Leather and Lace: Jennifer Williams

L&L is the place for women’s voices here at thunder press. this month, Jennifer Williams

My Father’s Daughter

When someone finds out I ride a motorcycle they often ask if my father rode, and if that’s why I now ride. Putting that sexism aside, yes, my Dad did ride motorcycles, but he didn’t have one while I was growing up. It was only some time after my parents divorced when I was about 12 years old that he started riding again. When exactly, I couldn’t say. He wasn’t around all that much back then. But even though he wasn’t an influence on my start in riding, riding did influence our relationship.

Though my father and I didn’t have a tight relationship, as my adult years passed I found more connection with and understanding of a man I hadn’t fully known previously. It was on a motorcycle trip – from where I live in Chicago to the Detroit suburbs where my Dad lived – that I found out how powerful motorcycles can be in bringing people together. I’d been riding for about five years at that point, and this would be the very first time I would be riding with my Dad. He’d planned a scenic route along some windy side roads that he was excited to take us on. 

Jennifer with her late father and their bikes (below) while on their last motorcycle trip together.

To my incredible surprise, our riding abilities and styles matched pretty evenly. Chill, but quick to start; aggressive enough, but still careful. Initially, I was just glad that we were fairly evenly matched, which made it an easy ride. (Because if you had ever heard him behind the wheel of a car, you wouldn’t expect him to be this relaxed.) 

After a short while I realized I was smiling…a lot. Yeah, I love riding and smile a ton underneath my helmet all the time, but this was different. This time, I felt a very deep connection with my father, and it took me completely by surprise. I didn’t realize sharing a ride together would be so connecting; almost as though it was healing our father/daughter relationship without either of us stubborn people having to say a word. 

Since we lived a good distance apart we didn’t get much riding in after that, and due to my work schedule didn’t see each other much in general. But in 2018, I decided too much of life was passing me by and decided to free up some time to take some incredible road trips. The most important of those was to spend much-needed quality time with my Dad and use epic Route 66 – the legendary Mother Road – to do that. 

But in 2019 Dad’s heart was giving him trouble and doctors were working on adjusting medication to see what would stabilize his AFib. Route 66 would have to wait until 2020. No big deal, what’s another year, right? Unfortunately, and unexpectedly, my dad only made it one day into 2020. At some point the evening of January first, he went to sleep and never woke up.

Regrets aren’t very helpful in life, but what they can do is reframe the present. Of course, you can’t do whatever you want all the time, but it’s so important not to let things slip away. Time isn’t guaranteed; we all know it, but it sure is easy to forget when you’re going through the daily grind. 

It wasn’t until after his death that I found out how excited he was to go on the Route 66 trip with me. He’d told his friends. He sent them pictures of us on our last ride together this past Fall. He even told his best friend that I could help teach her to ride because I was a great rider. All of that means so much to me now and gives me an even deeper appreciation for our brief time on two wheels together.

As the only rider among my sisters, I inherited his 1999 Harley-Davidson Softail Fat Boy. It’s not exactly my style, yet I don’t think I could ever change it. It will surely be the bike I take across Route 66 this year. And even though he won’t be there, I know he’ll be riding right alongside me. 

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