In photo (l. to r.) the author’s father, sister, and herself at Daddy Date Night 1993
Tina Andrews listened to the excited banter in the gymnasium, her mouth a tight line across her face. The thump of generation-old music beat against her chest amidst the scent of rubber and chlorine. At her table, four teenage girls and their respective fathers chatted about the massive centerpieces: an explosion of red and gold balloons with a sprinkling of matching confetti and miles of scissor-blade spiraled ribbon. Tina glanced over at her dad, Daniel, as he sat quietly in a dark suit and tie, rocking side to side like some church deacon enjoying the Sunday morning choir.
“Let’s dance,” Daniel said, like he’d experienced an Ah-ha! moment.
The scraping of his metal chair across the tarped floor jolted Tina like fingernails on slate. She swallowed her bite of cake, the once sweet buttercream suddenly souring in her throat. Her tablemates simply lowered and shook their heads.
Daniel had insisted they attend Daddy Date Night this year. She’d rejected his first three requests, knowing that he’d probably just turn the opportunity into a PBS news hour special like he always did out in public. No one ever saw the man she worshipped. The one who’d taught her how to ride a bike and play poker. The one who made corny jokes hilarious by just the thunder of his laugh.
They stood at the edge of the crowded dance floor. Fruity fragrances and musky aftershave collided. Daughters scowled as their fathers rounded the parquet floor in some epileptic conga line. A crusty tune began to play igniting nostalgia in Daniel’s eyes. With a toothy grin, he led Tina to the center of the floor. His fluid body movements rippled in perfect time to the rhythm, eliciting a smile from his daughter. Wind kissed her face as he twirled her, dipped her, lifted her like a prima ballerina. Clapping and chanting followed, and a ring of spectators formed. Daniel whipped her to the sideline with a flourish. Soon men began relinquishing their willing daughters to the agile showman. Girlish squeals bounced from the high concrete walls as if a rock star had entered the room.
Tie askew and suit jacket slung over his shoulder, Daniel finally plopped down at their table. Men walked by, slapping his back and shoulders for the herculean display of talent. Tina slid into her seat beside him, holding herself as if violated, forcing back angry tears.