One thing I like about my wife is that she let’s me date. Granted, that date is with my 5-year-old daughter ...
My daughter called it that a while ago. She decided at the age of 4 that she and Daddy should go out on a date. And like all strong-willed fathers when confronted by demands of their baby daughters, I melted like butter.
So, I decided on would take her out.
On that Saturday, Faith and I climbed into my truck and off we went. While driving, I reached over and clicked on the radio. There was a game on. The Red Sox were playing and I figured I would listen to it along the way.
“Daddy?” came the little voice from the back seat.
“Yes Faith?” I replied as we headed down the road.
“That man there is walking a dog.”
“Yes. Can we get a dog? I would like to get a dog some day Daddy. Could we get a dog some day?”
“We will see Princess.” I strained a bit more to listen to the game.
“Daddy, guess what? My friend Mary at school has a dog. She has a little dog and — guess what? — she is going to bring it in to school next week.”
“Really? That’s nice.” I could feel my head leaning a bit more towards the radio. What was that score? I couldn’t quite hear it.
“Yeah, and — guess what? — she is going to let us all pet the dog. And when I pet the dog, I am going to say ‘good doggy’ and hug it tight.”
“That’s nice.” Wait—are the Sox winning?
“At school Daddy — guess what? — I have a job of feeding the fish at school. And — guess what? — I sprinkle the food on top of the tank and they eat it. And — guess what — sometimes Billy tries to feed the fish and he — guess what? — he puts too much food in the tank and ... ”
And then it happened. That moment when I reached over to turn up the radio. I could feel it happening. It was surreal. I was watching my arm go towards the volume to turn up the Red Sox game. I wanted to turn up the game so I could drown out incessant chatter of my daughter as I took her out on her date.
Fortunately, I caught the irony.
There I was with my daughter. My daughter who had asked to spend time with her Daddy. Who had wanted to go out on a date, and my focus was on the score. And in that moment, I saw it all.
So I did not turn up the radio.
“ ... and sometimes when we draw I use paint and — guess what? — I get to use the red paint with the thick brush ... ”
Instead I shut it off.
I tried my best to interject while she spoke, but she gave me little opportunity, but that was okay. Instead, I found myself caught up in the whirlwind of run-on sentences and rhetorical questions. I was a spectator to our conversation, but that was okay.
Lunch consisted of a stop at Red Robin where my daughter filled the time with explanations of Phineas and Ferb (“Yes, that was funny”), of how she likes her French fries (“Of course I like ketchup on my fries”), of how she really likes a boy in her school ("Whoa ... say what?”) and of how she really hopes to get make-up and shoes for her fifth birthday (“You want SHOES?”). From there, I brought her over to the Warwick Mall so that she could go to “Macy’s-star-store” and ride the “excalator.” Then we headed over to the movie theater to watch a movie.
We walked into the theater a little late. "Tangled" had begun, so we ran past the refreshment stand, down the empty hallways. There I twirled her as we ran, her giggles filling the air behind us. Once we chose some seats, Faith plopped herself down, her little legs pointing straight out and her long hair falling way down past her shoulders. She smiled up at me. I smiled back, passing her a bag of M&Ms as we settled down to watch the movie.
"Tangled" is the retelling of the story of Rapunzel, the young lady whose hair has never been cut. In true Disney fashion, the heroine meets a hero and the two of them face all sorts of adversity, their journey peppered by light and whimsical songs. But at one point, during the song when the heroine, Rapunzel, sits in a boat gazing up at her hero, Eugene, I caught sight of my little girl. There she sat, totally enthralled by the movie. She was sitting straight up, her mouth slightly open, totally caught up in the romance of it all. Even though she was sitting right next to me, I could tell that she had been transported away.
And I was as well.
In the darkness of the theater, I saw another movie unfold. This movie had my little girl getting older. I saw her riding the bus and starting school. I saw her playing soccer and dancing. I saw her making friends and having sleep-overs. I saw her entering middle school and high school. I saw her going to college. Getting a job. Getting married ...
Meeting her Eugene.
I think for any father of any daughter, that must be the most difficult realization. I swore from the moment when I held my little girl, the back of her head resting squarely in the palm of my hand, that I would protect her. During those dark hours at night, in front of the haze of Cheers reruns, I made the same silent vow that countless father before me had made:a vow that I would never let anyone hurt her. After all, who could love my little girl more than me?
As the past four years have flown by, I have watched in amazement as her personality has developed. She laughs freely, makes friends easily, and hugs everyone. She is everything I was not as a child. And I am sure she will be much more than I could ever hope to be.
And no one — no one — better break that spirit.
But that is for another day. Not now. Not here.
For now, she was my little girl. For now, I am the one that can lift the heavy packages and open the jars. For now, I am the one who can scare the monsters away. For now, I am the one that she wants to dance with. The one she wants to talk with. The one that she wants to twirl with down the empty hallways of the movie theater. Some day, someone else will sweep my princess away, but for now, she dances with me.
As the movie ended, Faith stood up and I helped her with her coat. As she pushed her arms through the sleeves, she said, “Thank you for going on a date with me Daddy.” She threw her arms around me in a hug. And I melted.
When she pushed away, she smiled and said, “Can we get some ice cream?”
And the dance goes on.
So I will dance with Cinderella
While she is here in my arms
'Cause I know something the prince never knew
Ooh-oh ooh-oh I will dance with Cinderella
I don't want to miss even one song
'Cause all too soon the clock will strike midnight