I’m grateful to an anonymous man who gestured for us to lower our car window as we waited in a light rain at a traffic light Wednesday evening. I thought he was going to tell us we had a tire going flat, or that he was lost and wanted directions. But neither of these was the case.

Ellen lowered her window and a man I’d guess is in his mid thirties said, “My son was dancing in the back seat, but you can’t see him now. It was pretty cute.”

When we looked toward the back seat, the father had also lowered the rear window for us to see his son more clearly, but the son was still out of sight. My guess is the father’s announcement to us that his son had just been performing was sufficient for the son to hunker down closer to the floor.

I’m sorry we missed the dance. I bet it would have been fun to watch it.

Father and son fun. (Photo credit)

Father and son fun. (Photo credit)

This episode was a reminder to me of how much fun it was to be the proud pappa of young children. It was also fun as they got older—most of the time.

I remember how mad they were once when they woke up in a tent in Ohio after a night of heavy rain to find all their bedding and clothing soaked, after the temperature had dropped considerably and left a sharp chill in the early morning air while they were dressed in shorts and T-shirts. There was a certain cuteness on their faces as they frowned in exasperation, looking like they were completely dispossessed.

I can see them climbing in a multi-trunked deciduous magnolia tree in early spring, before the leaves came out, where they would find a comfortable perch and sit in the tree and talk and laugh at length—maybe over a minute for young children. The tree was just outside my study window and they didn’t know I was watching.

What I’m about to describe was no fun at the time. Next to that tree was a swing set that had two wide seats facing each other, enough seating for four little kids, with a platform for their feet below the seats. I remember my daughter Joy standing on that platform while holding onto uprights connected to the top of the swing set, and how she pushed back and forth on those uprights to propel herself in 180-degree arcs. On one of those arcs she fell off and as she did the seats and platform swept over her, cutting a gash in the top of her scalp.

A doctor asked me to hold her arms while he injected a needle into the cut, forcing blood out. The sight of my own daughter’s blood in this circumstance caused me to break into a sweat and feel faint. Nothing like that had ever happened to me before. I had to step out in a hallway to regain my equilibrium. I had been around blood many times on our farm without any such reaction, but watching Joy’s blood flow from her head was a different matter altogether. Well over three decades ago, I haven’t had any similar experience since.

The fun in this story was in the retelling of it later. Joy still likes to remember it.

When my son Bob was very small he enjoyed hiding in piles of raked leaves in the fall. I usually knew where he was, but I’d call him acting like I didn’t. Almost on cue, he’d jump out and try to scare me. Of course, I acted scared and he loved it. We also sometimes got into wrestling matches in the piles of leaves.

Bob and Joy in the back seat, not dancing at the time.

Bob and Joy in the back seat, not dancing at the time.

Some years later I watched Bob and Joy and their friends build forts inside deep snowdrifts along a small creek behind our house in Illinois. This was perhaps their favorite part of winter there. It’s still fun hearing them talk about those days.

When they got old enough to drive, I remember riding beside them at first to make sure everything went okay. It was fun to see their expressions of confidence and having “arrived” when they were able to drive places on their own. I remember substantial amounts of worry during their early driving years as well.

That father who asked us to lower our window Wednesday evening has a lot more fun in store with his son. There will be heart-stopping mishaps, incidents that will only be fun in retrospect, and countless moments of happy surprises.

That father, Ellen, and I were all sorry we missed seeing the dance in the back seat. But somehow I feel honored and grateful that he asked us to watch anyway.

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