their job. I compose fictional arguments in my head. Sometimes these are with my boss over something at work, other times they are with a family member over some annoying thing that family members do. My mind formulates these spectral confrontations in painful detail, entirely diverting my attention from the real problem.

That day I chose to conjure an argument with my wife.

Phantom Elizabeth walked into my shop and in an annoyed tone asked, “Aren’t you done yet? Wouldn’t you rather be spending time with your son than these motorcycles?”

Squeezing a greasy shop rag, I bite back in exasperation, “I haven’t been in here for six weeks! I never get time to work on my bikes anymore. For Christ’s sake, can I just finish this battery so the damn bike runs?”

“Your motorcycles always need something fixed. Why can’t you get one – just one – that runs without problems?”

“Why can’t you leave me alone?”

“You’re selfish.”

“And your wasting the little bit of time I have in here.”

Needing to have the last word, she hissed, “you’re such an ass,” then turned and left.

But the fictitious argument did not end there. Angry that my point was not made, I began mentally fabricating a whole new conflict. And so the cycle continued. And anger grew.

Allowing myself such fits of hypothetical nonsense is unacceptable. They solve nothing and only breed anger. And it was anger that slowly dominated my father as he aged, consuming him by the time I was twenty five. Before then, he was jovial and his temper only surfaced in discrete episodes when he was stressed or us kids did something stupid. It came out once when I was eleven and took an ongoing squabble with my brother too far. We had been at each other for days when I walked into our den and found him laying on the room’s brown shag rug watching television. My dad was laying next to him. At hearing me, my brother turned his head and said something biting, the type of comment older brothers use to expertly attack soft spots. In retaliation, I stood over him and feigned preparing to spit on his back. I had no intention of doing so, but simply wanted to establish some kind of authority. Or maybe save face. My father looked at me and grumbled, “Don’t you dare.” I should have walked away. But as a kid who routinely tested boundaries, I dredged up phlegm and released it onto my brother’s back. The moment it hit, I turned and ran, knowing my dad would be coming for me. But at the door, my juvenile brain told my body to turn around and check. I had just enough time to register my dad’s closed fist before it hit my face. My body flew across the hallway and onto the cold tile floor of the bathroom. He must have stayed the full force of his punch because I was still conscious. Had he not, my dad – a massive football player drafted in the first round by the Green Bay Packers – would surely have knocked me out. Unable to move and staring at blue stars twinkling on mottled waves of blackness on the ceiling, I felt the warm flow of blood from my nose.

“How’s it going?” Elizabeth asked mildly as she walked into my shop holding Gage.

“Agh,” I bellowed, temporarily confusing the fabricated and real conversation with my wife. Then after a deep breath, I said calmly, “I dropped a nut in the bike and can’t fish it out.”

“Sorry,” she said frowning. “Anything I can do to help?”

“No. It’s not a big deal. I’ve just tried everything and can’t get the damn thing out.”

She smiled understandingly as Gage pointed to me and lunged. Still unable to speak, it was his way of asking to be put down.

“I just need to stop for a bit and collect myself,” I continued.

“Then let’s get out of here. How about dinner?”

“Sounds great.”

She set Gage on the concrete floor and he walked towards me. He had just learned to move on two feet and did so like a tiny drunk sailor, wobbling while making forward progress in fits and starts. He let out a chirp of excitement as he neared the bike containing the lost nut. Gage loved motorcycles and wanted nothing more than to sit on them. His desire to be around bikes was unquenchable and he always fussed when taken from them.

Clearly the nut had not fallen far from the tree.

After dinner, Gage and I returned to the shop. Using the tip of a flathead screwdriver, I easily caught the nut and with a flick of my wrist shot it out the side of the bike onto the floor. Seeing it land, Gage left my side and toddled around the bike. He squatted, then gingerly picked up the nut between his thumb and forefinger, looking at it as a child does when examining something new. He noted the flat edges. The threads. He stuck the tip of his little forefinger in the hole.

Once he was done, Gage stared at me with his fresh blue eyes, then put his head down and shuffled back around the bike. In front of me, he looked up and smiled.

Then extended his arm to hand me the nut.

37 Comments

  1. As a father of 2 lovely girls (aged 7 and 3) and a fellow biker, this story totally made my day. And don’t you think its ironic that when you’re stuck at home with the family, you yearn to ride and hit the open road, but when you do ride, then you’d start missing them?

  2. Another great one! Wasn’t sure if I was gonna like this one; I dont have kids. Love your writing Bro!

  3. Amazing how an unsolvable problem becomes rather easy after getting away, then seeing it through new eyes. Time spent with your wife and son wasn’t wasted, on many levels.

  4. This was one of my favorite stories so far, Kevin! Very touching. Also, the made up fight scene with your wife is hilarious. Sadly, I also do this kind of thing when I am frustrated. Thought I was the only one. Glad I’m not alone! Keep writing. I always get excited to see a new Bikes and Buddies post in my inbox!

  5. Sounds like you do have a future biker on your hands. Looking forward to the next article…

  6. Loved this article, definitely a favorite. You really capture the joy and angst of parenting. Well done.

  7. Your wonderful use of words always manage to conjure up detailed pictures in my mind. You are a fantastic writer. Keep it up.

  8. Another great one man! Well done. It’s always such a treat to find out there’s a new one.

  9. HAHA I thought I was the only one who did the random imagination arguments! I too wind up being a little pissed the next time I see the person until I realize it was all in my head. I think it can help keep me from bottling things up from time to time, just so long as I don’t dwell on it.

    Good story though, I plan on passing it on to my best friend: he just had a little boy and I’m sure he’ll enjoy it! Keep on typing, man!

  10. I’m loving these stories more and more! Keep up the good work.

  11. What a terrific story. Especially for another father and motorcycle rider who also had an old man that became unhappy & angry as he got older.

  12. Great one. I’m on my way to fatherhood, so I am sure some of these things will ring more true soon. I’ve been lucky enough to be surrounded by little ones all my life. Now, it’s time for my own.

    One thing I do know for sure. kids know when their parents are happy. So spending time with your child is important, but spending time doing something you love is also important for you, and your child.

  13. I know the feeling all too well. Having two girls my projects turn into a game of beat the clock. And the clock always wins. Many times when my project becomes a Q and A exam from my youngest, it becomes the best daughter-daddy time a guy could ask for. In the next 2 weeks I’m going to go thru the bike with a microscope. I know your story will be on my mind as the Q and A exam starts when the service manual is cracked open.

  14. You’re the Cormac of our generation!

  15. I loved this piece as well as your previous stories. Then again, they aren’t just stories…they are wonderfully-written perceptive chapters in a man’s life! Keep it up, and I agree that you are the next Cormac!

    • Wow. I’m not sure what to say. Cormac McCarthy is one of my favorite authors and to be compared to him is the very highest of honors.

      I cannot believe Mr. McCarthy would be happy to have his work compared to the crap I subject you all to (he surely would not like the use of an exclamation point near his name), but I’ll gladly take the compliment.

  16. JunesBadApple

    There are just so many way I can connect to this story. Probably the most predominant, is the mere fact that it’s taken me three days to get through it. And not because it isn’t an exceptional read. But because I too, am a parent. Two children, 16 months apart, now 3 1/2 and (almost) 5. Add to that, two twelve week old puppies. What? What was I saying?

    Oh! Right. Connecting to the story . . . When our first child was born. He was not easy the way you describe your son. He rarely slept (and is still the same, even now) and he screamed and cried frequently. He was just under four months old when Christmas came around. As a gift that year, my best friend had a onesie – a term you wouldn’t understand without being a parent – made for him (or me?) that said, “Cute Keeps Me Alive.” No matter the temperament of your child, though; life with them bears no resemblance to life before them. And the childless that try to compare their experiences with their dogs, to yours as a parent of (a) human(s), are the last ones to understand that. But that’s for another day.

    As a woman, I love that your wife “fights like a cornered badger when pushed.” And I love that you give her free reign to do so. (I suspect it’s one of the things you love most about her.) And you should, because that is one of the qualities that is going to make her the very best advocate for your son, as he grow up.

    I’m loving these reads. Please keep ‘em comin’!

  17. Great stuff again, Kevin. I don’t have any kids, but I DO have this 18 inch flexible claw grabber thing I keep in the garage for such situations. But you can’t borrow it if it means short circuiting your inspiration.

  18. good work, Kevin! But if you think you don’t have time with one kid, try 2 or more! Someone told me the other day that with boys, you age 10 years in the first 3 and then it’s all down hill, whereas girls are the hardest as teens. I’m hoping that’s true and god bless my dad for raising us 3 boys. I also find that I appreciate and understand my parents much more now as a parent.

  19. Kevin – As a father of 4 (2 boys and twin girls), I can relate to this as well as many of your stories. The revelation by the gentleman in the park is an untold truth…unless you have kids, you just don’t understand! And, as for spending time and protecting your children, it just doesn’t get any easier. My eldest son is now a US Marine, so the days of protection are OVER…actually, has the cycle come full circle (ie I protected him as a child and now he will protect me, and the country, as I age)??? This question came to mind reading your excerpt…so thank you! It is great writers that bring forth personal questions…and you sir, have done so in great fashion!

  20. Great Story! It’s always nice to be proven wrong when you expect a nagging woman and instead get the total opposite! Have you put a child seat on the back of your bike yet?

    • As evidenced by the photo posted on the Bikes and Buddies Facebook account that shows the entire Family Moore riding without helmets, there is not yet a child seat installed on my bike.

      I’m waiting for Berkeley police to knock on my door…

  21. “And so the cycle continued.” I always thought that life could be expertly explained through no better medium than sports metaphors, but apparently motorcycle metaphors work just as well (even better in that cycles dominate both ends of the analogy).

    It was really easy for me to judge young parents, and all they were doing wrong, before I had kids. Now, I don’t. Now, I try not to judge anybody without knowing all the details of their situation. It’s crazy how kids can teach you about life long before they know anything about it themselves.

  22. Shop time and children tend to be incompatible, as each require your undivided attention. However, as you discovered, each can mutually exist by avoiding making them exclusive to one another. At first this is quite challenging and frustrating to accomplish, but the reward of seeing your children (and wife) gain an appreciation for your personal passions is priceless.

  23. Really excellent stuff. What they don’t tell you in the barrage of tips about cord blood and choking hazards, is the way that your life’s pace changes. Things acquire a sense of urgency, whether urgent or not. That urgency and stress adds and builds and, hopefully, dissipates. Your story walks us through it, palpably. Well done.

  24. Kevin, Your writing is inspiring…and you’re definitely one of the wittiest bloggers/authors I am currently following. From taking time to yourself (the bike), to working out justifying it to your wife (the faux argument), I am reminded just how hectic and rushed my own life is. Our 18 month old steals (did I just say that) so much of what I used to call MY time; life has now become so much more important though – as each moment I have with him is not only informing the man he’s becoming, but making this one more patient, honest, and humble. Thanks for the reminder to slow down and enjoy it all.

  25. Awesome blog. I love reading your stories! Keep the coming.

  26. This is a very touching story. It’s great that you can write this type of sentiment as a motorcycle rider, and even better that you have the perception to see it and put it on paper.

  27. So glad I finally found the time to sit and read this touching story. They are so captive, I hate to start one when I can’t finish it or get interrupted! Great morning reading with a cup of coffee and peacefulness. Especially love that you involved Gage’s interest in bikes with this one. Keep storming for your fan club!

  28. Kev, this story came to life in my mind and moved me — in hearing your experience as a new father contrasted with your experience with your own father. Your conflict comes across and it’s powerful and wonderful. Keep it up.

  29. “Brown Bike” Kevin, I followed your trip on Twitter (Febinterbaby) and often was one of the few people to reply back to all your ridiculous tweets with Riki and Taime. What an awesome and hilarious trip!!! I first read your Taime story “Pussycat” a while back when he retweeted it. Then came this trip and I started following you and found out it was you who had written it. I loved that article and I loved this one. This one actually made me cry. My boyfriend of ten years and I have a 19 month old. What went down with you and your wife happens all the time in my house. Having a baby (let alone a boy!) is so damn hard and that’s an understatement. Anyway, I wish you and your family the best and hope you get your book printed. Thanks for sharing your stories! :)

    • Dear Maria,

      Thank you for reading my stories and for following our sojourn to Sturgis 2012 on Twitter. It means a lot to me that you enjoy both. The book you mention, which will be entitled “Motorcycles and a Baby: Stories of a Gearhead’s Roadtrip to Fatherhood,” should be right up your alley. When Elizabeth and I decided to have a baby, I went in search of a book on pregnancy and fatherhood that I could relate to. There were two choices. The first were “how-to” books with soft-focus covers or kitschy themes like cavemen. Not my style. The second were story-based, which is attractive for me, but these were from an African-American man, a trans-gendered man, and a guy who made the point that he felt detached in the process of pregnancy. There was nothing from the viewpoint of someone who loves riding motorcycles and getting their hands dirty. And so I wrote a book myself in hopes others like me will find it helpful.

      This blog, as well as the Facebook and Twitter accounts, were formed to build what is called “platform” by the publishing houses. They need to see numbers in the thousands to take on my book. And I am slowly getting there with the help of folks like you. Thank you.

      Kevin “Brown Bike” Moore

  30. That was a great story sir. Having a child can certainly build memories, my own two year old daughter polished the back fender on my brand new FatBob with a fist full of mud. She was washing it just like daddy had just a few minutes earlier. Those swirls will always be her, I’m glad I can’t get them out. Anyway, keep writing you have built quite the fan base out here in the ether.

  31. This story made my day. Thanks and keep it up.

  32. When is the next story coming? I can’t wait!

  33. This story made this grown man teary eyed. I do not have any children but recall my Dad welcoming me into the garage while he worked on cars late at night. He worked two jobs to support us and restored cars on the side. There are photos of me at 3 and 4 years old holding a trouble light for my dad, me sitting flat on the floor and him lying on a creeper. I and when I got a couple years older it amazed me how he would ask me to get him a 3/8 ratchet with a 9/16 socket just by looking at the nut. :) Now that I’m 28 I still grin about it.

    Now my dad helps me work on my bikes and truck, and smiles at me when I get frustrated.
    Fathers make the world spin the correct way.

  34. Awesome tale, glad you are chronicling these stories. Kids certainly change the dynamic, but in a good way. Keep on posting.
    Tim