An attitude by which I have tried to live as a father has been to be available and ready to help my children in times of crisis. So I jumped crisply out of bed that Friday at midnight when Son-number-three arrived at the bedroom door with the dismal news that the car had failed him. He had gotten a ride home, but the balky vehicle was safely parked on the side of a street several blocks away.
"We better go get it," I said.
"Right now?" he responded.
"We might as well," I replied. So off we went in our family's other car.
The accelerator had broken. I tried to fix it, but I knew right away I couldn't. Nevertheless I spent a few minutes poking around under the hood and down on the floorboard with a flashlight. Finally, I reasoned that the car would start, and my son could drive it home at idle speed. So I told him to start it, and I would follow him.
I quickly tired of the tediously slow pace, so I honked the horn, got his attention, and said I would push him. It would be much faster that way. At the speedier pushing pace we proceeded with improved hopes of salvaging a normal night of sleep.
We had progressed about half a block when a car approached from the opposite direction with its bright lights glaring. Soon the car was directly in front of us, encroaching on our lane in such a way that we were forced to stop. We waited with irritation and apprehension. In about ten seconds it became stunningly clear it was a Los Angeles County sheriff.
He left his car and approached Son-number-three in the disabled car. Standing several yards away with obvious caution, the sheriff ordered him, "Get out of the car. Slowly!"
I stayed quietly in my place, perplexed, rapidly losing my cheerful helping-father demeanor but deciding to let my son handle it.
"We have a call that you are stealing this car. Do you have any proof of ownership?" I heard the sheriff say.
At this moment I noticed in my rear-view mirror that two more police cars had parked behind me and that a fourth was approaching from the front. Then suddenly a tremendous explosion of light hit us. It was the police helicopter circling overhead, its searchlight pinning us down. We were really caught!
Quickly the matter was cleared up. We were legitimate—somewhat to the disappointment, I thought, of the sheriffs. My son and I continued on home with a great story to tell and eager to tell it for quite a few days to anybody who would listen.
What had I accomplished as a father in this surprising midnight adventure? For one thing, I had reinforced the model of being there and being ready to help in times of crisis. I did not groan or complain but showed myself approachable at any time. That is important to me. While I do not want to step in when there is no legitimate need, I do want to model availability with a smile when needed.
But probably the more important fringe benefit flowing from our impromptu outing was THE MEMORY we created together. We shared something ineradicable, an unforgettable and priceless vignette no one could ever take away from us. It was our adventure. Nobody else's. In a subtle way it, contributed to a lifetime of delicate bonding between father and son.
Creating memories is one of the most positive family-builders there is. Some of them just happen—like this one did. But thoughtful parenting contemplates deliberately setting the stage for sharing unforgettable experiences.
Some memories we relish are family routines that have a certain delectable quality, like having pot roast, potatoes, and gravy for Sunday dinner, or watching "Little House on the Prairie" as a family every week. Other memories are those "specials" when Dad or Mom does something uniquely personal with one child alone.
Searching through the archives of your own heart and mind what do you find? What kind of collection is there? Studying your own may give you a clue to the kind of events that communicate in a special way and create those memories that are spirit-touching, life-enriching, and family-building: I remember sitting in church next to my mother while she gently pushed the cuticles back on my fingers. I remember driving all night on a long vacation trip; listening as a family to "Truth or Consequences" after our Saturday night baths; camping; looking at the pictures in the story Bible during family devotions. And I remember meals for twelve of us with one helping at each. . . . The list goes on and on as the mind begins to mine for its gold.
Of all the gifts we can give our children, only those that touch their spirits really last. The best of such gifts have been wrapped with a precious and rare substance called intimacy. Memories are made of that. Our children will cherish the spiritual heritage in which we nourish them when we weave into their lives, carefully and subtly, deliberately and accidentally an unforgettable fabric of intimate experiences with people who love them.