"I’m not biking any more." He meant it, too. Five-year old Daniel was tuckered out.
"Looks like we’ve found the trail head. Let’s rest for a while, and then we’ll continue," his father said.
I lifted Daniel’s two-year-old sister from her seat on the back of my bicycle, and we set the bikes down.
"No. I’m not biking any more," he repeated, as he collapsed on a nearby log.
We had set out from our campsite that morning to bike along a trail that seemed manageable, according to the park map. Finding the actual trail head, however, had proved a time-consuming challenge, and we had already been biking for more than an hour. No wonder Daniel was tired. As we munched on granola bars and Rice Krispie cake, and passed around the juice boxes, we analyzed our options. Clearly, we would not be doing the trail today. The more problematic question was, How were we going to get back to the campsite? I didn’t like the movie of a long trip back with a recalcitrant rider that was playing in my head . How far had we come, anyway?
"I could bike back alone, and come back and pick you up with the car," he suggested. Well, yes you could, but that might be a long wait out here alone with two small children. We continued to munch and sip.
"Hey, Daniel," Elmer said. "See that post over there?" The post was maybe ten feet away.
"Do you think you could bike to the post?"
"Oh, sure." Daniel climbed on his bike, rode to the post, and rested.
"Would you like some more juice, Daniel?"
"No thanks. I’m done." In more ways than one, I thought.
"I bet you’re too tired to ride to that tree down the road," Elmer ventured.
"Oh, no I’m not," Daniel assured him. "Watch."
Off he went. Right to the tree. Elmer followed him. I strapped little sister back into her seat, and joined them.
Now, we had a strategy, and we leap-frogged back to the campsite, from a tree to a cairn twenty feet away, to a rock thirty feet away, to a sign forty feet away, all the way home. We sputtered back to the trailer, with the perfume of the pines, the birds’ chatter, and a tail wind for encouragement.
I thought of that summer morning so long ago all day yesterday, Father’s Day, as I reflected on my husband’s fatherhood. Already thirty-five when Daniel was born, he didn’t know what to do with a baby—the hair pulling, the collic, the spitting up, the diapers. But give him a child that could walk and talk, and he came into his own.
As soon as the children could talk, he recorded long conversations with them about tea parties, Lego constructions, bath time, and books. What have come to be known as the "Voices Tapes" now preserve a three-year-old voice reading, "I is for Iguana, impala, ibex, and ibis," or "How many trucks can a tow-truck tow. One, two, three, four, I don’t know."
He passed on to them his love of gadgets and everything electronic. They played Birthday Cake and Lemonade Stand on an Apple 2e, and operated VCRs and turntables before they were four.
He created as many experiences for them as he could. He registered them in skiing lessons, even though it meant heading out early Sunday morning when he had just returned from playing at a dance a few hours earlier. He coached baseball and soccer, until we realized that, if we were glad when the games were rained out, maybe baseball and soccer weren’t our collective thing. He bought a boat and some tubes, and they learned the thrill of water sports and time at the lake with friends. We traveled. They learned to play polkas, old-time waltzes, and Latin tunes, and to dance to them, too.
Mostly, though, he respected their ability to make sound decisions, and insisted that they have practice doing that before leaving home. Serious decisions, not artificial, concocted decisions designed for rehearsal. Decisions with consequences. Never a Net nanny in our home. "They have to deal with the Internet when we won’t be there—they need to start now," he maintained. Whereas I would have tended toward protection and supervision, he favored discussion and openness.
I am so grateful for the life lessons taught through the actions more than the words of a good father. Grateful, too, for the lessons the children have not yet mastered; they still don’t track important events by the make of car they were driving at the time.