Riding in Cars with Dads

A Hare-Raising Experience

If he could talk, this bunny would tell a cautionary tale. He would bear witness to the fact that sometimes when fathers threaten to do something unless their kids behave, they actually mean it.

Here's what happened: It was April 2, 1961 – Easter Sunday, to be precise – and my family had spent the weekend at my grandmother's house, where my two sisters and I had each been given a stuffed bunny rabbit in our Easter baskets. We were making the two-hour drive back home late that afternoon when we girls apparently got into our customary fight in the back seat. Even though I can't recall what it was about, our altercation must have involved hurling our bunnies around somehow, because I distinctly remember Daddy shouting, "The next time one of those rabbits lands up here in the front seat I'm throwing it out the window!”

But hey, Dads are always saying that kind of stuff when they're driving, right? So basically, after ignoring his threat, you can imagine our shock when moments later he suddenly rolled down his window and sent Marsha's cute little yellow bunny sailing through the air! Shrieking in horror we watched as it bounced two or three times on the highway and then came to rest under a tumbleweed in the bar ditch. To this day I can still see it out the back window – growing smaller and smaller behind us, until the tiny patch of yellow finally vanished from sight completely.

Stunned, we rode the rest of the way home in silence. Clenching my own precious little rabbit tightly, I kept saying to myself, "I can't believe he did it! He said he was going to, but I just can't believe he actually did it!”

Fast-forward one generation. This time it was my own kids in the backseat, and they were playfully bopping each other with a couple of helium balloons they'd gotten at a friend's birthday party. After first one wayward balloon and then another drifted into my husband's line of vision, he finally issued the warning, "I'm gonna pop the next one that comes up here!”

The kids probably thought, "Yeah, right.” But I knew better. Sure enough, the words were hardly out of his mouth when an airy red balloon gently floated forward. As quick as a frog's tongue snatching a fly from midair, Marc grabbed that balloon, and with a single squeeze from his great big "man paw”, burst it with a deafening "BANG!!!” Problem solved. Point made.

What is it, I wonder, about traveling with children that provokes fathers to react this way? I can't say for sure, but somehow I suspect it has always been thus. I mean, can't you just picture Moses wandering around in the desert with all those whining children (of all ages!)? Nobody can tell me he didn't get fed up enough now and then to shout, "If you kids don't stop that bellyaching right this minute, I'm going to give you something to bellyache about!”

And what about centuries later, when those pioneer dads were heading west with their families in covered wagons during the California Gold Rush? I can just hear them now: "Knock it off back there! Do you hear me? Don't make me stop this Conestoga!”

Over the years I've taken my fair share of family car trips and the way I see it, when it comes to discipline, the biggest difference between Dads and Moms is that Dads never count. Moms count, you know, as in "Jeffrey, take your Batman stickers off the window right now. Jeffrey… OneTwoThree…” Counting, of course, is just a big game of chicken. If Jeffrey blinks first and peels the stickers off the window, Mom wins. If not, counting buys her a little more time to figure out what in the world she's going to do next, because honestly she has no idea. "Twenty-sixTwenty-seven…”

Dad, on the other hand, issues but one single warning, then immediately takes action. If his arm is long enough to reach the window behind him, those stickers are history. If not, and he has to pull the car off on the side of the road to deal with the problem, Jeffrey is history.

So remember kids, fathers are a wonderful thing to have along on a family vacation. They buy you stuff and take you all kinds of neat places. But be sure to mind them like good little boys and girls – because if you don't (as this bunny would be the first to tell you) the fun goes right out the window!

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