From Chicken Soup for the Father & Son Soul

Squeals and Squeezes

I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I do know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.

Albert Schweitzer

I watched a toddler run on sturdy, chubby legs, squealing as he traversed the length of the country club lounge. A tall, good-looking man strode purposefully behind him, closing in on his prey. He reached for the runaway boy with a large hand and grasped nothing but air. The child had spied a banquet table draped in a white linen skirt, and with lightning speed, he’d lifted the cloth and scooted underneath, then turned eerily silent. He knew this hide-and-seek game well, despite his young age.

The dad circled the table with one ear cocked, waiting for his son to reveal his whereabouts. After two full circles, he leaned down, picked up the cloth and peered underneath. The little boy giggled and squealed as his daddy grabbed hold of him, scooped him into his arms, and held him close.

The little boy pulled back and gazed straight into his daddy’s eyes. Not a word was said, but the child wound both arms around his daddy’s neck and squeezed, then lay his blond head on the man’s broad shoulder. The dad held the child close to his heart, kissed his cheek, then stroked his hair as he carried him back to the gathering of families nearby.

I felt privileged to watch these two, for I’d witnessed a simple moment of a father and son at play. It proved to be a scene that etched itself onto my heart, a forever memory. The daddy was a member of an Army attack battalion stationed at an Army post near our town. He’d served a tour in Iraq, and in a matter of weeks, he’d board a transport plane with his battalion and return to the battlefield once again.

But now, he and his family were attending a recognition dinner at our country club. On this night, he wasn’t a soldier wearing full body armor, clutching his rifle—on the alert for any strange movements or sounds. Tonight he could be a daddy playing with a child he loved. He’d already missed a full year of the boy’s growing up, and all too soon, he’d be gone again. How much more would he miss? Who would play “catch me” with the boy while he was gone?

Once he’s back in Iraq, the young soldier might lie in his bunk at night, too weary to sleep. His thoughts will no doubt turn to home, his wife, and his energetic, playful son. The boy will be talking in sentences by the time this tour ends. And pretty soon he’ll be old enough to play catch in the backyard. A boy needs a dad to get him ready for his first baseball team.

I have a feeling this father will replay the evening’s chase in his mind myriad times. More than a game; it was yet another link in the bonding between father and son. The squeals and squeezes of both translate easily into love a father has for a son in its purest form. I pray that love survives the separation and renews itself with more squeals and squeezes when the soldier-daddy comes home again.

Nancy Julien Kopp

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