Dancing with Daddy
That cliched image of a small girl’s feet atop her daddy’s dress shoes as he dances with her captures my relationship with my dad.
I am the oldest of 3 daughters of a demanding father. He has that “you don’t ask ‘why’ when he tells you to jump; you say ‘how high?’” attitude toward parenting. My sisters and older brother and I grew up with a protective mom who gave us warnings like, “You better be quiet; Daddy’s napping” or “You don’t want me to tell your daddy about this!”
However, his stern demeanor was often overpowered by his protective love and boundless generosity, especially for me, a kid who was different.
I have cerebral palsy, and my left side is smaller and weaker. I walk with a limp and have very limited use of my crooked left arm. Still, Daddy always told me I could do whatever my brother and sisters did. So I took swimming lessons, rode our Shetland pony, played kickball, softball, and a bit of basketball. And since we were a tennis-obsessed family, Dad even taught me an under-handed (but still legal) serve so I could play in tournaments.
His insistence for me to not let my disability constrain me gave me a cock-eyed view of reality. I believed I could do anything and thus I tried everything my siblings did. Not until high school did real life pull off that Dad-created self-assurance when a strict nun yanked me out of typing class because she realized I was typing with only my right hand. So like an episode of Malcolm in the Middle when the mom Lois watches a video of herself and sadly realizes she can’t dance gracefully like she thought she could, I began to see I was bumbling my way through most physical endeavors.
With the awkwardness and self-doubt of adolescence, I became more hesitant and shy although I did continue to play on the school’s tennis team and to excel in French which I took instead of typing. So however skewed my self-image had been, Daddy still instilled enough confidence in me so that I believed him when he said, “Go ahead and dive into the deep end of that pool”; “Get on that pony and ride bare-back”; “Climb that tree and grab the rope swing”; “Keep your knees bent and hold tight to that water-ski rope”; “Serve to her backhand and you’ll win that tennis match.”
So thank you, Daddy, for guiding me down life’s bumpy gravel roads and through the dark halls of loss and pain. Your unwavering belief in me and your support when I clung to your belt loop as you glided me across Grandma’s big living room floor have been enough for me to believe in what I can do more than what I can’t.