Father-Daughter Dance: Oh, the memories

The press release for the annual Father-Daughter Dance caught my wife Maria’s eye. It included a photo of an apparently doting and devoted father gently holding his daughter’s hand, his arm around her slim waist, leading her confidently through a fox trot while a debutante-dance band murmured on the bandstand.

As she studied the article, Maria might have imagined our oldest daughter stepping gracefully from a Lincoln Continental in a shimmering evening gown, cream-white shoulders and pearls, gloved fingers around a clutch purse, gracefully hooking her arm into her father’s (hey, that’s me!), and as we cross the sidewalk into an oak-paneled supper club, for a moment our daughter leaves her childhood behind. In Maria’s daydream I had lost several pounds, shined my shoes for once and gained a full head of distinguished wavy-silver hair.

The next night while Maria and I were reading in bed, she sat up suddenly and announced that I would be inviting our oldest daughter to the Father-Daughter Dance. She probably meant it to be more of a hint, or you know, make it my idea, but she apparently dispensed with pretense and just blurted it out.

My oldest daughter, who looks like her mom and loves me more than I deserve, is growing up to be the kind of girl that I could never convince to go out on a date.

Tall, graceful girls, pretty, poised and popular; those girls spent hours practicing gracious refusals, distant yet cheerful lies artfully told, estimating in a breathy voice that the chances of being seen in public with someone like me were as close to absolute zero as possible, given our nitrogen-rich atmosphere.

I imagined that because she is my daughter, my chances might improve. But after I asked her to the dance, she was reticent, coy. She might have plans to wash her hair that night. She might possibly have relatives in town. She’ll have to check and let me know. I was 22 again, hanging on the phone, getting pretty close to begging a pretty girl to go out with me, squirming like a flounder on an 8-pound nylon line.

I decided to try a relatively grown-up approach. I described the Father-Daughter Dance as an opportunity to take her to a dance before she grows up and powders over her freckles and changes the way she laughs, and show her how gentlemen behave at formal dances, before she gets involved with unsavory boys with frankly lecherous intent.

I blundered on, with a familiar sinking feeling that I was not going to be any more successful asking our oldest daughter to a dance than when I was in my teens asking pretty girls for dates.

She was completely bewildered. Her only experience with dance had been ballet with Christine Juarez at the Blue Heron, and the idea of dads and daughters dressed up in fancy clothes and dancing with each other made her giggle. She didn’t know what to make of unsavory boys or their lecherous intents.

I tried to explain, my teeth sticking to my lips, palms sweaty; boys and girls get dressed up, have fancy dinners and then dance with mostly each other, then the boy takes the girl home. I left out the part where the guy begs the girl for just one teensy kiss.

Maria, convinced that this was going to be a poignant ritual of her youth, eventually straightened everything out.

On the night of the dance, I dressed in my jazz-gig tux. My date chose a floral-print chiffon hanky dress with matching floral-pattern wrap, pastel-pink tights and summery-white strapped heels. Maria helped with her hair, a bit of eye-shadow and a swish of pink blush.

Short on time, we raced down the driveway in the family Explorer and stopped by Thriftway for a pair of Fiesta bagels and ate them in the car.

Under colored lights and a disco ball, I was 17 at a Tolo dance again, making awkward conversation, hearing someone else’s voice come booming out of my mouth.

Soon enough we located giant piles of desserts and pitchers of Sprite in a quiet corner, went back for seconds, then thirds on those little roll-up cookies. We chatted with friends, had a dance lesson, and eventually thump-thump-thump-thump, the music began. We practiced our dance steps a few times, ran outside for fresh air in our stockings, and as the sun went down, the girls rolled down grassy hills in their party dresses.

I thanked her for a lovely evening. I had her home by 10.

And after I tucked her in, I got my goodnight kiss.


— Kevin Pottinger is a writer on Vashon Island.


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