Nature reminds a man of his age. Thinning hair. Graying temples. Crow’s feat. Gimpy knees. Nature swipes our get-up-and-go over time. (On the softball field, you know.)
True, all of it. It’s why George Thoroughgood’s “Bad to the Bone” gave way to Toby Keith’s “As Good As I Once Was” as my theme song.
A man naturally progresses. His sports hero retires. His alma mater hires a head coach his age. His sports hero lands a front-office or coaching gig. Makes it to the hall of fame.
His sports hero gets sick, or … (Jim Zorn, eat your veggies, please).
The moment that tackles you from behind? Try picking up your soon-to-be high-school daughter from the school dance. When you walk through the halls once decked with her elementary-school artwork and come face to face with this beautiful woman, who just takes your breath away. Part you, part her mama, every bit an angel.
None of these parallels hit me until they were parallel. That’s how it works.
Instinctively, I parked my car in that same last spot in the lot. The same spot I’d picked when I came to watch the lottery to get our girl into Queen’s Grant.
Tonight, I walked toward the front doors, seemingly the man I’d been when I’d held her hand on the way to assembly when she was in kindergarten. Eight years ago.
Man, middle school parents are SO OLD, I thought back then.
I made my way toward the cacophony of middle-school voices, squeals and yells, combustible hugs, exclamation points on every sentence, full of giggles.
I saw myself carrying Elise back to class after she fell asleep in my car, riding back from a kindergarten field trip, her little legs dangling, classmates giggling quietly and pointing.
I insisted on taking a picture on my phone, my hand shaking a bit, the phone covering my face long enough to hide a tear, or three falling. She smiled. Photo snapped. Tears wiped.
Her storytelling began immediately and didn’t stop until we got home. Here she was, still looking so much like the kindergartner I’d left behind on her first day of school in tears.
Only tonight, in high heels, she was looking straight at me, not up to me.
I saw her lift her head up above her classmates when she saw me peeking through the window in the door. I saw her reaching for my hand as we walked back to class after assembly, happy her daddy was here. I saw her bounce up, off the side of my leg, as I bumped her up in the air when the teacher wasn’t looking.
She sang Adele’s latest, breaking between lines of lyrics to tell me about the fire alarm they had at the beginning of the dance, because of the smoke machine.
I saw my kindergartner as she asked me to read a book to the class after they ate lunch. In silly voices.
Was that perfume I smelled? I saw her at age 6, smelling like sugar cookies.
She rattled off about who’s dating who, tales of PDA and conga-line dancing, kids who she adored and kids who annoyed her. I marveled at the red glitter on her mascara-covered eyelashes, same color as the dress her mom worked so hard on the night before.
I saw her through my rearview mirror a drowsy little kid in a car seat, and how many times she conned me into a swing through the Burger King drive-thru on the way home. Scoring the first goal, by a girl, in the school’s co-ed soccer history. Dancing with ME, at the daddy/daughter dance.
Salt-N-Peppa came on the radio. Hugely inappropriate, but nostalgic. Push it REAL Good. “This is what played when *I* went to school dances,” I told her, and then it hit me.
Middle school parents are old. WAY OLD.
But not dead. See, it’ll be time for the daddy/daughter dance again soon, my last such date with Elise before she moves on to high school. I’ll be the dad with the three pretty girls and the best moves of any pop out there. Seriously. It’s my grand finale, with Elise.
Knee, don’t fail me now.
I used to be hell on wheels,
back when I was a younger man
Now my body says, “You can’t do this, boy”
but my pride says, “Oh, yes you can!”
I’ll be the dad hell-bent on staying “Bad to the Bone” – until I break one.