Title: Ride – A Memoir to My Father
Author: Craig Fry
Publisher: Craig Fry
Order: Craig Fry
What it is: An Australian cycling writer’s attempts to come to terms with the sudden death of his father
Strengths: We’ll all know at some stage what it feels like to lose a parent
Weaknesses: It’s really more about the son than the father
We all deal with grief differently. For Craig Fry, cycling was his solution. Or, writing about cycling was his solution:
A loved one’s death changes you forever, and you have to find a way to accept that. Failing to do so can take you under. My loving supporters definitely helped me maintain some sort of balance amidst my grief and loss. Without them I would have fallen over and stayed down. But what has helped me most has been this project of words and cycling – ‘Ride: A memoir to my father’. My focus on this in the days, weeks, and months after Dad’s death came to include some of the most important writing and riding I have ever done. It is a kind of reconciliation.
We all suffer grief differently. My father, he died suddenly, my mother, she died slowly. Fry’s father died slow and quick, a few weeks after being diagnosed with cancer, days after starting chemotherapy. But even with the warning, it’s always sudden. You never really prepare:
Everyone experiences death sooner or later. Logically, that should mean we are able to plan ahead and prepare ourselves for the experience. Arguably, we should do this to make the best of the situation. Most of us don’t ‘prepare’ though, which means the predictability of death, loss, and grief visiting you at some point in your life doesn’t make it any easier to cope with when it finally does.
Fry, he’s not a man for listening to the small talk of death, the “death and dying platitudes”:
These are the things that well-meaning people around you say, or write on sympathy cards and personal notes, in an effort to make you feel better. The words that grated the most were things like:
It takes time.
Time heals all wounds.
We have to get on with our lives.
You need to get back to a routine.
Life goes on.
These platitudes are too generic. In Ride he takes us into the specific:
At the time I was experiencing the depths of grief I remember wondering why so many people seemed to be wary of discussing death, loss and grief. I wondered why there was so much tiptoeing around and speaking in hushed passive tones about such an inevitable experience for all of us. At times, I wanted to shout about death from the hilltops. I wanted to grab my loss and grief with both hands and shake it. This book allowed me to do that by delving deeper into my experience, and exploring the ways that I could respond to it. It gave me the time and focus that I felt much of the world didn’t allow.
The memoir is the genre du jour, this is the #MeMeMeToo moment, and in most of them – proper personal ones, not the chamois-memoirs of pro cyclists – childhood looms large in the memory:
I rode bikes a lot as a kid, and I can remember all of them fondly. I loved all of the bikes I had as a child. And now that Dad is gone, I find myself reminiscing about those bikes and their connection to him. My first was a little red tricycle that was the family ‘hand-me-down’ bike from Camperdown. I can picture in my mind a time in Camperdown at Nanna and Pop’s old house on Cobden road when Dad took a photograph of me sitting on that trike with cousins. I found that photo in Dad’s things when we were clearing out his house. It fell out of a pile of photos in a shoebox I was holding – it’s funny how things happen sometimes.
Next, I was given a green Hanimex dragster for my ninth or tenth birthday. It was the first two-wheeled bike I owned, and it was the only thing I really wanted for my birthday following those summer days learning to ride with my country cousins. It had a top tube-mounted three-speed stick shift gear, and I pimped it out with a foxtail mounted off the sissy bar from the long seat. From memory, it also had an Australian flag flying off the back bar at one point, probably just because I thought it looked good. It was my pride and joy, and I used to clean it so much that Dad used to say
I’d polish the paint off it if I wasn’t careful.
On and on we go, like Paul Fournel remembering his first bike only with many, many more bikes recalled.
We all come to terms with grief differently. Fry here offers help for those yet to get there, offering cycling as a curative:
Let the bicycle be something that brings you closer to your loved ones, to family and friends. Go riding with them! It may only take just one person to pedal a bike and steer it in a desired direction. But it’s the people around us, the people we love, that give life meaning. There’s no point at all in riding through life’s journey disconnected and alone.
On the inevitable occasion of the death of family members or friends, your time together will probably never seem like it was long enough. No matter how long a life is, it is human nature to always want more. But while in the future you may not be able to avoid the feeling of wanting more time with lost loved ones, you can change the way you live the present with them.
We all prepare for grief differently. Maybe there’s some will get some value from seeing how someone else handled it.