Today’s date will always be significant to me. It will always take me back to one of the most vivid and unforgettable days of my life; the day I witnessed death for the first time; the day I sat next to my dad’s bed and watched him die. He’d been sick for a year and a half, surrendering, cell-by-cell, to a wicked disease called pancreatic cancer. When we first found out about it, I couldn’t believe it. It didn’t seem conceivable to me that I was old enough to see one of my parents die. For 16 months, a heavy, melancholy canopy hung over our lives; a canopy that came unhinged seventeen years ago today.
Interestingly, someone I met with today for spiritual direction shared a tender story about her dad. I know that my role as a spiritual director is to listen and provide helpful questions so that my directees can explore how God is at work in their lives. It is not my place to bring up memories of my own life that come to me. But in this instance, and because I know this person fairly well, I took a risk and asked if I might tell her about something her story caused me to remember. I mentioned that today is the anniversary of my dad's death and that when she was sharing, it immediately brought to mind a long-forgotten memory of my very first Father-Daughter dance.
I was in fifth or sixth grade and enrolled in an etiquette class called “Mrs. Gate’s Ballroom Dancing”—a kind of popular thing to do in the mid-1960’s. The girls wore white, wrist-length gloves and white anklets with polished patent leather shoes. (Or maybe hose, if you were really grown up.) I don’t recall what the boys wore, but I’m pretty sure it included a neck tie.
At the beginning of class, we’d line up against the hallway into the ballroom—girls on one side, boys on the other. Mrs. Gates stood at the head of the line. She would turn, politely, to the girl, shake her hand and ask her name. And then to the boy, shake his hand, and ask his name. And then she would introduce the girl to the boy, we’d shake hands and say to each other, “It’s very nice to meet you, _________.” And off we’d go, dance partners for the rest of the class.
I remember that sometimes we’d look across the line of boys in the hallway and count back to see who we would be paired with. There was one particular boy that no one wanted to dance with and so we would squeeze in and out of line to avoid that fate—a cruelty that makes me sad to think about today.
The culmination of all the weeks of practice learning the fox trot and cha-cha was a special, end-of-class dance. This was a big deal because everyone’s parents came and we dressed up and sat at round tables with white table clothes and showed off to our parents our good manners and fancy dances. But what I really, really looked forward to (besides dancing with Rusty Nichols, the boy I had a crush on at the time) was the Father-Daughter dance.
I’m a little surprised by this, but what I remember most is the anticipation I had of the Father-Daughter dance, more than actually dancing with my dad. I remember looking SO forward to my dad coming and to him seeing me all dressed up. I remember thinking about what it would be like for him to make his way onto the dance floor; to look for me in the crowd of little girls; to find me and dance with me. I remember being so excited for this big moment and feeling proud that he was my dad.
This memory and my savoring the anticipation of what it would be like to be pursued and found and chosen by my dad certainly speaks of that deep ache that still persists in me--and I think in most girls and grown women I know. It reveals how profound my desire to be desired and cherished--something my father offered me, though imperfectly. It echos the even more profound longing I have to be desired and loved and cherished by Someone with the capacity to love me perfectly--my Heavenly Father.
It was an extra sweet gift today, of all days, to be reminded of my first Father-Daughter dance.I love you Dad. I’m still proud of you. I remember you today with gratefulness. Thanks for dancing with me.