Last night I did something, for the second time in three years, that would have been unthinkable to a Baptist pastor a mere generation ago (and I’m sure to many now). I danced. The word itself used to drip of sin. I joined Jenna in the father-daughter dance at her recital, in a church.
Now, to say I actually “danced” would be like saying I “built the sandcastle” in the AIA Sandcastle Competition, or “flew the L-39.” I’m not losing touch with reality. In one case I moved the stick around while a professional sat two feet away ready to yank it from my hands in a split second. In the other, I hauled orange Home Depot buckets of salt water from the Gulf of Mexico and shoveled sand. In this case, I tried to be standing in the right place doing the right things while my graceful daughter danced around me with Simon & Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water playing in the background.
I was present and participated. But to say I “danced” would be an exaggeration. (My goal was not to fall on my butt like I did at rehearsal on Monday. And not to grimace in fear while I did my part.)
“Walk down the aisle when the interlude begins. Stand at the foot of the stage while she runs over and puts her hands on your shoulders and extends one leg backwards like an ice skater gliding across the rink. When she leaves, go up the stairs and (gulp) onto the stage. Kneel and wait for her to run to you and put her foot on your leg, then hold her waist while she poses again, both arms and one foot extended (hers, not yours). Don’t drop her. Get up (the knees!), hold her hands while she twirls into you, let go of the left hand, then away. Follow her and hold her waist while she strikes another elegant pose. Then hold on to her waist and stay up with her as she runs across the stage (don’t trip!). Wait for her while she and the other dancing daughters meet together in center stage. They’re turning out now. Ready. She’s running to you. Dip down a bit, because you’re taller than she is. She is going to jump and you must catch her on your hip and spin around with her. If you make this, you’re clear. Here she comes…up… good… around…excellent. Let her down. Now the other dads and daughters are arriving on stage. Kneel. She balances with one hand on your shoulder. Lights down. Applause. Up (the knees!).”
But Jenna danced. Elegant, strong, graceful, beautiful. I was taken by it. I found it hard to concentrate on my part. Actually the father-daughter dance began for us thirteen years ago. I was the only male in the delivery room at the Woman’s Hospital of Texas on January 31, 1992 when she arrived. We’ve been dancing ever since, and in pretty much the same way. I’ve tried to be at the right place at the right time doing the right things while she flowed around me.
After watching Shall We Dance? a few weeks ago, and then seeing Dancing with the Stars on television this week, I suggested to Melinda that perhaps we should take ballroom dancing lessons when we get back from Africa. She said she thought she was not tall enough. Jenna looked at me, rolled her eyes, and said, “I don’t think your height will be your biggest problem.”
Father’s are often in big trouble when daughters arrive. I recall that Jack Bolt, father of three I think, stopped me at church the first Sunday after Jenna was born. “You better drown her today,” he advised. “After three or four days they really start to grow on you.” I did not take his advice, but I heard his heart.
We danced close when Jenna was small. I held her at every opportunity. I sat her in my lap and teased her with ice cream, her wide open mouth following the spoon patiently while I circled it over her head. While still a toddler she used to respond to the question, “Where’s your Daddy?” by lifting her little finger and twirling it around. That hasn’t changed much.
We’ve danced through rituals, which she loved as a child. We had a good-bye ritual we went through each morning as I headed for work, a litany of six or seven lines we recited each day. And a good night ritual continued until only recently with another half-dozen liturgical lines and kisses. We have danced with board games, family vacations, and a ton of books we have read aloud together. We have danced with worship and ministry and missions together. We have danced through family pain and loss. We have danced with lots of laughter. Not all of it has felt as awkward as the recital.
Last night, however, I danced not with a child, but a growing adolescent, a young woman who is someday going to dance away. That’s almost impossible to imagine. You hold them in the delivery room, blink your eyes, and they’ve grown. The father-daughter dance will still go on for a time, but not for a long time, I expect.
My prayer is that she learn to dance to that music that her Creator has placed in her heart, to the rhythm of joy and love and redemption that is found in Christ. I will be there to watch and to hold her up when she needs me to. I’ll still try to be in the right place at the right time doing the right thing, as clumsy as I may be.
And now I’m preparing to learn another dance, the grandfather-granddaughter dance. (Hopefully that will never have to be performed on-stage.) The dance is scheduled to begin in August when two young ladies arrive and I prepare to be smitten again. And I get to watch my sons begin the father-daughter dance themselves.
Life is good.