Friday, February 1, 2013

Riding Bulls and Fatherhood

When I realized what the one little line meant, Sunday was asleep and I was lying on my back, staring at the ceiling of our bed room. I was nervous to the point of dysfunction. I was terrified and it reminded me of the only bull I’d ever ridden. 

I was about ten or eleven years old, my older brother was thirteen or fourteen, and my younger brother was seven or eight.  As we stood there leaning on the rails of the corral somewhere in Texas, watching our cousins getting ready to ride, we saw the Texan rise up in my Dad.  He saw the Texas animals, smelled that Texas dirt, and asked us a very Texas question:  “Boys, do you want to ride?”

So there we were, with our cousins and other insane folks, waiting to ride a bull.  We weren’t the youngest in line, but we were the least experienced.  Some kids were barely out of diapers, but they had a bull bag and boots.  (A bull bag holds all the materials required for riding a bull:  ropes, gloves, last will and testament…)

Like a fool I thought, “This is going to be fun.”  Then, the first boy climbed into the chute. 

I watched him get on a bull that was the size of a Chevy Suburban.  This animal was huge, and this boy wasn’t physically comparable.  In fact, he was about the size of an overweight house cat, so this match was not looking good for him.  But he was confident. 

That boy tied himself to the back of the animal, spit, nodded his head, and held on tight.  The gate swung wide and the bull headed for the top rail of the corral.  For the uninformed, a bull does not usually jump, except when a bull rider happens to be sitting on his back.  Thus, a bull turns into a husky kangaroo every time a rider alights on him.  The bull tried to jump on the top rail of that corral two or three times before the boy thought it expedient for him to exit the arena.  The boy let go of the rope, which was his first mistake.   By letting go of the rope, the rider released the tether by which he was connected to the largest animal in the corral. The bull didn’t like it.  The bull communicated his dislike by quickly breaking that boy’s arm. 

We all heard his arm break.  

The boy got up from the dirt and tried to pick up his rope.  His left arm didn’t work. 
Actually, it worked pretty well as a compass.  His arm dangled there, but it pointed due north at all times.

I stood there, in the dirt, reconsidering this bull ride.  At that point, though, I was picked up by my shirt and loaded onto Geronimo.  To me, this bull looked like an elephant with horns. He was big and getting bigger all the time. Looking back, it was probably a little larger than the average billy goat, but I was convinced Geronimo was unusually large.  As I sat there, I looked at the large, dirty, hairy man who had pulled me up and put me on Geronimo.  I said, “What do I do now?”

I looked around the corral at the knowing and smiling faces, and I knew I wasn’t going to get the answer I needed. 

I did get an answer, though:  “Every ride’s different.  Just hold on tight.”

I said, “Ok.”  And then I nodded my head. 

If you have never watched bull riding, the nodded head is the sign to open the gate.  I didn’t know that.  They didn’t tell me that. 

Before I could catch my breath or think, Geronimo was out on a dead sprint to the other side of the corral.  The first boy got a bull who knew how to buck.  I got a bull who knew how to run.  It was more like riding a motorcycle than riding a bull and I got one of the easiest—and quickest—bull rides in rodeo history. 

By the time that gate was open, I was on the ground wondering if my arm could tell me where the concession stand was.  It wasn’t broken, and neither were any of my limbs. 

That rodeo sounds scary and dangerous and little crazy, but I got the right bull.  Most people aren’t prepared for that kind of situation, regardless the advice given.  Experience is the only way you know you’re ready to ride a bull, no matter how many rides you see. There in that small corral, I got the right bull.  I couldn’t have handled any of the other kinds of bull that day, but I could handle Geronimo. 

It’s like fatherhood.  I could watch other fathers go through their struggles and confusions and injuries even, but that didn’t prepare me like being a father myself.  I figured that, like watching rodeo doesn’t prepare you to ride a bull, hearing other father’s tales of fatherhood doesn’t prepare you much for fatherhood.  When I got conditioned to the idea that I wasn’t ready for being a Dad, I was already on my way.   Plus, the advice I got was about the same as the advice I got when I was sitting on Geronimo:  “Hold on tight.  Every ride’s different.”


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