Father & Daughter
Today would have been my dad’s 86’s birthday.
Girls Don’t Ride Motorbikes – A Spiritual Adventure Into Life’s Labyrinth is a tribute to my father. The book title Girls Don’t Ride Motorbikes was the mantra of my youth.
My dad passed away very unexpectedly two weeks after I moved to the US on May 15th 1998. We had just celebrated a big farewell party with friends and family in Düsseldorf and my parents planned visiting me in the fall in Pittsburgh. They were also looking forward to see the gorgeous colors of the Indian Summer.
The day we hugged good-bye I never anticipated that two weeks later I would be back in Germany for his funeral.
A true reminder to always be conscious of the fragility of life, to not hold back on saying how much you love someone and to be grateful for every moment you share together.
I am very thankful to my dad and attribute my success in life to the way I was raised. My parents were strict and my brother and I received very clear boundaries of what we were allowed and not allowed to do. Growing up on a dairy farm it was our duty to fulfill daily tasks, e.g. feeding the cows, cleaning the stables and at harvest time it was my job to stack bales of hay and straw on the wagons. We both learned early on that a good work ethic and accountability is essential in life.
At the same time our parents infused us with a strong sense of independence as the following example shows.
Please enjoy this book excerpt from Chapter 13. It was also published in Voices from the Attic, a publication of Carlow University Press.
Let Loose the Reins
I hadn’t been on horseback the last couple of years. Feeling the movement of the horse underneath me brought back memories. My mind wandered to my youth when I was fifteen, the same year Silke had died.
It had been the season of fall storms, and one night I startled out of a dreamless sleep and opened my eyes to darkness. The loud, harsh cracking of tree branches screamed through the night. I heard a quick, loud knock on my door. The lights switched on, and my father rushed toward me, his green eyes flickering.
“Dorit, get up, hurry!”
I threw on jeans and a sweatshirt, ran to the entry room, pulled on my rubber boots, grabbed a warm jacket and raced to the barn. As a farm girl, I knew where to head in a storm. I leaned into the wind, fighting the gusts that tossed me sideways. Rain lashed into my face. I heard the heavy branch of a chestnut tree crashing onto the roof. In front of the illuminated entrance to the barn, shingles tumbled to the ground and burst into pieces.
My father, a tall man with black hair, a full beard and broad shoulders, guided my five-year-old silver-grey mare, Estella, out of the stable. His calm hand slid the bridle onto her head. Temperamentally, she pushed her nose forward. He instructed me: “The cows are in danger, and I am afraid they’ll seek shelter beneath the poplars, which will snap like twigs in the storm. We have to find them and bring them home.”
My father’s strong arm lifted me onto the mare’s bare back. “Trust your horse,” he said. “Let the reins loose. Estella will guide you to the cows.” He clapped my horse on the rear and we were off.
I felt the strength of my mare. I pressed my legs into her flanks, urging her forward. Darkness surrounded us. The wind pulled at my hair. Storm clouds raced across the sky. The thunder cracked and echoed over the plains of Germany’s Lower Rhine Valley as I guided my horse toward the levee. Her secure steps on the muddy ground gave me confidence. I had never ridden her at night or in a storm, but I was not afraid. As we reached the top of the earth dam, I sensed the vast meadow that opened up in front of us. Lightning flashed, and for a moment the land around unfolded. The Rhine River, a silver stream, reflected the lightning. The poplars jerked back and forth to my far right. They were too distant to see the cows. Then everything returned to darkness. I heard my father’s words, “Trust your horse. Let the reins loose.”
I pushed my mare forward. I did not direct her where, but allowed her to find her own way. She moved slightly to the right and stepped carefully down the levee. I stroked and caressed her wet mane. Heavy rain poured down on us. I felt the rhythm of my breath synchronize with hers. I was strong and confident amid the fury of the fall season storm. We found the herd at the outermost edge of the meadow huddled underneath the poplars.
I called the cows, pressed Estella into a trot and clapped my hands. Thirty-five animals started moving. I sensed their nervousness. They lowed and moaned loudly. We moved up the levee and I heard tree branches snap. Lighting flashes revealed the silhouette of my father, racing toward us. He caught up, and together we brought the cows back home to safety.
While my father was securing the cows, I guided my horse into the barn, jumped off, and grabbed a towel to dry her fur. Estella turned her head, and I saw my dad enter the barn.
Then my father, a man who rarely showed emotion, looked into my eyes and said: “Good job.”
I felt his love stream into my heart. I nodded, then turned and continued to dry off my horse.
I kept this memory to myself, not sharing it with Jane. I was too moved with emotion and felt grateful for my father, who had shaped me into the woman I had become.
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Girls Don’t Ride Motorbikes healed a reader’s strained relationship to her mom. Please read the book excerpt here.
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