The longest dance

What is hardest to accept about the passage of time is that the people who once mattered the most to us wind up in parentheses.

John Irving

I’m not certain how old I was. I was little, though- maybe four?  It was winter in Massachusetts. It was an overcast day and the snow was piled high. My family lived in an apartment complex at the time and I was playing outside in the parking lot. I was scrambling up a snow bank created when the parking lot was plowed- this was many years ago, back in the days when children were allowed to climb.

I slipped, and my leg slid down and became wedged between the snow bank and the front bumper of a car. I was wearing one of those gargantuan one-piece A Christmas Story snowsuits and thick winter boots, and there was no freeing myself.

I remember being terrified that my leg was broken and I would be stuck there forever.  I remember thinking I might die.

I’ve always been a little on the dramatic side.

Now I’m sure my parents weren’t too far away, though this was the seventies- so who knows? In any case, in due time (and probably much more quickly than it seemed to me in my panicked state) my father came. I remember him wiping my tears with his snowy gloves which only served to make my whole face wetter but somehow helped anyway.

He hovered over me, using his always logical, engineer brain to carefully extricate me from my icy little prison without injuring me. I vividly recall looking up into his handsome face. He scowled in concentration as he repositioned my leg to slide it out and I thought for an instant he was angry at me. Then, once I was freed, his brow relaxed and he kissed me on the forehead.

I was completely unharmed. I don’t remember this moment because it was particularly traumatic or because I was hurt. I remember this moment because I felt safe.

That is my first memory of my father than I am certain is my own.

I’ve been reading some seriously good stuff on fathers lately.  The person who has become my favorite writer on the subject is my friend Matt Bays.  His post Wandering Fatherless Halls resonated so deeply with me.  Then today, his guest post The Fellowship of the Broken on Tanya Marlow’s blog.  Well.  That one killed me dead.

He’s right about the fellowship.  I encounter it with survivors all the time now.  There’s an emotional shorthand. It’s like when you have a snippet of music skittering around your brain, but you cannot for the life of you place it.  You snatch at it, but it is always JUST out of reach.  You hum it for person after person, but none of them can identify it.  Then someone comes along and says, “Oh, you mean _____?” and they nail it right away.  They are moving through the world with the same chords vibrating in their souls, they are wandering the same halls.

I remember helping a friend prepare for her wedding.  I was in my early twenties, I think.  She was trying to settle on a song for the father-daughter dance.  She’d looked through magazine after magazine trying to find one that spoke to her relationship with her dad.  I’d had this conversation with other friends planning their weddings.  Celine Dion was usually involved.

I’d had a song tucked away.  I always thought it would be the perfect song for a father-daughter dance.  I’d not suggested it to anyone, though.  I wondered why that was.  Why was I jealously guarding a song that I had no need for, and that bore no resemblance to my relationship with my father?

I was hoarding something I’d never be able to use.

It seemed selfish, suddenly.

I suggested it to her, and because it was in the pre-Google era we went and bought a recording of it so she could hear it.  She declared it perfect.  I was glad she was so happy.  I tried really, really hard to be glad she was so happy.  That counts, right?

Those school girl days of telling tales
And biting nails are gone
But in my mind I know
They will still live on and on.
On the day of her wedding, I stood in the big awkward circle and watched her dance with her father.  He looked at her- his radiant girl- with so much tenderness and love.  There’s a such a wistfulness to those dances.  Or maybe that’s just the lens through which I see them.    I usually leave for that part of the reception, but as I was in the wedding party I thought it would be unseemly.
But how do you thank someone
Who has taken you from crayons to perfume?
It isn’t easy, but I’ll try.

Everyone remarked on what a perfect song it was.

It really was a perfect song.

My own wedding was challenging in many ways. I’d asked my dad to walk me down the aisle, along with my mom.  I wanted him to be a part of it, but it seemed disrespectful and, frankly, disingenuous to have him do it alone when it was my mother who stayed, who raised me.  He balked.  He said it would have felt like a lie, like he and my mother were a united front.

If you wanted the sky

I would write across the sky in letters

That would soar a thousand feet high

To Sir, with love

I wrote him a letter.  I pointed out that it was, quite literally, the only thing I’d ever asked of him.  That if he chose to do it, it would be two minutes of his life and the only thing anyone at my tiny wedding would have thought they were united in was their love for their daughter.  Not a big deal.  I said if he said no, it would be a very big deal, indeed.

He declined.

The time has come for closing books

And long last looks must end

And as I leave I know

That I am leaving my best friend

The aisle became one more fatherless hall.

He offered to do a reading instead.  He stood up at my wedding and read 1 Corinthians 13:4.  You know, “Love is patient, love is kind…”


There were men at my wedding who’d been amazing, consistent figures in my life.  Men who loved me.  Love the verb.  My best friend’s dad.  My Uncle Roger.  My former father in law.  They all showed up for me, time and time again- wonderful examples of fatherhood.  Really, I’m so blessed.  It feels like that should be enough, somehow.  It’s more than a lot of people have.

I really do know that.

My dad did ask me to dance at my backyard reception.  I’m crying writing about it seventeen years later, but I was dry eyed that day.

I don’t remember the song.

A friend who taught me right from wrong

And weak from strong

That’s a lot to learn.

What can I give you in return?

My Favorite asked me what I was writing about today.  When I tried to tell him I started crying.  I said, “God.  I’m such a baby.”  He told me not to say that.  He said it’s okay to be sad about it.

For whatever reason, I am.  Today, I am really, really sad about it.

Reading my friend’s essay today left me a little raw.  His story of reuniting with his father called to mind the time I spent with my dad a few years back packing up my sister’s house.  It was a hard time.  Awful.  We worked really well together, though.  There were a couple of times that he marveled at some trait we shared, or the similar way we approached things.  It was touching in a sad sort of way.  I’m in my forties, and it was a revelation to him that I was his girl.  In many ways, I am.  I am very much his girl.

So that’s something.

If you wanted the moon

I would try to make a star

But I, would rather you let me give my heart

To Sir, with love…

To Sir, With Love




9 Comments on “The longest dance

  1. That’s too sad and heartbreaking for today.

    FWIW, my dad did walk me down the aisle, but it was touch and go whether they were going to come for the wedding or not. So I had a friend and a backup plan and a backup tux rented.

    I’d left a note when I left the state, and when I called them four days later to let them know I was in fact alive, all I would give them was a PO box in a neighboring, large city.

    I was so afraid. That they’d try to track me down and find me. The last night I left — it was brutal. Well, so many nights were brutal — but we were on this runaway train that was getting more and more out of control; beatings were getting more and more violent the closer to 18 I got —

    When they came in for the wedding, the first time they saw me since my having run away — my mom grabbed my arm hard enough to leave bruises, and hissed, “What have you told him about us?” No Hi, no we were worried, no we love you, nothing like that. Of course not. Just what had I told him about them. That was the most important, burning words that needed to be uttered first.

    I don’t have a memory, or don’t think I do, like the one you describe — only I remember sometimes my dad calling me “pumpkin” and that meant (still means) the world to me. Therapists talk about “stockholm syndrome” but they don’t get it — it’s all I had, all I have. I don’t want to give that up. That he could have cared — he would have cared — only I blew it.

    There’s a picture of us somewhere — in some group called “Indian Princesses” (who knows if that still exists) — I’m riding on his shoulders. I remember the picture, I don’t remember the day. I wish I did.

    I’m sorry your dad didn’t walk you down the aisle. It was such a tiny request, and yet as large all the universe and sky and stars.

    That’s crap that he didn’t.

    You deserved better.

    You still do.


  2. Was just singing along with this song in the car this weekend. It’s a lovely thought that you overcame your feeling of selfishness and shared the idea for the song with your friend, even though it was still hard. I’m sorry you couldn’t get what you needed from your own father.


  3. Such a beautiful piece Laura. What a lovely gift you gave to your friend that day also. The ability to be happy for someone despite our circumstances is really an incredible gift- to them and to ourselves. I’m glad you were able to give your friend that gift and I would cherish it as a very heartfelt one. To meet someone where they are, even as we walk through our own darkness, brings us closer to the light within us all. People don’t always show up the way we want them to. What counts is that WE do. We can not hit replay on the soundtrack of life, but we can choose a different song today and we can dance regardless of who asks us to dance. I cry with you Laura, for our birth fathers who could not love us as we needed to be loved, most likely because they too had a God-shaped hole in their hearts that remained unfilled. There is one Father who can fill our hearts with perfect love, who will always be there when we’re stuck in the snow, who will dance with us regardless of the song, the occasion, or what kind of dress we’re wearing. And there are many fathers in our lives too, as you mentioned, who love us as we should be loved. I will also cherish the memories of those fathers in my life, who showed up when I needed them to, and gave me their own gift of love.

    Thank you for sharing that story today. Last week I deleted an email from my father that I had been rereading for nearly a year. I realized that I was holding onto it in the hope that each time I read it, the ending would be different. I’ve been holding onto the hope for a different outcome for the two of us for 48 years now and it was time to let that go. It was incredibly freeing and with it, I let in the possibility of a different tune. I will email my dad once more, wishing him Merry Christmas and perhaps this year, I will not expect anything in return, but a simple Love, Dad. Love, the verb, as only he knows how to do it. My love, the verb is something entirely different. That’s okay. I am not responsible for the love I receive from anyone, merely the love I give. Sending you a hug and love, the verb…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Beautifully written. As Ingrid wrote above, we are only responsible for the love we give, not for what love is given or withheld by others. ❤


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