BERRY: I can still dance with my daughters

May 3, 2012

It reminded me of when she was a little girl in a cotton summer dress, bending down to pick up hidden eggs on an Easter afternoon.

Last weekend, my No. 2 daughter, Hillary, graduated from college. She seemed so professional and self-assured in her blue cap and gown. It made me remember her sitting at the kitchen table with her schoolbooks open, counting on her fingers.

When my grown-up children celebrate milestones, it puts me in a reflective mood. It seems like, just a few years ago, they were curly-haired toddlers and I was a young father pulling them all over the neighborhood in a red Radio Flyer wagon.

The years flew by in rapid succession and my mind flips through the memories like a tattered Rolodex. I think of the bike rides we took on cool summer evenings — just Natalie, Hillary and I. Sometimes we'd pack some apples or carrots and ride to a neighbor's farm and feed the horses over the fence.

I remember taking the girls to Grand Haven on sunny summer days. We'd strap on our Rollerblades and skate around Chinook Pier, clutching a bag of stale bread to feed the ducks and seagulls. Oftentimes, our days would end with an ice cream cone while watching the Musical Fountain.

I spent countless hours at Natalie and Hillary's softball games, track meets and basketball games. I went to parent-teacher conferences each semester, sat through choir concerts and school plays, and stood in the rain during a football game because Hillary was on the homecoming court. And, if I had a chance, I'd do it all over again.

In fact, I do have a chance to do it all over again. I have two younger daughters, Evien and Maggie. I'm in somewhat of a unique position, because I have a second family and both of them are girls. Certainly, the personalities are different, and my energy level has dipped a bit, but I have a chance to savor every moment of my little girls' lives.

One event that I remember with great fondness is the father/daughter dances that were put on by the Parents Club when Natalie and Hillary were in elementary school. The girls would dress up in their best dresses, and their mother would primp their hair and paint their nails. I would sport a jacket and tie. Once we'd arrive at the dance, I'd get a flower for my lapel and the girls would each get a corsage.

The dances were held in the gymnasium at Beach School. There was punch and cookies, and the gym was decorated with balloons and streamers. A large disco ball spun in circles on the ceiling, filling the dimly lit gym with a thousand twinkling stars.

Those nights were magical. It was just my princesses and me, and I was still their prince.

We danced to the tunes of the day: Britney Spears, Coolio and Hanson. I danced with them and twirled them until the hem of their dresses poofed out into great billowing puffs of fabric. Over and over we'd dance until I was sweaty around the collar.

Eventually, all the girls ended up in the center of the gym, dancing the "Macarena" and "Mambo No. 5." The fathers would line up along the wall like we did at high school dances after the football games. Then the DJ would play a slow song, and Natalie and Hillary would drag me back out on the dance floor. All three of us would dance together in a tight circle, and I was the king of the world.

My younger girls and I used to dance almost every day. Evien and Maggie would take turns pretending to be Cinderella at the ball. I'd dance with each one of them in turn until the clock struck midnight and they'd run away tossing a shoe (bedtime slipper).

The school that Evein and Maggie attend doesn't host a father/daughter dance, and it's been a long time since we played Cinderella. The dancing stopped for us much sooner than it should have.

At Natalie's wedding reception, I got to dance with my oldest daughter one more time. I held her close and slowly swayed to the Steven Curtis Chapman song "Cinderella."

Looking at her in her wedding dress made me wonder where the years had gone. Then I looked at my youngest daughter in a frilly white dress of her own. I took her hand and led her out to the dance floor. With Maggie standing on my feet, we danced. We danced and danced and danced.

— By Grant Berry, Tribune community columnist

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