I vividly remember attending the middle school spring dance when I was in eighth grade.
I was excited for the event, if nothing else because it signified that the end of middle school was near. While it hadn't been the worst of times, it was also not the best of times and I was more than ready to move on. This dance meant I was one step closer to being done, and a chance to go out on a high note.
I remember my dad drove to the dance and we picked up Craig. He was a seventh grade boy who I think I knew from Science Olympiad. (Yes, friends, mock away.)
I have no idea what reasons made either one of us think that attending together was a good idea. When he entered my dad's car, those reasons had evaporated. Completely.
We both sat in the back seat, but as far away from each other as humanly possible. The effect was similar to that of magnets repelling each other.
My "date" and I were hugging the cranks that rolled down our respective windows and probably clutching the door handles, thinking that jumping out may have been a better alternative to spending the evening together.
When we arrived at the dance, I wanted to stay in the car. A night with my dad seemed like a lot more fun. Instead of hearing my telepathic pleas, he wished us both a good time and pulled away.
I'm not sure quite who abandoned who, but poor Craig and I quickly went our separately ways with a sense of relief. That lasted for only a precious second. I looked around and realized that I had very much missed the memo on the dress code for the event.
The navy blue sheath dress with the matching bolero trimmed in gold braid had seemed like a good idea in the store. Really. (We'll save discussion of late 80s fashion for another post)
I had been very wrong.
Everyone else was dressed really causally, as in t-shirts and shorts. Maybe there were even jams, I'm not sure. I just know that no one looked like me, which we all know can be very traumatic to a tween.
Not only was the dress too, well, dressy, it was tightly hugging curves that I swear had not existed in the store dressing room a few weeks ago. Where in the world had they come from? And, dear God, what possessed me to put them on display?
I was sure that others were looking and whispering, and not in a good way. (That said, I was 12, it was quite possibly all in my head. But probably not.)
A quick scan of the room for allies revealed none. My tribe was not in attendance. At least, not yet, and the moments were ticking by slower than I ever thought was feasible.
In the intense way that it seems only tweens can feel, I wanted the Earth to open and swallow me.
Realizing that the odds of that happening were so very slim, I went for my next best option.
I called my dad. From a payphone, because that's how we rolled 25 years ago.
I asked him to please come pick me up. Pronto.
My dad very nicely said, "No."
I was taken aback. This was my dad. This guy loved me. I was his girl, the girl he adored and would do anything for me.
Apparently, however, anything but this.
"Uh, excuse me?"
He gently repeated his refusal.
I froze in stunned silence.
He explained that he was sorry that I wasn't having a good time, but that it didn't sound like anything was seriously wrong. He reminded me that I had come with someone else. I have no idea what our arrangements had been for rides home, but my dad said that we would be sticking with the plans that we had made. He assured me that if I put a little effort in, it may even just possibly be fun.
My heart sank, both because I wanted out so badly but also because I really had thought my dad would save me. He always did that.
Add to that the fact that he was rarely wrong, but not this time. I was certain he was dead wrong about this whole scenario. Did the man just say it could be fun? Please!
I was a petulant 12 year-old.
Now, a quarter of a century later, I am a very grateful daughter.
He was telling me that I didn't need saving. He was confident that I could handle myself, when I was most certainly not confident of that, or anything else.
He showed me that sometimes you do what is right, even if it isn't fun. Doing what's right matters.
His actions taught me that you don't abandon people. He very nicely didn't call me out specifically for trying to ditch my date and general rudeness, but he certainly was not going to be a party to me pulling such a stunt.
I think I hung up and slowly made my way to my gangly 7th grade "date." I have no memory of the rest of the night, but I don't remember anything horrifying happening, so it must have been okay, or at least not terribly scarring (which at a middle school dance is the same as a victory, right?)
It is perhaps unfair to pick this story to tell a Father's Day story about my dad's tough love when both my parents have moved Heaven and Earth to ensure that I was happy.
But this is the memory came rushing back to me recently when I got a call from my daughter at 3:05 in the afternoon. School dismisses at 3:00 p.m. and she had an after school pizza party for the incoming student council members that day.
"Can you come pick me up?" my tween asked. "No one else is going. Well, I don't know anyone going, all the people I know have bailed. It's not going to be any fun. I want to just come home."
I told her "no" and told her that I was sure that she could handle it. I told her that I was sure she would make a new friend, maybe two.
I opted not to point out that she should feel fortunate that she was at least dressed appropriately.
She was disappointed at my refusal to rescue her. She was highly unconvinced by me saying I believed that she could handle it.
Her voice made it clear that she did not believe me a whit when I said, "I understand." But oh, do I understand.
And I understood my dad a little bit better, and was appreciative that he loved and taught me well.
Happy Father's Day!
YOU MAY ALSO LIKE: This Father's Day, hats off to the special dads
Please like Tween Us on Facebook.
If you would like to get emails of Tween Us posts, please type your email address in the box and click the "create subscription" button. My list is completely spam free, and you can opt out at any time.
Filed under: Parenting