One Clown Short of a Circus Act

It’s a balancing act. One that requires skill, patience and determination. And when you’ve perfected it you’re left with no redeeming social or professional skill. On the contrary, you might even skin your legs and be forced to endure stinging jabs from others.

Brooke tells me she prefers to operate on “the other side of geekdom.” I guess that means I live in geekdom. I consider pointing out that she actually married into geekdom, but have second thoughts. There’s one thing about being a pure-blood, but to marry into it is a far greater insult. Still, I know better than open my mouth. That’s the first lesson they teach you in “geekdom”.

Gracie’s only 50% geek. “Dad, can I get a unicycle”, she asks, pointing to the 50-year-old red and white sparkled unicycle hanging in the corner of the garage. “I told you to get rid of that thing,” my wife mutters under her breath. Too late – maybe at least in this way Grace will be just a little like me. “Of course,” I reply. “Then you can teach your mother.”

Two hours later and $95 we’re ready for the maiden voyage. Almost like a toy, Gracie’s new 16” unicycle is assembled and ready for the first fall. This time it is me. “Watch this Grace,” I tell her, “center yourself and then start…” I crashed before I could even get to pedaling. I remember this now. Even 13 years later (incidentally before I was married), so does my rear end as I land with a thud to the pavement. “And don’t do that!”

Why she wants to learn how to unicycle escapes me. If you asked me back then, I probably wouldn’t have had an answer either. I just saw it at a garage sale and had to give it a try. Just like a mountain calls to a climber, that unicycle cried out to my inner geek. Because it was just there seemed like the perfect reason. Impractical and a glorious waste of my time, that summer I learned how to fall – and to get back up again, hundreds of times. Even today as I try to demonstrate, I learn the lesson again – a little slower and more painful 20 years later, but educational the same. Two pedals, one seat, one wheel. Where others see a waste of time, a waste of money and shame, I see a lesson learned: determination. Determination to succeed just for the sake of proving that you can.

Gracie’s still young enough that riding a unicycle is a novelty. Five years from now I doubt she’ll boast about her unicycling prowess. If she’s as good as me she’ll never need to. Even today I can barely make it 10 feet before falling on my rear end. Still, I have gotten really good at falling, perfecting it to an art form. Hands covering the head, feet forward, landing solidly on my rear. That’s what it is good for. Still, maybe the lessons she learns from falling this summer will stick with her longer than the bruises she’ll no doubt incur from this fatherly misguided adventure.

It is a balancing act, but rather than one of left to right or front to back, unicycling teaches you to balance determination with failure. And unlike every other foolish sport, this one will never be useful unless you plan on joining the circus and can complement it with juggling. You can’t use it to get a date, you can’t use it on a job interview (let alone get to a job interview) and it will never make you money. Instead, you do it because you can. Bruises and all, you do it to prove a point – most of all, to yourself. And that might be the most important lesson that I can teach her that I don’t have to repeat. Lord knows I’m not sure how much more bruises I can take.

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