Sunday school was over, and Dad was at Temple Sinai right on time to pick up his 6-year-old son. But the two argued, as sons and Dads sometimes will. So the son stalked off in a huff down Military Road NW, in the direction of Rock Creek Park.

Dad sat there, figuring the stalking would soon end. But it didn't. After several minutes, he began searching the nearby streets and alleys. No son.

You can't be alive in 1984 without fearing the worst in a situation like this. If you're a parent, you don't just hit the panic button when your child vanishes -- you hammer on it with both fists. Which is exactly what this Dad did.

He drove around the area as fast as he could, asking everyone he passed if they'd seen the boy. When that produced nothing, he contacted the U.S. Park Police, who have a substation on Beach Drive, about a mile from the temple.

Three hours later, the story ended happily. A passing bicyclist saw the boy walking through the park and escorted him to the police station, where his parents were waiting. Unfortunately, neither the parents nor the police got the biker's name, so they couldn't thank him. They'd all like to do so, here and now.

Lessons? There are several.

First, in a lost-child situation, it's always wise to use the nearest police station as a base of operations. Good news or bad will probably flow through there first.

Second, don't assume that 6-year-olds know their way around, no matter how good a game they talk. This boy later told his parents that he wanted to stop stalking and rejoin his Dad after just a few minutes. But by then, he was fairly deep into Rock Creek Park, and couldn't find his way back to Temple Sinai, even though he'd been a member of the congregation there since before he could walk.

Third, parents should drill-drill-drill their kids about the dangers of accepting rides from strangers. This 6-year-old told his parents that more than a dozen motorists offered him rides as he tramped along Beach Drive. But he declined each one, as his parents had always told him to do.

Maybe nothing would have happened to the boy if he had accepted one of the offers. On the other hand . . . .