My dad was one of the most fun loving people I've ever known. He was always outgoing, happy, and loved to tease. He teased Mom unmercifully at times. I'm sure she must have thought he had a mean streak, but we four kids thought she simply didn't understand his humor, and of course, we loved it when he had Mom going.
Dad had a gentle and serious side too. He had a very soft heart for stray animals and people in need. If he thought someone could use a little help, he'd give that person the shirt off his back and/or his last dollar, without blinking an eye. He once told me his family had been in need when he was a young boy, and people offered help, so he felt he should always do the same for others. He knew how to "pay it forward" before we ever had a phrase for those sorts of random acts of kindness. When some unkind soul abandoned litters of puppies or kittens at Dad's place of work, he and his buddies would each take one animal home in order to make sure they all had food, shelter, and love.
When Dad wasn't working, he enjoyed spending time with us kids. It wasn't unusual to see him dancing around the living room, with one small child or another standing on his feet, "dancing" with him. He loved to jitterbug but Mom wasn't keen on dancing so we three girls were most often his dance partners. As we grew older, I'm very ashamed to admit that we thought Dad's dancing was hokey and we were sometimes even embarrassed by it. If Dad wanted to dance, he didn't care who else was in the house or who might have come over to play. He never cared about what else was going on at the time. If he felt like doing the jutterbug, he just turned on the radio and danced it as if no one was watching. What I wouldn't give now to watch him dance and hear the joy in his laughter.
What turned out to be one of my fondest memories of Dad was the night my class at nursing school held a formal dance. The year was 1970 and I remember wishing my boyfriend could have been there with me. He was in the Army, stationed about 600 miles away at the time, so I had decided to not go, but Dad stepped up and asked if he could please escort me to the dance. Though I accepted his invitation, I had very mixed feelings about going with him. My mother thought it was a grand gesture on his part, and truly it was, but back then, I wondered if I'd be the only one whose father was escorting her and I didn't want to be different.
When I look back on that night, I don't know how I could have ever felt hesitant about going with my dad. He was so excited to be taking me to the dance, and he bought me a beautiful corsage, but I was a bit apprehensive. Would he choose to wear one of his outdated shirts with the big collar? And how about his tie? He had some really wild ones. They were leftovers from the 1940's and they were "loud" and wide, while the style back then was narrow ties. Dad loved his old shirts and ties and he couldn't have cared less if they were in style or not. He said they were still good, so he wouldn't consider throwing them out or even giving them away. Today, his eclectic look would be thought of as stylish. Oh, how times have changed.
I was worried that the other nursing students, many of whom were friends of mine, would think my dad was crazy. He really could act silly and he told the corniest jokes sometimes. I often wished he'd just hush and act "normal", but now that he's gone, I'd give almost anything if he was around to do something crazy thing or tell a silly joke and have us all laughing. Back in that time, I just wanted to be like everyone else and I didn't want my dad to act silly, talk too much, or do anything to embarrass me.
Despite all my concerns, my dad did act a bit silly at the dance. He wore a nice suit and a dressy white shirt and one of those wide ties, but he chose a rather conservative one. He danced in the old fashioned ways and told some corny jokes, but you know what? He was the life of the party and my friends thought he was the cats' pajamas. They told me how cool they thought it was that my dad had brought me and they actually laughed at his jokes. They were genuinely happy he'd come to the dance with me. How about that? I learned a valuable lesson that night. I found out it's not only ok to be yourself, but it's the best way to act. I also learned that my dad was one of the best friends I'd ever have.
The picture above was taken the night of the dance, just before we left home. It's a night I'll always remember. Dad has been gone for 36 years and never a day passes that I don't think of him. Sometimes it's just a fleeting thought. Other times, I hear that song, "Dance With My Father", and I'm once again that student nurse, all dressed up and dancing with my dad. I no longer worry about being the same or acting the same as everyone else. I think Dad tried to teach me to be my own person and to not worry so much about what others might think of me. As many of us do, I still struggle with that one. But he also taught me to care about others' needs, to do what I could to help homeless animals, and to accept people as they are. I miss those crazy shirts and wide ties and I truly do long to dance with my father again.