I’ve reached yet another landmark as a father. My oldest daughter, Bailey, attended her first formal dance.
It is Homecoming season, and so the past month has been filled with the anticipation (on her part) and trepidation (on my part) that provide the natural tensions that accompany such milestones in a young girl’s life.
The conversation started two months ago in a dramatic flurry of anxiety and teenage angst. Boys had started asking girls to the dance, and she had not yet been solicited. This was a problem.
There was one young man who was interested, but my wife, knowing the child, said, “Absolutely not!” In hindsight, Bailey sees the value of this decree, but it took some time and a few heated exchanges about how shortsighted my wife and I really are. We suppose that shortsightedness will only grow in the coming years.
After a week of fret and fuss, I finally sat her down and told her, “If you want a date for the dance that badly, why don’t you just ask somebody?” She did, taking a nice, young, mother-approved boy aside and quietly asking if he would take her to the dance. He said yes. Being the gentleman, he also told her that he would tell people he had asked her to the dance. And then, there was the sigh of relief heard around the world — well, at least around our world.
I had assumed the $300 dress we purchased this past June for her eighth-grade graduation would suffice. I plead my case. “You only wore the dress for six hours, and maybe 20 of your classmates have seen the dress.” I was immediately shut down by all three women in my household. It was evident another six-hour dress was in the budget.
As the night approached, it became apparent just how complex these events have become. I was informed that an appointment for makeup, hair and removing cross-country tan lines had been made.
The day of the event was a total loss. That said, she did look quite beautiful when all of the fuss and bother had passed.
I had expected this momentous event to be, well, more momentous. I kissed Bailey goodbye, told her how beautiful she looked and that I loved her. She jumped in the car and my wife dropped her off at her friend’s home, where all of the parents and kids had gathered for pictures.
Not knowing pre-dance etiquette, I failed to accompany her to the lavish spread for both parents and students hosted by one of Bailey’s friends. My wife managed to get pulled into the celebration wearing her T-shirt and basketball shorts. She felt a little out of place in the midst of the rest of the crisply casual-attired adults. Nonetheless, they made my wife feel welcome and she managed to shoot off a few mediocre pictures before heading home.
Formal dances have changed a lot since my day. The awkward, stiff and formal dances are gone. Most of today’s formal dances bring a group of friends together, some of whom are loosely connected to a date. For a father of a young girl, this is a welcome relief.
My daughter went to the dance with a boy in whom she has no interest beyond friendship and whose interest in her is the same. The event mirrored what I would hope for my daughter at this stage in her life: a fun night of dressing up and stepping out with good friends.
Perhaps that is why the anxiety about which so many fathers have warned me was surprisingly absent. Walking in the door after the dance, Bailey was giddy with excitement. “I had so much fun!” she exclaimed and proceeded to talk, not about her date, but her about friends, the music and, of course, the dramas that played out.
Standing back and watching this unfold, I was absolutely taken that she is still, unashamedly, a little girl. And for as long as it is possible, that’s all I want her to be. The anxiety can wait. For now, I’m content with the small step toward independence that dressing up and stepping out provide.
— Tim Durnin is an independent consultant for nonprofit organizations, schools and small business. He can be reached at email@example.com. Click here to read his previous columns.