It is the only time of the year where you will find me in a suit. It is also the only time of year you will see me wearing a boutonniere. It is also the only time of year my daughter willingly brushes her hair. (This is a biggy.)
We have been going to this same dance since my daughter was in Kindergarten. This is our fourth year. Each time we walk toward the doors to the auditorium, my daughter says she can't wait to dance with me. As we enter the auditorium she disappears along with all the other girls. They run around, eat candy, take pictures and dance with each other like happy little bunnies.
The fathers are always left standing there. We look at each other in our suits and boutonnieres. We are middle aged. Gravity pulls a few of us together in clumps. We chat about how fun it is to be here. We chat about how quality time with our daughters is invaluable. The music is loud so we really can't understand each other. There are uncomfortable silences. We look at the clock. Two hours left.
Sometimes our daughters will run over and say how much fun this dance is. Then they'll run away. I want to grab my daughter and tell her she has to protect me from the man who wants to talk about life insurance.
A few times throughout the night, our daughters will grab our hands and pull us onto the dance floor for a disco song. We middle aged men will dance and then suddenly find we are alone and that our daughters have scuttled off to take more pictures and eat more candy. We are left to do YMCA by ourselves. Once we realize we're alone and dancing together, we all fake an urgent cell phone call and run away.
A few of the men continue to dance. We avoid them.
This past Saturday, something happened at the dance which scared me. A lot.
All the men were talking with each other when the DJ started playing something from High School Musical. Suddenly all the fathers started to smile and bob their heads back and forth. They started singing. The FATHERS all ran to find their daughters so they could dance. I was chatting with some father about taxes or something when he looked away dreamily and started mouthing the words to the song. It was as if he was an Eloi summoned to the Morlocks dinner table. "Sorry, Paul, " he said dreamily. "I must find Carey-Ann and dance to this. I must. Must dance."
Now. Know this. The Ruggs don't have cable. We took it out years ago. We don't have TIVO. We don't watch that much TV. I have raised my daughter on the classics. MR. ED DVDs. GENE AUTRY B-MOVIE DVDs. SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS. The good stuff.
I didn't want my daughter to feel left out. I started dancing with her. She and I looked around on the dance floor. All the other fathers and daughters had glazed, frozen smiles on their faces. They all knew the same moves. ALL OF THEM. My daughter and I tried to play along for fear that we'd be found out. It was sort of like Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, but slightly more horrifying.
Once the music ended everyone just sort of stayed in place for a moment and then suddenly jerked as if woken up. A few of the men looked at their watches. Where had the last 5 minutes gone. Where am I?
They all wandered off the dance floor leaving my daughter and I alone to dance to Sinatra.
"I like this song, daddy."
Good. Stick with me, kid.