The father put his grumpy, irritable son in the corner of the restaurant, set the timer on his watch for five minutes and returned to his booth.
A woman, appalled by the time-out, confronts Doug Grosjean and lectures him. She tells him this public humiliation will emotionally scar his son for life.
She is a nurturer, he’s a disciplinarian. She’s a mother, he’s a father. But, he’s a first-time father, so after the five minutes, he asks his son, Jean-Luc, if he is humiliated.
Jean-Luc, age 6, replies, “What’s humiliated Dad?”
Doug explains and Jean-Luc responds that he wasn’t humiliated by standing in the corner, but he was humiliated when the strange woman started talking to him.
This incident is the gem in one of the 31 stories Doug has compiled in his first book, Wheels: A Story About Growing Up.
The stories were written when Jean-Luc was between the ages of five and eight and nearly all are about motorcycle trips the two took between 2000 and 2003.
The book is both an adventure story and an insight into the important role fathers play in child rearing.
Doug is an avid motorcyclist and a mechanical designer at Whirlpool in Clyde. He is 44, a Waite grad and lives in Pemberville. His father, Al, owns Grosjean Imports in Northwood. Hence, Doug knows machines. As you might expect, Jean-Luc was introduced to the mechanical world at such places as Greenfield Village and the Milan Historical Museum.
Other trips were as short as rural Elmore where they tried to prod the headless motorcyclist to appear. It didn’t. Wrong date. They went on March 8, not March 21. But neither was disappointed. Doug writes, “So we didn’t see a ghost—so what. I did even better—I got a glimpse into a little boy’s world, a world where he doesn’t believe in ghosts, but what if there was such a thing? A place where, at his Dad’s side, he can take on the world—afraid of nothing. A world where happiness is a pizza, a motorcycle ride, and a long talk with Dad.”
The longest trip was 1,100 miles to West Virginia when Jean-Luc was 6 and Doug 37.
I know what you’re thinking.
A little risky?
Well, Doug took pains to minimize that risk. He purchased a harness that snugly fastened Jean-Luc to Doug’s body and he designed an electrically heated vest to keep Jean-Luc warm. Then, off they went, the two of them to discover the world on a 2000 Kawasaki Concours. Along the way Jean-Luc saw some amazing sights and Doug showed him how things worked, how to interact with strangers, how to ask questions and how to keep your cool in difficult times. After one such lesson Doug wrote, “Jean-Luc never realized he was learning; he thought we were just having fun together.”
One of the most difficult lessons Doug confronted was whether to let Jean-Luc, seven at the time, visit his maternal grandfather who was dying in the hospital. Such a visit at a young age could prove traumatic. On the other hand, Jean-Luc could later regret not having the chance to say goodbye. Many of us have had to make this difficult decision. There is no text book to guide us.
Doug, like many of us, learns fatherhood on the fly. We adopt some of our father’s techniques or we reject them depending on how they worked for us. For Doug, they worked just fine, so he followed a similar course. “It’s like you got a road map already in place, a peek ahead…We’re all alike. The generation gap seems to be a made-up thing. Our lives are not really all that different, our circumstances are. My Dad was on a farm. Depression era. World War II era. I grew up in the 60s and 70s. My son is growing up with microwaves and the internet, but the real thing about growing up—going from child to adolescent to adult—doesn’t really change all that much.”
Although Doug’s parents divorced when he was young, he had a relationship with both. So, when Doug divorced he welcomed visitation. “I think a child needs both parents. If I would have had one or the other, I don’t think it would have been as good an influence. Each parent brings something to the table—the influence and point of view of both the female and male.”
The opportunity to build strong bonds and teach life’s lessons doesn’t come in the false promise of “quality time.” It comes unexpectedly in a flash from the shared serendipity that emerges through the routine of daily living. Or, it comes from the accumulation of actions and words over a large quantity of time. Doug Grosjean realizes this. He writes, “This book is dedicated to the dads who show up week after week no matter what, and who make a big difference with the small amount of time they are able to share with their children.”