It all started a year ago when we sat in a darkened theater. We had watched Sofia make her dance debut as a bumblebee, and I was still recovering from the anxiety I’d been carrying, wondering whether she would actually make it onstage or not. (She actually was amazing—she did the entire number with the biggest smile on her face.) The last number was a daddy daughter dance. The idea of girls (ranging in age from 4 to 14) dancing with their fathers would usually seem awkward or cheesy, but I found myself with tears in my eyes. Looking around, everyone in the audience seemed to be wiping at their eyes.
I always talk about how I’m a daddy’s girl, and how, despite being busy and working hard, my dad managed to make time to have conversations with us and make each of us feel how important we are to him. When our little girl arrived, I hoped that she and Mr D would have as good a relationship as my dad and I do. Now, no one makes Sofia laugh harder, or sit up straighter when she’s been misbehaving, than her Dad. Hearing her giggles when he reads to her at bedtime makes my heart melt.
So, I was thrilled—though not surprised—when Mr D didn’t even pause when I asked him if he wanted to do the daddy daughter dance this year. He and a couple other dads from Sofia’s class signed up. They would have one half-hour class a month and a video they could practice to in between. Moms and other family members were not allowed to go to the rehearsals so they could surprise everyone at the recital. It was adorable to see how excited Sofia would get for these rehearsals, and how she’d insist she and Mr D practice at home where Mommy couldn’t see. The pair of them would come back in high spirits, Sofia chattering about how well they were doing but how she couldn’t tell me more because it was a surprise.
On picture day, Mr D dressed in his black suit and tie and he and Sofia had their picture taken together, then in a group with the other girls and their dads. It was sweet to see these little girls with their dads, proudly posing with them for the camera. Just as awesome was seeing the camaraderie between Mr D and the other dads, laughing and teasing each other about how unprepared they felt for the big day.
Then, before we knew it, the big day arrived. As soon as she woke up that morning, Sofia was full of energy and fairly crackling with anticipation. Ever the worrywart, I asked Rikki if he had watched the practice video one more time. He calmly smiled and said, “We got it.” I was still skeptical but let it pass.
Sofia did her first dance splendidly, even if she did look offstage at the teacher half the time to make sure she knew what steps were next. We quickly changed her into her second costume and I rearranged her hair (both of which were no easy feat with the baby sleeping in a wrap around my chest. I wished the men good luck and went back to the theater to see if their practice had paid off.
As soon as they walked onstage, I could feel the tears prickling the backs of my eyes again. It wasn’t the song (“You Raise Me Up”, which I usually find a little melodramatic and overplayed), or the steps, which were simple and straightforward. It was watching these men do something potentially uncomfortable and embarrassing to be able to share an experience with their little girls and show people how precious their children are to them. When it was over, the dads and daughters took their bows to whistles and applause. Backstage, Sofia apparently told Mr D: “Good job, Daddy!” Afterwards, everyone congratulated the dads on a job well done. A few of the other dads who had opted not to do the dance confessed that they regretted their decision. We reassured them that they could make up for it next year.
Things like dancing are not the kind of activities a lot of guys feel they’re good at, so it’s not something they jump up to do. But I remember the times I danced with my dad, whether it was at home goofing around or at my 18th birthday “debut” party. Most memorably, of course, was when we danced at my wedding. It’s hard to describe all the emotions I felt dancing with my dad to “Just the Way You Look Tonight”—happiness, sadness, pride and, of course, love. It felt like all the times spent with my dad got condensed into that minute and a half as I went from being a part of one family to forming one of my own. It’s funny how such moments leave such lasting impressions.
So, this Sunday, let’s celebrate all those dads who find ways, big and small, to make their daughters and sons feel special. Because they know that whether it be a hug, a word of praise, a shared joke, or a daddy daughter dance in front of perfect strangers—it all adds up.