How I Finally Found a Shared Activity That Helped Me Bond With My Son

Who knew an Indiana Jones pinball machine would bring my son and I so close?

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Welcome to “Great Moments in Parenting”, a new series where fathers discuss moments they overcame a parenting hurdle in a unique way or simply had an occasion of insight that made them think: “Hey, I’m doing okay at this whole fatherhood thing.” Here, Sean, 39 from Pittsburgh, explains how he enjoyed a nice bonding moment with his 9-year-old son over the local bowling alley’s pinball machine he loved as a kid. 

My son and I decided to go bowling for our weekly ‘hanging out’ time. We have a great bowling alley in our town – nothing fancy, just a really cool, really fun place. It’s been around since I was a kid. I remember going there when I was little, too, and I always had such a great time. One of my favorite parts was always the pinball machine. It’s this Indiana Jones-themed machine that sat in the corner. As a kid, I would throw quarter after quarter into that thing and just play for hours. It was great.

So, my son and I go in, rent our shoes, and start walking toward a lane when, all of a sudden, he spots the pinball machine. He’s nine, so I’m not sure he’d ever actually seen a pinball machine before — they’re pretty dated, and hard to come by out ‘in the wild’.

His eyes lit up, and he said, ‘dad, what’s that?’ I took him over and showed him – the same Indiana Jones pinball machine I used to play as a little kid. ‘How does it work?’ he asked.

I pulled out some quarters, and we started playing. He was amazed. He was just thrilled. The lights, the sounds, the way the ball bounced back and forth – he loved every bit of it. And he was pretty good, too. We played for, like, 45 minutes, then went and bowled.

We had fun bowling, but the whole ride home, all my son talked about was the pinball machine. It was so cool to hear him talk about it the way I remembered it as a young boy. He was in love and, I’ll admit, my nostalgia came back full force. It was a great feeling to experience with my son.

The next day, I had an idea. I went on Craigslist, just on a whim, and started looking for pinball machines for sale near us. I found one a few towns over. It wasn’t the Indiana Jones machine, but it was still pretty cool. Long-story-short, I was able to make a deal with the guy, and set up a time for him to deliver it. I didn’t tell my son, either.

A few days later, a big pickup truck pulled into our driveway, and the guy helped me unload the new machine and set it up in the garage. When my son got home from school, I told him I had a surprise for him, and took him out into the garage. You should’ve seen his face. It was just like the bowling alley. Mine probably lit up, too – I mean, it’s pretty cool having a pinball machine in the garage. He let out a gigantic ‘Wow!’, ran over, and we started to play. It was perfect.

We play all the time now – he’s actually gotten pretty good. He’s got the high score on the machine in the garage, and is working his way up on the one at the bowling alley. It’s a cool thing  — and so rare — to be able to bond with my son over something I remember loving as a kid.

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