Dancing with Cinderella
She Chose Me
The garage door begins to creak, within 10 seconds she's bursting into the living room. "Hi Jason! Are you working?" she bubbles at me. I glance up from my laptop, "Yes ma'am. How was school?" This is our routine. Her mom says she always wants to be the first person in the house so she can see what I am doing. I spy her from the corner of my eye grinning at me as I attempt to get back to my email. So, I peek up at her again, one eyebrow arched in a question mark. The door swings open a second time and in spills Alissa. Her arms littered with bags, a purse, 2 backpacks, and a 5 year old boy dangling from one of them. Her face is red, her eyes narrowed, locked on the princess, who is still grinning at me. "You didn't even bother to help..." Alissa starts. But, before she can finish, she's interrupted. "Mommy, did you tell him!?" She glances at me then back to her mom and back to me. Without waiting for her to answer, she continues, "Do you want to take me to the Daddy/Daughter dance this year!?" Now I'm the one grinning.
Let me rewind the story a bit. We are a blended family. I brought two sons into the relationship and she brought a daughter and a son. One of the things I was apprehensive about in the beginning was sharing in the responsibility of raising a little girl. Actually, apprehensive is not even close to accurate. I was terrified. I'm used to the land of boys. They are drama free. Male bonding comes easily. Girls are from Venus. I knew very little about Barbies, braiding hair (still can't do it) or One Direction songs. At the same time, there was a part of me that always wanted a daughter. I've heard the stories of dad's being wrapped around their little girl's finger. I wanted to know what that bond was like. I had given up on the idea of a daughter after my second son was born. I had even taken measures to insure I wouldn't make any more boys or girls for that matter. Then I met her and POOF! I was a father figure to this walking, talking, curious, already a little too sassy girl. I was smitten. And I knew one day I was going to need to buy a shotgun to deal with the neighborhood boys.
I was very cautious bonding with her at first. I would let her ride with me to the gas station and we would have little talks along the way. Or, she would stay with me while her mom ran errands for a couple hours and we would break out the coloring books or watch a movie. She has a dad and I didn't want to step on his toes. But, things really changed when I moved in with them. There's something about being there every day, pouring bowls of Lucky Charms, looking for lost Barbie shoes, and helping with homework that changes the relationship. More and more, I was taking ownership. She was becoming my little girl. I struggled with this internally. I wondered how I would feel if another man developed that kind of bond with my sons. When I got divorced, I promised myself that I would earn the title of daddy daily. I determined to be so connected to my boys that they wouldn't want to call another man dad, no matter how good he was. Now, here I was in the role of the "other" guy. I certainly didn't come into this trying to steal her dad's place. I even told her not to call me dad. But, after a couple of years living together my heart was all in. I was dad in function and the title didn't matter.
The Real Dad
One day Alissa came home with a flyer:
Friday, May 1st 6:30p to 8:30p.
When I saw it, I'm embarrassed to admit I got pretty excited. It's one of those unique things that only dads and daughters can do. Visions of matching my tie to her dress danced in my head. We were going to tear the dance floor up! My hopes were quickly dashed as it dawned on me that her real dad would likely be the one to take her. Alissa confirmed that she had told him about the dance and asked if he wanted to take her. He hadn't committed to going yet, but we both felt pretty sure he would take her. It was only right. It stung a little, but I understood. As the day of the dance approached, he still hadn't committed to taking her. We were less than a week away from the big day! Time was running out and the tickets were paid for. So, she told him, "If you don't want to take her, I can ask Jason to do it." My excitement ignited again, and then was quickly doused. That idea did not sit well with him at all. He was offended that she would even ask. He was not going to allow another man to take his daughter to the dance. No matching tie for me. I was disappointed but, I knew I would have had a similar response. The day of the dance, we were in our front yard snapping pictures of the princess with her fancy hairdo mommy had whipped up. The familiar blue Monte Carlo rumbled to a stop at the end of our driveway. Her dad hopped out, we exchanged awkward greetings. He took a couple pictures with her in front of the tree and another near the bushes, then off they went. "Have fun" I said, attempting a sincere smile as they pulled off.
Imagine my surprise 30 minutes later when that blue Monte Carlo pulled into the driveway again. We were still outside doing yard work and talking to our neighbor. Alissa and I looked at each other dumbfounded. Our pretty little girl trudged up the driveway, up-do still intact, Dairy Queen cup in hand. "It was boring there, so daddy took me to Diary Queen." she said, answering our puzzled expressions. My jaw fell open. Her dad called out from the end driveway, "It wasn't what you expected, huh sis?" explaining to us as he followed up the driveway. He stood there for a couple minutes continuing to perform this conversation with her about how bored and disappointed she was with the dance. We nodded politely. But, later that night, I couldn't help myself, I had to know the story.
Me: Did you at least dance a little bit?
Her: Nope, daddy just talked to some other dads.
Alissa: Did you get your picture taken?
Her: No, daddy said the line was too long.
It went on like that as she laid out their entire experience for us. According to her, they were only at the dance for a few minutes before she got the offer to get ice cream instead. That pushed me over the edge and the wall that was holding back my jealousy and frustration gave way. He had completely missed the point. He blew it and he had no clue. "This whole dance is supposed to be about dads making their daughters feel special!" I growled, pacing back and forth as Alissa let me to me vent. "It's worth waiting in line and breaking out a few embarrassing dance moves. It's just one night! Who cares if it's not your thing? How do you take your daughter to a dance and NOT DANCE!!??". I just could not understand.
He took away my opportunity to show her a good time and neither of them enjoyed the night. Worse than that, she was clearly more concerned with not hurting his feelings than being honest about her own. Talk about role reversal... a child should not carry the burden of their parents emotions. This was supposed to be her night. She should have come home talking about how much fun she had. She should have had stories of dancing, being dipped, and feeling like a princess, instead she got a blizzard from Dairy Queen.
Second Chance to Dance
Almost a full year later, I'm peering over my laptop grinning at this 7 year old girl who had just asked me to the dance. "Of course I'll take you!" I answered, trying to play it cool. Alissa explained to me that this was her idea. We were allowed to pick 5 songs to submit to the DJ, so that night we made a list of our top picks. Of course, Meghan Trainor and Taylor Swift made the cut. However, I did convince her to add The Temptations, My Girl. She insisted on previewing the song on YouTube before she would give her consent. Days later, I picked her up from school for her mom. As we drove to her dance class, I asked "What color should we wear to the dance?" Without missing a beat she said "coral". I chuckled. That was not at all what i was expecting. "I like it! I think we'll look good in Coral". The day before the dance, I found myself sifting through men's dress shirts at Khols with a hair bow in hand trying to match the corals as closely as I could. I grabbed a shirt that was a near match but too light. I dropped that for a better match, but it was too shiny. I turned to the next display and there it was! I dropped the hair bow just above the shirt pocket and it nearly disappeared. Perfect! Next, I headed over to get a corsage. I hadn't bought one of those things in over 20 years, but when Alissa suggested it, I knew that would be the icing on the cake.
My nervous energy drove me to be fully dressed and ready 40 minutes before we had to leave. Alissa came down to the living room to present the our girl. "You look beautiful" I said, admiring her hair. "Thank you" said said, beaming as she did few exaggerated twirls and curtsies. Alissa suggested that we take pictures outside in front of the tree that had just bloomed. She started taking a few of Jenna as I darted upstairs to get the corsage. When I came down they were already heading out the door. I held the corsage behind my back, surprised at my own nerves. I felt like I was about to propose or something. As I pulled the box from behind my back and slid the butterfly shaped corsage over her delicate wrist, her mom explained what it was. But, what I remember is the look in her eyes. Her cheeks had pushed them into a squint, but they were twinkling with joy! In the book Captivating, Staci Eldredge describes how every little girl wants to be seen. The cry of her heart is "Do you see me, am I beautiful". Well, the look in our girl's eyes told me that we had gotten this moment right.
I barely remember the drive to the dance. Once we arrived and made our way to the dance floor, one of the first songs the DJ played was My Girl. She gasped and took my hand as we went right to the front of the dance floor. The night was fun, they played all but one of our songs. We danced, jumped, laughed, took selfies, we did it all. As the event wound down, I looked around at all the other fathers slow dancing to Butterfly Kisses (a song I used to hate). Some of them had been doing this with their daughters since they were in kindergarten. Most of the dads dancing with the older girls were teary eyed. I understood it now. We only get a few short years to hold them this close. There's only so much time to show them what a good man's love looks like. I smiled down at the little princess circling the floor with me. My title may be stepdad, but she is my daughter. I chose her, and I am glad that at least this time, she chose me.
© 2016 Jason White