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Just Me and the Girls
Oh boy. Not another dance recital. Another day away from the golf course. Watching these eleven-year-old girls stomp around completely unaware of the beat, with limbs flailing and spittle flying, is nothing short of torturous. What those girls lack in talent they make up for in enthusiasm, with their maladroit rhythm and their multiple left feet.
The Irish may have perfected this form of dance with effortless grace and understated coordination, but Irish step dancing should never have left Ireland, just as I should not have left my comfortable, plush leather recliner in our living room to be here.
As I look around the quickly filling auditorium, I see my mood reflected on the faces of the other obedient fathers. The look is the one of utter boredom or dejection, the continence of a warrior when he loses a major battle with his wife, such as the one concerning attending this dance recital. This look is of universal proportions; it does not discriminate against any race, age, weight (there’s a man sitting in front of me chowing down on popcorn like there is no tomorrow), and even sexual orientation. Listening to the bickering of the gay couple three seats to my left, my mind drifts to last night’s discourse, when my wife told me about this horrid event. I was blindsided by her nonchalant manner when she rattled off the next day’s itinerary, “Honey, just letting you know, Tess has a dance recital tomorrow and you’re coming.” And so, just like that, I didn’t even have a choice in the matter.
I sigh loudly, drawing it out for a lengthy period in the hopes of invoking some pity from my wife. Several men make eye contact with me, commiserating with raised brows. At least I know I have their empathy. My wife turns and rolls her eyes at me, making me realize I had better tone it down.
The lights slowly dim, and all eyes are drawn to the stage, where a morbidly obese woman lumbers onto the stage. I find it ironic that a woman so fat that she cannot possibly even touch her toes is the head of a dance institution. I am thinking about that birdie I made last weekend as she drones on about the “esteemed traditions of this honorable institute” and “wonderful talent” (yeah right, judging from what I’ve seen at previous recitals) and whatever other palaver she finds necessary to say.
After about five to ten minutes of her talking about absolutely nothing, she gives us her concluding line, something along the lines of “Thank you for wasting your money on this incredibly expensive institute for your daughter who is never going to amount to anything in the world of dance anyway”, or at least that’s what I garnered from it. And with a final harrumph, she stomps back off the stage in a manner conjuring the image of an elephant.
My spirits instinctively rise as the music starts to play, but that is just a cruel ploy to trick the more hopeful and naïve fathers in the audience; we have at least another ten minutes to twiddle our thumbs and perhaps even nap before the show starts. Thunderous snores are emitting from a mountain of a man behind us. The fluorescent lighting glints off his balding crown, making me appreciative of the beautiful head of hair I have retained over the years. As I am in the midst of mentally thanking my bloodline for the very desirable hair retention genes, the auditorium grows silent in anticipation (or dread, depending on the audience member) of the coming act.
Several giggling girls walk onto the stage and assume their positions. Personally, I think they look ridiculous in their costumes. Their hair is curled into impossible spirals, with the ringlets bouncing all over the place. The hair is actually the more tame part of their get-up, however. My eyes are being assaulted by an array of colors so bright, so neon, that I’m sure NASA could spot one of these girls from outer space. These colors are exhibited in some twisted form of a peasant-style frock, complete with the ties at the front and a skirt poofed out to unimaginable extremes.
As they finish settling into their formation, I notice Tess in the front row on the left. I turn to my wife and exclaim, “Hey, that’s Tess!” I smile sheepishly when I realize how dumb that comment made me sound. And yes, another excellent eye roll is delivered by the wifey. It’s not my fault though. Usually at these recitals I have to sit through at least five other torturous and interminable performances before Tess even goes on.
The music suddenly starts; the blaring Irish music makes several people jump in their seats, and the man behind me who had been so peacefully snoring jolts awake with a monstrous snort. For some reason obscure to me, I’m the only one who finds this funny and starts laughing. My snickers earn me several dirty looks from the surprisingly large number of skinny, vapid, blonde stay-at-home mothers in my vicinity.
Now the girls start their jumping and kicking routine. My eyes are glued on Tess for I am not here to see other fathers’ little girls make fools of themselves; I am here for the sole purpose of seeing just Tess make a fool of herself. So far, she’s doing fine, well, as far as I can tell. She hasn’t missed any steps yet and hasn’t fallen out of the formation. She even appears to be on beat. My heart warms at the sight of my daughter furiously dancing, curls bouncing violently and skirt flying, with her face scrunched up into that endearing “I’m concentrating and will not screw this up” face. My wife and I share a tender smile as we enjoy this warm, familial moment.
And so this goes on for the next two minutes with no incident. Tess continues to dance in what may be the best performance I have seen her in yet. I whisper to my wife, “Wow, she’s doing great.” But alas, just as that last word escapes from my mouth, I spot something flying off of Tess’s foot. Small, black, and extremely fast, it finds its target in the face of a man in the front row. I realize now that small black object was Tess’s shoe.
I guffaw, which may be mildly inappropriate as I ascertain the identical looks of horror on daughter and mother. Tess valiantly tries to continue dancing, and I realize really only my wife and I have even noticed this unfortunate shoe mishap, with the exception of that poor man and the others seated in the front row. What a way to wake up from a nap. Several of the people sitting near him have astounded looks, but he’s laughing now as he gingerly rubs his nose, so I assume there are no hard feelings.
And poor Tess, with cheeks flaming in hues I have before only seen on ripe tomatoes, looks miserable up there on stage. The song finally ends. Tess waits about three seconds maybe before practically running off the stage. With that, my wife and I stand up as unobtrusively as possible, and make our way to the backstage area to console Tess.
I expected Tess would ask for “Mommy” and break down in her arms; the father isn’t typically the one the child turns to for comfort. This did not happen, however. She runs to me, her beautiful tear-splattered face pulled into a frown, and wraps her arms around my waist (that’s the highest she can reach). Poor “Mommy” looks hurt and betrayed, but I feel my face still stretching into a wide grin. My daughter actually wants me! Not just to fix her bike or chauffeur her somewhere, but to comfort her! I feel needed, I feel wanted, and most of all, I feel loved.
And so, while patting her gently on the back and murmuring the generic “Everything’s going to be all right,” I gesture for Mommy to join in. I can tell I’ve earned major brownie points for this move instead of the usual dismissive glare I usually earn.
After enjoying a few moments alone, just the three of us, with us trying to convince her how no one even noticed, Tess finally begins to smile. And after that initial smile comes the sheepish grin, then the giggles, and inevitably, the hiccups.
Between the loud and frequent hiccups, I manage to squeeze in a “How about some ice cream?” This earns me an even wider grin, and even her hand. As we walk out of the building, hand in hand, we don’t look back. Pulling open the door for both wife and daughter, I say, “That guy needed a nose job anyway, sweetie”.