Let’s face it. Motorcycles can be dangerous, especially on India roads where just about everyone else is out to kill you or at least throw you off the road. That’s just the way we Indians are and will continue to be at least for the rest of our lifetimes.
For this reason whenever I ride my motorcycle, I always wear a helmet, a riding jacket, jeans and shoes at a minimum. That’s if I’m riding on village roads with little traffic. But If I’m riding on one of India’s crazy highways I wear full battle gear. Of course, the most critical piece of riding gear is the helmet. After all, you can recover from scrapes and bruises. But you break your coconut and you are done.
As a father I make it a point to make my boys wear riding gear when they ride with me. There are two reasons for this, one of which is obvious while the other is not. The obvious reason is their well being in case I have a spill with them riding pillion. This blog post is about the not so obvious reason which is best explained by means of an example.
A while ago I was on a short morning ride with Russell, my seven year old son. We stopped for tea at a roadside dhaba. A family in a car had also stopped there and I noticed the mother closely observing Russell removing his helmet and riding jacket. She walked up to me and asked why I was making him wear the jacket. Before I could answer she said, “It will make him feel very hot.” Her husband then walked up and said to me, “You know, there is no need for him to wear a helmet. The law requires only the rider to wear a helmet.”
Russell and I looked at each other. Completely lost for words, I just smiled at the couple as they turned their backs on us, shook their heads and walked away, discussing the horrible father they had just met and his poor little tormented child.
What happened next is what I want to talk about. I ordered two cups of tea and as we sipped on it, Russell said to me, “Dada, don’t they know that the helmet and riding jacket is so that I don’t get hurt in case we have an accident?” I put my tea down, kissed my boy on his forehead and said to him, “No my son, they don’t. But you do. And that’s all that matters to me.”
What I’m doing as a father is creating a good habit in my son. Come to think of it that is really all I can do. I can’t follow him everywhere he goes and watch everything he does. But when he grows up and rides a motorcycle himself, if the habit sticks, he will not turn on the ignition until he has strapped on his helmet and worn his riding gear.
I make both my kids wear a cycling helmet when they are cycling on the road in front of my house or even in the complete safety of my compound. The reason is to make a habit. Man is a creature of habit and once he gets one its very difficult for him to let go of it.
Some of my rider friends tell me, “I go very slow when I’m riding with my kid. There is no need for him to use a helmet.” In my opinion, that’s missing the point by a mile. Their kids are getting used to riding on a motorcycle without a helmet. A good habit isn’t being created. On the contrary, a bad habit is taking root.
As parents our jobs don’t end my lecturing our kids on things they should and should not do. They don’t end by penalizing them for not listening to us and following our instructions. As parents our jobs really end when we have successfully created a habit in our kids for the thing we want or don’t want them to do.