From Chicken Soup for the Father & Son Soul

The Big Decision

As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world . . . as in being able to remake ourselves.


All year long my son Alec had been dreaming about getting a bike. He’d learned to ride the year before and asked me and his mom to get him a bicycle for his birthday. He looked at hundreds of bikes over the next few months, trying to decide which one he wanted, and one day while we were looking in a store, Alec stopped in front of a shiny blue bicycle and said, “Dad, that’s the one I’d like for my birthday.”

I’d taught my son the value of saving for what he wanted. A bike was an expensive item at that time in our lives. My wife and I were busy working and paying bills and taking care of our family. Trying to feed and clothe four children wasn’t easy, but we were keeping our heads above water. The only thing we didn’t have money for was a brand-new bike. Telling my son this was a hard thing to do, but he came up with his own solution.

“I’ve been saving my allowance,” he told me. “What if I save for the rest of the year? I’d have enough money saved to pay for half the bike I want by my birthday.”

This sounded like a solution King Solomon would have been proud of. I was proud of my son, too. He was showing a great deal of maturity and responsibility for his age. Little did I know that this was just the beginning of how he would come to surprise me that year.

Alec had to sacrifice to save for his birthday bike. While his siblings spent their money on special clothing, movies, and other fun things, Alec carefully counted out his monthly allowance and put it into his piggy bank. I saw in his eyes the temptation to spend it whenever he watched the others buying things, but Alec would go back to the store that had his birthday bike and look through the window. Then he’d nod as if he’d made a decision and the money in his bank would remain untouched for another month.

This went on month after month until his birthday was just around the corner. Alec counted and recounted the money in his piggy bank almost every night. He’d race over to the store where his birthday bicycle was waiting. He’d glance at the price tag, do some quick mental calculations, and smile when he knew he’d make it to the halfway mark by his birthday. It was just a matter of weeks. The bike was as good as his.

Then one of those unplanned events that life is full of occurred. Our car developed a crack in the transmission. The mechanic told me that it would cost over a thousand dollars to repair. There was no way we could afford that, but the car was vital to my wife and me getting to our jobs. The mechanic offered to replace it with a used transmission for a slightly lower price. I went home and sat down at the kitchen table and tried to figure out how we were going to afford it.

By cutting out every expense we could, it looked like we would just be able to do it. We would have no money left for extras, including paying for even half of the cost of a new bike. I felt terrible at the thought of having to tell Alec that all his hard work would not get him the bike he deserved, but there was nothing else I could do.

“I’m sorry we won’t be able to buy you a brand-new bike,” I told him later that night. “Things are stretched too tight, and the repairs on the car will take a lot of money.”

Alec nodded, trying not to look at me. His voice shook when he spoke. “I understand, Dad. The car needs to be fixed. Maybe next year.”

“Hey,” I said, trying to come up with my own brilliant solution. “Maybe we can get you a used bike. We saw some pretty cool ones in the bicycle shop when we first looked for your birthday bike.”

Alec’s face grew brighter. “I do have enough money saved for a used bike.”

“Sure,” I said, “And I can buy some paint and we can make it blue just like the one you wanted. At least you’ll be able to ride your own bike until we can afford to get you a new one.”

Alec got his piggy bank down from its shelf and began to count his money. I saw the joy in his face at the thought of a bike for his birthday. Then he stopped counting. Alec sat there for the longest time. Then he scooped up all of the money he had saved for more than half a year.

“Dad,” he said slowly, “I want you to take this money to help pay for the car.”

I stood there not knowing what to say. Alec was smiling, but I couldn’t believe he wanted to do this. “Alec, you’ve saved for so long for your birthday bike.”

Alec nodded. “I wanted the bike, but I wanted it so I could ride to school and to my friends’ houses. You drive me to school in the car, and to visit my friends, and we need the car so you and Mom can get to work to keep taking care of us. Somehow that seems more important right now than a bicycle.”

“Are you sure?”

Alec nodded. Then he smiled again and said, “Can I ask one favor?”

“Sure. What is it?”

“Well, since I’m sort of helping out with the car, can I borrow it sometime when I’m older and get a driver’s license?”

I laughed and gave him a hug. “You got a deal.”

John P. Buentello

[AUTHOR’S NOTE: Alec didn’t have to wait until he was old enough to borrow the car, because the following year the whole family saved and surprised him with a bike on his birthday.]

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