I've only been in the "daddy business" four years, but I am already convinced that to be successful as a daddy, a man must have good hands. After all, from the moment you first hand out bubble gum cigars at the hospital to the moment you hand off your daughter at the end of a wedding aisle, your hands will be one of your greatest tools. You will hand over car keys to drive-happy teenagers, hand out discipline to mold young lives, place a steady, reassuring hand on the shoulder of a scared child, hand off the lessons you have learned in life, and hold tightly to the small hands of a child intent on running through a busy parking lots. Hopefully, you will handle all of this with prayer.

And somewhere along the way, a daddy will get to do what I did recently: place those steadying hands on the back of a tiny bicycle while trotting down your driveway.

This latest father/daughter milestone took place early this spring, when warmer weather finally coincided with a Saturday afternoon. That combination meant that the little pink bicycle which had inhabited our house since Christmas morning 2000 was finally let outside, along with its owner, who had already familiarized herself with its operation by pedaling up and down the indoor bicycle path that once was our hallway.

So there we were ... the blonde-headed child perched on the white seat of the pink bike with the pink basket and white wheels, and her father stationed behind, ready to steady the ride. At first, the trip was slow-going as the new cyclist would occasionally forget which way to push her feet, and the little white tires that had stayed so clean on our carpets were now skidding along the gravel, gathering stains and collecting mud that would forever prohibit their return to the great indoors.

Of course, training wheels minimized the wobble factor, but when it's your first time to ride down an unfamiliar path, the wobbles always feel larger than they really are. It's true in life and it's true on the seat of a pink bicycle with a butterfly-shaped bell.

My daughter's fear of the wobbles might have prematurely ended our trip from the basketball goal to the gate if not for my hand, which grasped firmly to the bar beneath the seat. With every other pedal, she would remind me of how very important my hands were, with pleas of "Don't let go, Daddy," or "Daddy, keep your hand there." And so I did; for the entire journey.

After a couple of trips though, the wobbles finally began to lose their effect on my three-year old's psyche. And soon, I even convinced her that the training wheels could keep her upright, even if I didn't hang on continually. When this finally appealed to her, I was relegated to a support role - merely required to run alongside while she did much of the steadying herself. My biggest contribution after that was to give the occasional push when the bike bogged down in loose gravel. And thus, in a couple of trips down the driveway, I went from being the ever-present steady hand of guidance to being the occasional hand of encouragement.

This little Saturday afternoon bike ride was significant for both my daughter and me. For her, it was a big step up from the world of tricycles. For me, it was a reminder that, no matter how much confidence and independence she gains while riding through life, she will still need me to lend a hand now and then.

Am I reading too much into this little episode? Maybe. But I know it is just the first of many similar trips down the road together. There will come a day when the training wheels come off and I will once again lend my hands to steady another ride down a bumpy driveway. Of course, the stakes will go up a little then. The blond bicycle rider will ride a little faster and I will have to run a little faster. When I let go and she pedals along on her own, there will be nothing to support a wobble gone bad.

At that time, and for all those times to follow, the balance she has learned, the steady influence she has felt, and the reassurance that her Father's guiding hands are close by, will be the tools she needs to make her trip successful. It's true on the seat of a little pink bicycle and it's true in life.


Justin Alberty is the proud husband of Loretta and proud father of Karlee (4). He earned a bachelor's degree in journalism from Oklahoma State University and today is employed as the corporate journalist/public information representative for an Oklahoma electric utility. In his spare time he writes a column, best described as part-humor, part-devotional and part-potluck, for The Paper, a weekly publication in Mayes County, Oklahoma. He and his family attend the Locust Grove Free Will Baptist Church, where he is active in the church choir and teaches the College & Careers Sunday School class. Writing, playing softball and jumping on the trampoline are his favorite hobbies.