The theme for the daddy-daughter dance was “Old Time Hollywood,” so the only question for me was which of my many old time Hollywood wardrobe components to don. The pants and shirt? Or possibly the other pants and shirt? Unfortunately, my top hat was at the cleaners; however, there was some debate about whether that would have been too old time Hollywood anyway. It’s like, are we talking “old time” as in Charlie Chaplin or “old time” as in when Brad Pitt would wear those terrible tinted sunglasses on the red carpet in the late 90s? The point is that I didn’t want to embarrass myself.
I settled on a dress shirt, pants and tie. It was similar to what I wore during my old time Hollywood job interview in 2015, or the old time Hollywood Easter Sunday Mass I attended the year prior. Upon arrival, I was surprised at some of the other dads’ interpretations of old time Hollywood fashion. “Just got off work at my tech job and gotta go to this thing” a la Clark Gable circa 1935 was the preferred look of many. I suddenly felt overdressed as we waited in a slow-moving line to confirm that we prepaid the $7 fee to enter the school gym.
It was on this line that my daughter—she was there, too—first expressed sincere embarrassment at being near me. I expect as much from her when she is in say, fifth grade, but I did assume that sacrificing my Friday evening to dress up and go to a school dance (with no bar, btw, wtf) with a first grader would at least be rewarded with the satisfaction of her genuine appreciation. The fact that I was one of a select few who even bothered to wear a tie was either lost on her or added to her sense of shame. When she located a friend in line, my daughter opted to stand with her and her dad for a few minutes while I waited by myself, looking and feeling pretty cool.
I’m sorry sir, but one of the basic requirements for admission is a daughter.
Yeah she’s somewhere. Last name is Kenny. Should be on the list, my wife paid cash.
You’re going to have to leave, sir.
I somehow convinced her to rejoin me in line, but this daddy-daughter reunion was short-lived. The very second we walked through the doors of the gym, I was abandoned with nary a second thought. Four or five first-grade girls, including my daughter, shrieked in unison and came together like magnets and with the passion of long lost friends who hadn’t seen each other in at least three hours. With that, they were gone.
Sheer loneliness gave me time to survey the scene, which was amazing. School-age girls scattered about the dance floor, gently bobbing to the sweet sounds of Flo Rida—"Old Time Hollywood"—while dads stood on the outskirts, checking their phones. This seemed to me like one of those perfect moments where the fantasy of parenting meets the reality. Prior to leaving the house, my wife had marveled, and probably cried, at how grown-up our oldest looked, with her modest makeup, on the way to her first school dance. We took pictures to document this evening that would surely resonate, one special step along the journey that bonds a father and his daughter. No doubt my wife had sent these photos to our family and received many “Awww!”s in response. Certainly she Instagrammed a photo or two, with a teary-faced or heart emoji. I imagined all of these other dads had gone through a similar ritual, and now here we all were, looking around occasionally to make sure our respective daughters were still somewhere in this giant room.
The last thing I wanted to do was engage in monotonous small talk with other dads, but at least initially it seemed like a better option than standing around like a weirdo. I talked to a few, carrying the conversations with questions like “How many daughters do you have here?” and “What grade are they in?” and “Is the clock in here always so slow?” When all meaningless questions were exhausted, I would excuse myself from the awkwardness by commenting that I should probably go and find my daughter. This was an excuse but also truth. During most of my dad-to-dad conversations (#D2DConvos), the daughters of the dads with whom I was speaking would occasionally run up and hug their dads' legs or ask them for water, comforted by the fact that Dad was still there, albeit at a distance. My daughter never did this. Sporadically ensuring she was still there was a must and, in doing so, I surely annoyed her even more with such comments as “Please get off the stage and stop playing with the state flag,” and “Where are your shoes?”
I practiced a decent amount of patience with all this, trying not to ruin her obvious good time with an idealistic vision of what the evening was supposed to be (i.e., inclusive of the daddy). But I was intent, through mere principle, on actually dancing with her. As the night came to a close and T-Swizzle blared through the speakers, she finally relented—most likely because the core of her friends group had already left—and joined me on the dance floor.
We danced for a little while, and I enjoyed it, even breaking a legit sweat. She implored me to spin her and dip her which, as it always does, morphed into a demand to throw her in the air. Why not. I did, and she was happy, and for but a moment I was maybe the most popular dad on the dwindling dance floor. So much so that the one friend who remained pleaded with me to throw her, too, backed up by the pleas of my daughter—“Yeah, Dad, throw HER!” I tried my best to explain, over the sounds of “Shake It Off,” why I couldn’t/wouldn’t throw/lay a hand on a daughter who was not my own, as I looked around for her dad to save me from this situation. I did soon find him, and it turned out he was a dad I had spoken to briefly earlier, the one who had expressed mild surprise that I wasn’t aware of his truck, which was “by far the biggest one in the parking lot.”
On the way out, my daughter wanted me to carry her to my more modest motor vehicle, the opposite of not wanting to be seen with me on the way in. I obliged, and it seemed like this bizarre night had somehow arrived at an idealistic conclusion. In fact, the evening as a whole brought to mind the classic words of one old time Hollywood crooner, “Club Can’t Handle Me.”