Standing at the window ready to perform in my white tutu and pink satin sash, I peered into the gray stillness of the day’s fading light, tapping my ballet slipper impatiently. Siegfried, the handsome prince in our version of “Swan Lake, ” was now an hour late.
“Where is he?” I mumbled anxiously, nearing the tipping point for an explosive outburst. Waiting to dance was never good for my five-year-old persona. But just as I was about to burst into tears, his shiny silver Oldsmobile came into view.
“Mommy, turn on the music, quick!” I squealed. “He’s here!”
Bouncing up and down nearly wetting my pants with excitement, I jumped into the arms of my father as he entered the door.
Without a moment to rest, coat and hat still on, my hero proceeded to twirl me in dizzy circles around the living room floor. From the moment music spoke to my soul, the first and only entry on every dance card belonged to my father.
Throughout my growing years, Dad was my Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, and Mikhail Baryshnikov all rolled up into one. Each time we took the floor at a Father/Daughter dance, I couldn’t have been more proud to be his partner. But years later, in 1971, I was hit with a devastating reality: my father wasn’t a good dancer at all. In fact, he was horrible!
Watching my parents swirl around the auditorium at a family wedding it became painfully clear he actually had two left feet. Lumbering more like Fred Flintstone than the other Fred, he hobbled awkwardly, often standing perfectly still as my mom floated around him.
At first, my 18-year-old brain was disappointed, even embarrassed. What possessed me ever to think he was any good? Then, I noticed something truly revealing.
As my parents wove their way through the crowd, his body language uncomfortable as he tripped over his own feet, it was the smile on his face that sang volumes, “For you, I’ll do anything.” It was the same smile he gave me when we danced – inclusive, loving, adoring.
Jack Madden was a gentle soul who lived his life quiet and humble. Like all of us, he had an ego, but he never bragged about his accomplishments, nor did he want to be the celebrity of any Madden Family Production. That place was reserved for those he loved. We were the superstars of his masterpiece theater.
Sadly, at the age of 68, a massive stroke erased not only the use of Dad’s left arm but his mobility too. How I cried for him and myself. His once healthy body became a prison cell with no key to unlock the door. There’d be no more dancing. A piece of us was lost forever.
But, being true to his fatherly nature, he created a new symphony for us to waltz to. Knowing I was now a woman with children of my own, he orchestrated a perfectly designed choreography of love and respect by permitting me to become his equal, not just his little girl. By accepting my thoughts and dreams, even when they didn’t match his, he granted me permission to stand in the divine spotlight meant only for me, my true path.
I miss those conversations where he made me feel like a woman. I long for the times he’d reassure me, “You’ll be just fine,” when I was scared. But I’ll be forever grateful he taught me how to dance in mind, body and soul, for I’m now able to stand tall on the center stage of my life’s story.
Happy Father’s Day to all who dance with their children.