Monday, February 22, 2010

Boogie While You Can

Last Friday night, I had a big date. I showered up, ironed my best dress shirt, picked out a tie, and donned my sharpest dress coat. Then, I headed out the door for an evening of dinner and dancing in the company of a beautiful young woman. And she wasn't my wife! No, the young woman I'm speaking of is my six-year-old daughter, Emerson. This past weekend, Emerson and I hit the annual Valentine's Day Daddy-Daughter Dance at Emerson's school. My little princess looked gorgeous. Watching her descend the stairs in her little black dress, just a touch of make-up, and a Shirley Templesque hair style compliments of her mother's talent, my heart melted. Thoughts of, "My gosh, she's becoming a little woman," rushed through my mind. Fortunately, I was quickly reminded just a few moments later that, for now, she's still my little girl. While Meredith removed her digital camera from its case, I barely had time to utter the words "Where'd Emerson go?" before I looked outside to see Emerson zipping up and down the driveway on her scooter in a formal dress and heels. I was just about to yell, "Emerson, be careful," when, WIPEOUT!--she hit the concrete, skinning her knee, flipping backwards, and nearly ripping her dress. Unable to see if she was hurt because of the skirt that now covered her face, I rushed over to make sure Emerson was okay. "I'm fine," Emerson said. "I just skinned my knee." After taking a moment to brush her off and add a Hannah Montana band aid to her ensemble, Emerson and I took our place in the front yard and posed for pictures before we departed for our big event.

The evening was a blast! It will always live on as one of those precious memories I'll treasure. Upon arrival, I presented Emerson with a corsage. She smiled and said, "Thank you, Daddy." Then, being a clumsy man and not wanting to cut the evening short by accidentally impaling my daughter, I enlisted one of the young ladies on hand to help with the actual pinning. "You look beautiful," I told Emerson. "This flower itches my neck," was her only response. We then made our way into the ballroom (a.k.a. the gym). After treating ourselves to a delightful meal of Chick-fil-A chicken nuggets, barbecue meatballs, and Little Caesar's Pizza, it was time to hit the dance floor.

Accompanying your six-year-old daughter to a dance can be a little tricky. She's right at that borderland between wanting daddy close and wanting daddy to back off so that he doesn't embarrass her in front of her friends. I'd barely finished my last meatball before Emerson spotted a group of her little pals and bolted from the table. Wiping some sauce from my lip with my napkin, I couldn't help but grin as I watched them huddled together in a little group, giggling, talking, and dancing together to some song I'd never heard of. Sitting there with three or four other dads who'd been ditched just as quickly, I watched my daughter and her pals in between my own conversations with the other fathers about work and sports. Emerson and her girlfriends looked like miniature teenagers hanging out at a high school homecoming dance, while me and my fellow dads sat there dateless like members of the Chess Club.

Then, suddenly, things changed. The DJ began blasting KC and the Sunshine Band's "Boogie Shoes." It's a song the kids and I sometimes sing and dance to at home when we're goofing off. Immediately, Emerson's face lit up, she began jumping up and down and motioning to me like crazy to join her on the dance floor. Finally noticed, I jumped up like the geeky kid in science class who'd somehow won a wink from the head cheerleader and rushed to join my daughter. The other dads soon followed, and we all put on our boogie shoes and shaked our booties. We danced to KC and the Sunshine Band, Cool and the Gang, the Jonas Brothers, and more than a couple of Miley Cyrus songs (And the Jay-Z song was on y'all). Of course, when you get a bunch of dads in a big room dancing, it's not always a pretty sight (especially when most of those dads are middle-aged white guys). Some of the dads there were pretty good dancers. I'd even go so far as to say that a few had rhythm. But, for the most part, the dancing wasn't good. Some of it was even downright disturbing. There were a couple of times when I almost called 911 to report men having seizures. But, since the shaking and flailing always stopped when the music did, I eventually figured out that the only medical condition we guys were suffering from was an incurable case of severe Caucasianitis.

And that's pretty much how the night went. It was a balancing act in which I did my best to read my daughter. After a little while, I got pretty good at knowing when it was time to jump in and boogie and when it was time to take a step back and let her run with her little crew. Emerson gave me a tight hug and a big "I love you, Dad," when the night was over, so I guess I did okay.

But the evening was encouraging for another reason too. It was encouraging because it reminded me that there are a lot of awesome dads out there. In this day and age, when we hear of fathers who neglect their families for work or who just aren't around, it was inspiring to look around the room the other night and see fathers dancing, laughing, and being silly with their little princesses. I couldn't help but notice that every single father I saw looked like he was having fun and that there was nowhere else on earth he'd rather be than right there, in that moment, with his little girl. One guy in particular, my friend Andy, had to fly out early the next morning because he'd broken up a business trip just so he could be home to take his girls to the Daddy-Daughter Dance. "It's not the most practical thing," he told me, "but I wasn't going to miss this." Now that's what fatherhood is all about. Ten years from now, Andy won't remember the deals he made on his business trip, but he'll remember that dance--and so will his daughters.

We dad's have a precious, but oh too narrow window with our kids. We are blessed with a short amount of time in which our daughters want us to be their date for the evening, want to hug us and sit on our laps in public, and aren't embarrassed to say "That's my dad," when people see us dance. We get a few years in which our sons want to be Dad's best bud, hang out with him all the time, and brag to his friends about how his dad is the biggest, strongest, and smartest dad in the world. It's a special time. But it will one day end. So my advice, dads: boogie while you can! Dance while the music is still playing and your little girl is still jumping up and down, waving to you, and calling at the top of her lungs, "Come on, Dad! This is our song! Let's dance!" You'll always be glad you did. Even if you suffer from Caucasianitis.

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