The story of Major Taylor is an inspiring one…and a tragic one. Major Taylor was the greatest cyclist of his generation, perhaps one of the great athletes to ever live. The only problem was that he was born in 1878 and he was born black in America.
This meant that although he was able to fight his way to the top of his sport, he would have to fight his way through brutal racism and unfairness in order to do it. The dual battles took their toll on Taylor. In the end, he lost not only his fame and fortune, but the family he loved too. He died alone, penniless, and estranged from his young daughter Sydney.
As Michael Kranish writes in The World’s Fastest Man, his fantastic book about Taylor, for many years, Sydney just thought her father had failed her, and naturally, she was angry at him. “Sydney had been bitter,” he writes, “at what she interpreted as her father’s rigidity and aloofness. Only later, she said, did she truly understand the strains he had faced—the physical one of racing for decades, and the mental one of battling racism. The combination, she believed, had slowly killed him.”
Sydney didn’t know her father’s battles. Those battles weren’t his fault…but his failure to talk to her about them was. We all struggle. We all face unfairness. There has never been a parent (or a human being) that did not fall short in some regard. If we don’t explain this to our children, if we can’t be vulnerable or honest with them, there will forever be an unbridgeable gap between us. We will lose time and connection that we can’t ever get back. All of us will lose what Sydney and Major lost: a chance to support each other, to understand each other, to be loved and fully appreciated by each other.
The world sucks. It does cruel things. To us. To good people. We’re in a battle, all of us. But we have to remember that our kids are allies in this fight. They are who we are fighting for, and if we let them, they can fight alongside us. If we don’t, if we shut down or shut up, then we’ll lose. They’ll lose. And only later, will they come to understand what we’ve been going through, when it’s too late.