ROGER DECOSTER ON PARENTHOOD–1993

In 1993, Roger and Kaarina brought Mika DeCoster into the world. He was Roger’s third son, prompting a column in Dirt Bike where he reflected on parenthood and youth athletics. In the years that followed, Mika did, indeed, become a successful collegiate athlete in tennis. Recently, he graduated from Keck School of Medicine of USC and is now beginning his new career as a doctor. Here’s what Roger wrote in 1993.

I really had a good weekend at the end of last month. Saturday, I promoted an amateur motocross. It was a success. Sunday was the 125/250 National, which was also a success. Monday we threw a farewell party for Guy Cooper’s retirement, and Monday night I became a father (for the third time). Like I said, it was a pretty good weekend.

My wife Kaarina and I made a detour to the hospital on the way home from the party, and nine hours later, Mika was born. I seem to be pretty good at producing boys. Mika has two brothers; Niguel (age 17) and Christian (age 14).

People ask if Mika will go into the family business. Will he be a motocrosser? Will he be a good one? I can only say that he can be anything he wants to be. I won’t try to push him toward motorcycling, but I won’t discourage him either. I know that in many cases, parents try to push their children toward activities that the parents, not the children, are interested in. It’s commonly accepted that if a person is going to excel in some athletic profession, he or she has to start at a very young age. Gymnasts have to be on a training schedule by the age of six. Damon Bradshaw started riding minibikes when he was three years old. Parents know this, and it’s only natural that they want their next generation to be more successful than they were. So it seems logical to start the kids early at something.

I’m not an expert on the proper way to raise children, and I’m suspicious of anyone who says he knows exactly what’s right and what’s wrong. But from what I’ve seen and experienced, I think that just raising a son is difficult enough without the added burden of trying to raise a motocross star as well. Sure, sometimes it pays off. If the father’s interest just happens, by coincidence, to be the same as the son’s, then you do have a good chance of producing a Damon Bradshaw. More often than not, though, the motocross father just puts more pressure on his son and the entire activity stops being fun and productive. Soon the kid will lose interest.

Both of my older sons seem to enjoy riding motorcycles, although they have very little racing experience. Christian has only recently taken up racing on a semi-regular basis. He first rode when he was eight on a Honda XR80. I only allowed him to ride when he was completely supervised, and when his grades were good. Now I know that his interest isn’t just a passing fad, so I’m delighted to take him to the track. If I wanted him to be a champion and nothing else, I would have had him on the track much earlier, but I’m happy with they way things are working out.

I’ve discovered that there are distinct advantages to going racing with my son that have nothing to do with his success at the sport. For one thing, I get to spend time with him doing something he enjoys. Not many fathers get that opportunity. For some reason I can’t understand, when kids (especially boys) enter their early teens, they are embarrassed to be seen with their parents. Your kids know that the other kids will poke fun at them if mom or dad gives them a hug in plain view, or even drops them off at school. That ban is evident in every aspect of their social life [except] at the races. At the race track, it’s okay if dad drives, if dad works on the bike and if dad helps out. If Christian and Niguel go and hang out at the beach with their friends, it probably wouldn’t be a big hit if I came along. It’s perfectly fine if I come to the races, though.

Another big benefit about letting your kids get involved in racing is what they learn. They develop mechanical knowledge that is way ahead of other kids who are interested in video games or something. Kids are always wanting something trick for their bikes–just the fact that they want a new reed block shows that they have developed some mechanical understanding. A smart father will get him the reed block, and supervise while his son installs it. The price of the new part will be a bargain even if it does nothing for the performance of the bike.

Kids also learn about responsibility when they race. Assuming that you don’t do everything for them, they’ll learn that the bike has to be ready, they’ll learn to be on time, they’ll even learn to get up (and probably even get you up) in the morning. Missing sign-up or practice is a hard lesson.

Racing motocross is a physically demanding activity, too. Most of the alternatives aren’t. Mario Bros., as far as I know, doesn’t come very close to the threshold of aerobic activity, and neither does Pac-Man. Getting tired in a moto might teach volumes about junk food and exercise.

There is a down side to getting your kid into racing. It has to be his idea. Also, both parents have to think it’s a good idea, especially if the parents are divorced, as is so common today. Riding requires supervision, and if you aren’t around all the time, then the other parent needs to fill in. Don’t just turn your pre-teen lose on a motorcycle and think everything will turn out okay.

Finally, it is a dangerous sport. That’s something that you and your child have to understand and accept. If he comes back from the races with some bumps and bruises, neither one of you should be surprised.

Overall, though, I have to say that I think racing is good for kids. It’s healthy, it’s education and, best of all, it’s fun. I have no idea, however, what Mika thinks about the subject.

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