A tribute to my father

This is a personal post in honour of my dear father, who passed away in the evening of Friday the 21st of October 2016.

Walter Wagenbuur was born in 1935 in Zuilen (now a suburb of Utrecht). Cycling was very much part of his everyday life. I cannot remember anything else than that my father cycled to work, every day, whatever the weather conditions.

My dad and I on my father’s 81st birthday, the 4th of August 2016.

I don’t know at what age my dad started cycling. As a very young child he had a pedal scooter (with which he got lost one day; he was found at the other end of Utrecht) and I know he mostly walked to school. But at the age of 17, my dad already cycled to camping sites in his holidays. There are pictures from 1952, when he cycled with his brother and some friends to Otterlo, about 55 kilometres from Utrecht. The trips would be much bigger later. He boasted about a cycle trip to Liège and further around Belgium. From Utrecht that is over 200 kilometres one way, so that is something to be proud of indeed.

On the far left, my father as a 17-year-old on a cycling trip with his one year younger brother (2nd left) and two of their friends.
Their four bicycles packed with camping gear.
My father repairing a flat tyre in the 1950s. Listening carefully to hear the hissing of escaping air to find the hole. He taught me how to fix a flat exactly that way.

We didn’t own a car until I was about 8 years-old. And so we cycled everywhere. I have fond memories of sitting on my dad’s bike, as well as on my mother’s. My father was the one who taught me how to ride a bike myself. I remember that very vividly! I had got the old bike of my uncle, my mother’s youngest brother, who was only 3 years older than I was. In a park right next to our home my dad ran after me to hold the bicycle, while I tried to master how to ride it. I clearly remember how at one point I shouted “Stop! We’re going too fast!” But he had already let go of me. I had no idea that I was already riding on my own.

My father with me on his bike in April 1966.

When I went to secondary school, from 1977 on, my ride to school and his to his work overlapped for the most part. We did, however, almost never cycle together. I made sure that I “needed” to go on a different time. Cycling to school with your dad, that wasn’t cool of course!

The morning of my 7th birthday I tested my first new bicycle, with my sister and my father. Even though the purple bike was too high, I could already cycle on it and I quickly grew, so it became easier to use.
The morning of my 7th birthday I happily tested my first new bicycle, with my sister and my father. Even though the purple bike (it was 1972!) was too high, I could already cycle on it and I quickly grew, so it became easier to use.

My father has cycled to work his entire working life, which was from the age of 17 to 58, and all that time he worked with the same employer! He went into early retirement in 1994 and did a lot of voluntary work in the Utrecht cathedral. Both in the office and in the cathedral itself, as host for tourists who came to visit. Of course he cycled there as well!

On a holiday in 1980 we made a cycle tour in Brabant and my dad read the map.

In 2001, during a holiday in Berlin, my dad had his first intracerebral haemorrhage. Over the next 15 years many – smaller and bigger – would follow. Slowly damaging his body and his abilities. For someone who never smoked, used little alcohol and cycled all his life, that seemed very unfair. The brain damage made it increasingly difficult to cycle. From a bike with an ultra-low step through frame he later had to change to a mobility scooter, until advancing vascular dementia made it impossible for him to travel by himself. The last one and a half years my father had to live in a care home and he was slowly fading away. Last August we celebrated his 81st birthday there. A small party that he really enjoyed.

My parents on a cycle tour on the Canary Islands in the 1990s.
My parents on a cycle tour on the Canary Islands in the 1990s.

Two weeks ago my father’s body suddenly seemed to have stopped working. We sat by his bed as much as possible and he seemed to relax every time he saw us. He even recognised us on the very last day. The struggle was very hard to witness, especially the last week when we sat there all day. Even then, the end came at an unexpected time.

It is comforting to know that my father had a rich life. He would say: “Look at us, we did so much!” when we watched our old super-8 movies. At the age of 81, with his strength completely faded, Walter Wagenbuur had now simply reached the end of his life. We had to let him go. He is survived by my mother, my sister, her two children, my partner and myself. I am grateful for all that he was and I will dearly miss my father.

37 thoughts on “A tribute to my father

  1. A big “Thank You” to everyone who responded to the death of my father, here, as well as on Facebook, Twitter and via other means of communication. It did a lot of good to my family and to myself.

  2. My condolences on your loss, Mark, and thank you for sharing this loving memorial of the man. I lost my father earlier this year, and know well how the memories of a lifetime can swirl around one’s mind for some time to come. Best wishes to your extended family.

  3. Thank you for sharing your tribute to your father. Your love glows through the words and pictures.

  4. Gecondoleerd, Mark. Wat een prachtige herinneringen aan een bijzondere man heb je hiermee met ons gedeeld. Veel sterkte toegewenst.

  5. Thanks for sharing your memories, Mark, with your bike-loving community. Best wishes with getting through this sad time.

  6. I was saddened to hear of the loss of your beloved father. What a beautiful tribute to a very special man. The world will never be the same without him.
    Condolences to you, Lei and your family.

  7. Beautifully written and heartfelt, Mark. What a wonderful way to pay tribute to your dear father. Much love and ‘sterkte’ to you and Lei, and the rest of your family.

  8. What a touching tribute to a very special man. And I’m deeply sorry for your loss and only hope that the father finds the roads flat the winds at his back and the tires unpuncturable as he rides through the fields of heaven.

  9. Your father was of the generation that had to endure the rebuilding of the Netherlands after the war, so it must have given him great pleasure to see how well it has turned out. We wish you all the best and our condolences to you and your family.

  10. Mark, gecondoleerd met dit verlies kerel. De appel valt niet ver van de boom, grote liefde voor de fiets, het fietsen. Wat maakte je een prachtig fietsportret van Walter je vader; hulde. André

  11. Requiescat in pace. Condolences and our prayers to you, your mother and your family in these difficult times.

  12. Wat een mooie herinneringen heb je aan je lieve vader. De pijn is nog heel acuut, Mark maar de liefde die je voor je vader hebt spreekt zo duidelijk uit je warme memoriam. En die zal blijven en de pijn verzachten. Heel veel sterkte bij dit verlies , voor jou, je geliefden en familie.

  13. Congratulations to the author of this blog for continuing to cycle as very much part of your daily life and blogging about it long after your father gave up, and also your surviving your father.

  14. Thank you for your moving account, Mark. I am sorry for your loss, which can be acutely felt through your blogpost. My condolences. Good to know you have so many fond memories of him

  15. What a lovely tribute to your Dad. Thank you for sharing your story at such a difficult time. I wish peace and strength to you and your family.

  16. My deepest condolences. The spirit soul that is your father will never die. Let us wish him a cycle friendly destination!

  17. My deepest condolences. Thank you for sharing some words about your father and how much cycling was a part of his life. I also lost my father a few years ago and my mother not long after. No matter what age they are or you are, it is still hard to say goodbye. You have some great memories and it sounds like he enjoyed his life thoroughly.

  18. Thank you for sharing your very personal story. I recognized a few of the photos from previous posts about your father.

    I loved the story of how you learned to ride a bike. My late father also taught me how to ride a bike. I remember it vividly! What I didn’t remember and what my parents told me later about that first ride, was that I looked over my shoulder and yelled, “I don’t need you anymore!” LOL, of course I meant help with biking.

    My condolences to you and your family.

  19. Best wishes to you and your family, Mark. You are indeed fortunate to have so many happy memories.

    1. I like this one!

      More people cycling more often means more happy things and more happy memories.

      We should be thankful for what Mark has done on cycling ever since his father could no longer ride a bike, and for surviving his father!

  20. So sorry to hear this. I lost my Dad at a relatively early age almost 8 years ago so I can imagine what you are going through.

    What this post also highlights so beautifully is the role of cycling in the relationship between Dutch fathers and their kids. Teaching your kids to cycle is often a male privilege and a special moment in people’s lives. I certainly remember bits of when my father taught me how to cycle (without the aid of training wheels). Special memories.

    All the best to you, your family and your relatives. You will find that as time goes on the pain fades and happy memories will take over. By the looks of it your Dad gave you heaps to treasure for the rest of your life.

    Take care.

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