In case you’re wondering, the answer is three.
It took three slow dances with my daughter for her to look up at me, smile, and say, “Daddy I love you.”
I wanted to tell you that now, both because it was hands down the best part of my night, and because you might leave this blog prematurely, thinking this post might not be for you, and you might be right, because this is mostly for Akeeli.
I love you too, daughter.
She came into the room in a rush, holding a flier. It had some hearts on it, and a date and a time, which meant it involved a commitment, and with the precious little amount of time I have, I didn’t want to make one.
It was the annual Daddy-Daughter Dance put on by a local organization that I heartily support because of the good work they do for children. Forgive me for be extremely cliché, but I consider them the proverbial catchers in the rye, rescuing children before they run off a very dangerous and emotional edge.
But back to the flier.
I didn’t know it until later, but a conversation had taken place before she asked me to the dance. In the car, she looked at The Missus and said, “Do you think daddy will take me?”
“I don’t know if he’ll have time.” “Well if he doesn’t, I’m asking uncle Brad.”
I have class on Thursday nights. From 5:30 to 8:10, I’m cooped up in a small room learning how to teach English to secondary school kids. The teacher is amazing, but I wasn’t too sure how she would feel about letting me off early for a dance.
But I decided I would go anyway. I told our daughter to be ready, and that I would be a little late, but we’d go.
I didn’t miss it.
As I left class, I got told by every. single. girl. including the teacher, to go get flowers. I told them they’d have flowers for sale at the dance, and one of the girls said, “Yeah, but she’ll have the best flowers.”
So, crunched for time—always crunched for time—I stopped and got my daughter flowers.
Keeli, if you ever find this, they were cheap flowers. I’m sorry. You were 8. You didn’t need a dozen roses.
I’m glad I got the flowers. She didn’t realize at first they were for her, but her face lit up when she saw them. Then I threw on a sweater and we jumped in the truck, speeding off to our “date.”
“The flowers were very pretty daddy.”
I’ve got to compliment my daughter, I forgot to do that, I opened the truck door for her but I didn’t tell her how beautiful she is, crap crap crap, Travis tell her how beautiful she is.
“You are very beautiful, daughter.”
“Thank you daddy. And you’re very handsome.”
We finally got to the dance, walked in the door, and she immediately handed me her coat and she took off to find a friend. She hugged her, they screamed like little girls, and immediately went to the cookie table, where she got good and hopped up on at least eight cookies and a fruit punch.
Meanwhile, my arm was sweating because I had a coat on it, and the rest of me was sweating because that’s what I do in hot confined places.
Then they played a slow song.
It was “I Can Only Imagine” by Mercy Me.
When you think about slow songs you can dance to, I’m not sure that cracks even the top 100. But she ran up to me, grabbed my hand, and led me onto the dance floor, just like every other little girl in the building was doing to her dad.
And we danced. In reality, we swayed, but I’m sure she’ll remember it as dancing. I’m a terrible dancer. But I can sway pretty well, so I stuck with what I knew.
|An example of how I dance to fast songs.|
Then they broke for a fast song, and almost all of the dads cleared the floor for the daughters to have their fun. These little girls screamed every time a “popular” song was played, and when the DJ spun up “What Does the Fox Say?” I actually thought the glass would break in the place. Woo.
Then the next slow song came up. I don’t remember it, but I know that my daughter looked me in the eyeball and said, “Spin me daddy!” So I twirled her a couple of times in a very awkward way because we couldn’t quite get the hand placement right. But she laughed, and it appeared she was having a good time, and I’ve got it on good authority from several people that this is the kind of thing she’ll remember the rest of her life.
I just hope I remember it for the rest of mine.
A few more fast songs, then another slow one. This one was “My Little Girl” by Tim McGraw.
About halfway through the dance, Akeeli looked up at me, smiled at me, and said, “I love you, Daddy.”
When I say I forced myself not to cry, I mean it. I pulled up more happy memories than it takes to conjure a Patronus, and I forced myself not to cry. I glanced around the room and saw a bunch of stone faced men and I have a strong hunch that I wasn’t the only one in the room with that problem.
Here are a few highlights of the night:
- I watched a grown man in a three-piece suit sing along with “We’re Never Getting Back Together” by Taylor Swift (it wasn’t me I don’t own a suit)
- My daughter did the Cha-Cha Slide
- The sheer number of people in attendance gave me hope for Muskogee
- My daughter told me she loved me
And then it was over. We hopped back in the truck, she talked about wanting to bring a limo next year because someone in her grade had a limo, and I reminded her that limos cost money. But in reality, I’ll probably do my best to get her a limo next year.
Here’s my end goal: Maybe, just maybe, if I can set impossibly high standards for my daughter, not just any idiot young man will be able to impress her. Maybe it’ll take a man who gives her flowers, who gets her a limo, and who takes time out of his busy life to win her heart.
I am not Ozymandias. I do not expect this blog to live forever. But maybe that young man is reading this now.
You aren’t good enough for my daughter.
But if you treat her like I tried to treat her, like the way she deserves to be treated, then you’ll have just a little bit better chance of winning me over than the last testosterone-fueled jackass that gave it a shot.
I’ve failed more times than not at being a good dad. It’s hard work. But last night I got something right. The Good Lord smiled down on me and blessed me for making time for our daughter. It was a great night.
And I didn’t miss it.
Note to the reader: I am not kidding about making mistakes. In case this blog gives you the feeling that I’m holier-than-though or think I’m the best dad ever, here’s one where I royally screwed up to make me look worse. Just click this.
P.S. Maybe you didn’t read this. Maybe you did. But if you’re a father, go read this right here. Seriously. Don’t even read what I wrote. This is better.
It’s been four years.
1,462 days have passed since the last time I was there. In that time I’ve almost wrecked a marriage, fixed it, worked at three jobs, left a church, found a new church, gone back to college, and adopted two kids.
I’ve ended a ministry, and started a new one. The former, teenagers. The latter, senior adults.
The last time I was there, Flour on the Roof happened.
The last time I went, we left early on a Monday morning. This time, I’ll be arriving on a Wednesday night. Last time, I was excited. This time…
The place I’m talking about is Falls Creek, Oklahoma.
For those that don’t know, Falls Creek is a youth church camp that is based near Davis, Oklahoma. For those that do know, there’s nothing more to be added. It is a wonderful camp, full of wonderful kids that spend the week battling heat and hormones, and trying to build a closer relationship with God.
In short, this place is amazing.
So why have I waited four years to go back?
Well, the answer to that is a bit complicated. The way I figured it, the Youth Minister that took my place at Okay was a nice enough guy to let me go back with them if I wanted to. Especially after I sorted my personal issues out. However, I couldn’t justify in mind tagging along with him while he was trying to rebuild some of the trusts that I’d broken. To me, it is the equivalent of a pastor ceasing his ministry at a church, then continuing to go to church there. I just didn’t think it was right, and so I didn’t ask.
“Okay, but Travis, aren’t you going back with that same church tonight?”
The short answer is yes. The long answer is that the YM that took my place has left, and the family that replaced him I have known literally my entire life, and also, 99% of the kids that were there when I was there have passed through by now. So I’m taking our newly saved and baptized daughter down for some “precious memories,” as my mother-in-law so contemptuously corrected me a few nights ago.
And when I took Akeeli up to the church the other night to get everything registered, one of the ladies doing the paperwork looked at me and said, “Did you have to do all of this when you were running things?” As she said it, she had a look in her eye that was something akin to a wildebeest cornered by several large and not-yet-vegan African lions.
I looked at her and smiled and said yes, fondly recalling how much I love it. All of the planning, the waiting until the last second on registrations, that one kid that would come running up on Monday morning ten minutes before we left and wanting to go. I. Loved. It.
So why am I nervous?
Falls Creek is almost like a living thing. It’s an entity, it experiences growth and change almost exponentially. And so I’m half afraid that it’s grown out of me. But another real reason is that I’m afraid I’ll get down there and realize that I’ve grown out of it.
I would love to one day return to the Youth Ministry field. That’s a long way away, but I know that if I return to it, I’ll more than likely be taking kids to Falls Creek. I have a heart for teenagers, and I know that FC is the best place for them when it comes to high intensity spiritual conditioning.
But what if I’m over it? What if I get down there, look around, and say, “Wow. This is so different. I can’t stand this.”
It seems silly and trivial, I know. But it is a genuine concern of mine, and the main reason for my nervousness. I’m sure I’ll get down there, take a deep breath, turn my phone off, and realize that FC is still the best place in Oklahoma. And I can’t wait to see my daughter’s face as she experiences the sounds, the sights, the smells, and…her very first icee date, which will be with me.
So I’ll leave work tonight, pick up our daughter, go home and grab our bags, and head out to Falls Creek, where I’ll make…
…The Return. Pray for me.