Getting choked up at the daddy-daughter dance

Paul Stulligross

A few weeks ago I took my youngest daughter to the daddy-daughter dance at her school. As she hid herself from me and her mother helped her get into her new dress, I tightened my tie and shaved … and suddenly I got choked up a bit.

I’ve lost that callousness that built up over 24 years in my former career — that desensitization that kept me strong enough to deal with sometimes unfathomable suffering and still come home with a heart for my family. It’s been five years. And I’m slipping.

I slip every time I see how old my kids are getting. And I slip when I realize I actually get attached to the kids I teach and will be sad to see them graduate at the year’s end. I slip when I see how women are portrayed in the media and how difficult it will be for my daughters to forge through that clutter as they get older. And I slip when I see how young men are tricked into believing life is about instant gratification in any form.

When I slip into those momentary lapses of emotion, I’m struck with the reality that I can only affect what God has placed before me. In St. Therese of Lisieux’s words: “Remember that nothing is small in the eyes of God. Do all that you do with love.” So I thought I’d begin that night at the dance. And I came up with a list of things I hoped my daughter would learn.

I hope she learned that when I saw her for the first time in her dress and I gasped, it was because of how beautiful she is on the inside. I hope she learned that when I put my arm around her to take a picture, it meant the world to me, and that she shouldn’t settle for a guy for whom it means anything less. I hope she learned that I was OK when she ran off with her friends and left me behind with the other dads, because I love seeing her having fun — and that if she ever dates a guy who doesn’t, there’s a problem.

I hope she learned that when she sat down at the table to talk to me, and I was focused on her every word, that she never has to work hard to get my attention. Maybe if she understands that, she won’t think she has to work hard to get God’s. I hope she sees that there is a difference between equality and “sameness” — and that it’s OK that she can’t do everything a man can; because I could never come close to doing what she can do. I hope she learned that her dignity isn’t defined by Rosie O’Donnell, The View, or her participation in marches that champion profane ideals of strength, but is implicit in who she is as a child of God. I hope she saw me waiting for her every time a slow song came on and that my love for her is not conditional — that I’d go to the ends of the earth to wait for her — and so would God. I hope she didn’t get too embarrassed when I welled up once or twice during those songs, and that her strength as a woman lies in her ability to be the best version of herself — and that will always be enough for me, and God.

St. John Paul II reminds us: “God assigns as a duty to every man, the dignity of every woman.” I think that needs to start at a young age. If it does, maybe they’ll embrace a God that’s given it to them rather than waiting for our culture to foist on them the ridiculous notion that they need to earn it. Maybe if we stepped back — and what better time to do that than lent — we could come to the realization that the value we possess  can be no more assigned by a human being than can the beginning of life. The fact that our culture doesn’t understand that is a symptom of its Godlessness.

I’m a faulted man. My daughters and wife understand that. After all, they live with me. But maybe enough of a spark lives in each of us dads that we can convey the Author of that spark to our daughters … and sons. Then they won’t have to do anything to prove their worth — except be who God intended them to be.

Paul Stuligross is director of campus ministry for Orchard Lake St. Mary’s Preparatory High School and is a former police officer.