very once in a while when we were kids, my dad used to crank up his old man music and do his own version of the DorkDaddy thing. Usually it was either folk music from the Kingston Trio, or The Beach Boys – turned up loud enough to make the dog leave the room. I do the same thing to my kids today, only these days the “old man music” is Def Leppard and Bon Jovi.
30 years ago when the Beach Boys album was pumpin’ and the dog was hiding under the bed, “Surfer Girl” would come on and my dad would swoop up one (or both) of my little sisters. He’d put them on his toes and dance with them in his arms, singing the lyrics (falsetto and all) as if the song was written just for them.
Ever since she was in Jr. High, my baby sister always maintained that whenever she got married and it came time for the father/daughter dance, it was going to be to “Surfer Girl”. I don’t know that my father ever heard of her plan – he might have. But the plan might also have been one of those conversations between siblings that we all remembered and just never brought up again.
In any case, that day finally came this weekend. My baby sister got married. Episode IV got to be the flower girl and Episode V got to be the (Lord of the) ring bearer(s). Episode VI was still too little for an official part in the ceremony, but he was listed in the program anyway as “Cutie-patootie” and got to walk his Booboo down the aisle along with his equally adorable cousin. As it was he managed to steal his share of thunder when he finally decided he was finished with being a crawler and wanted to be a walker – at the rehearsal dinner – around a pool!
The ceremony went off without a hitch – perfect weather, no major SNAFU’s. The party moved on to the reception where there could be found all the typical wedding traditions: speeches from the Best Man and Matron of Honor, cake cutting, toasts, yadda, yadda…
When most of the guests were done eating, it was time to dance. As expected, the bride and groom got the first dance to the song of their choosing, with all the requisite “awww”s and camera-phone shots from the guests you would expect. Dance/smooch/hug, dance/smooch/hug. Typical wedding fare. The dance ended to the applause of the guests.
And then it happened…
That baritone scale progression, followed by the lilting falsetto melody – so familiar it’s practically written into my family’s DNA, “Surfer Girl” started up as the DJ announced that it was time for the father/daughter dance. My dad lost it. My sister lost it. All the guests in the room lost it. And that one moment that my sister had been planning since Jr. High finally came true. She was dancing with her daddy to the perfect song after the perfect day.
It is a strange quirk of life that I tend to look at these things through the lens of fatherhood these days, rather than as a brother, or a husband, or even just plain old me. The last time I watched my father in a father/daughter dance at my sister’s wedding, I didn’t have a daughter myself. Things are different now. This weekend I didn’t see my baby sister up there dancing with her daddy, I saw a father having his last dance with his last child, his youngest daughter, his little baby (surfer) girl. I saw that awful, inevitable, inescapable moment where a father has to finally admit that although she may have been a grownup for years and years, his little girl is no longer his. In moments like those, your mind starts to wander.
I have a daughter.
I have a daughter I love so much it hurts. I have a daughter I love so much, sometimes I lose it just looking at her pictures on my screensaver. I have a daughter who’s growing up the way daughters do. At every major life event I see the girl going off to the first day of kindergarten, or the little girl riding her bike for the first time, or the little girl who mastered reading in a week, or the flower girl at my sister’s wedding… but I also see that little baby, only seconds old, that I held in my hands. I walked her to school on her first day of kindergarten. I ran behind the bike, steadying it as she found her balance. I helped her sound out the hard words. I painted her fingers and toes to match her dress for the wedding…
Sometimes all I can see is that little, newborn baby daughter.
Someday that daughter may want to get married.
Someday she may have a wedding, with a dress and a flower girl and a reception and everything.
At that reception there will very likely be dancing.
Before the dancing there will likely be a father/daughter dance.
She will walk up to me, after dancing with her husband, and take my hand to lead me to the dance floor.
What song will she pick?
Of course I know what song she’ll pick. We have a song. It’s our song. We will dance to our song and I will have to admit to myself that she is no longer mine, and I will totally lose it.
I know what you’re thinking right now. You’re thinking “Holy crap, man. Your daughter is seven. You’ve got DECADES before you have to worry about that sort of thing. Get a grip.”
You’re right, you’re right. I know you’re right. But this is what it means to love a little person so much you’d swear your heart will explode. This is what it means to look down in silence at your sleeping baby, filled with panic at how fast it’s all gone by and with terror at what is to come. This is what it means to be the father of a daughter.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go back into the office and give myself oxygen for the next 23 years.