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National and Global, United States

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

My Dance Partner...My daughter.


Written by Tiernan McKay

My sister and I could count on it like clockwork. At least once a week, after we had brushed our teeth and climbed into bed, the record player downstairs would begin to hum. The music would be faint, but just loud enough to lure us out from under our warm covers. The two of us would tip-toe to the stairs and gingerly climb down the first three steps. Perched on our lookout point, we peered down to the main floor to see our mom and dad dancing slowly in the living room. As we sat there and stared at our parents, our house flooded with a sense of comfort and safety, as if completely impervious to the world's chaos just on the other side of our front door. Most of the time, we sat on those stairs for just one song. When it ended, without saying a word, we tip-toed back up three steps and climbed back into bed. Sigh. All was right with the world.


Our dad has always been somewhat of a music junkie. The few neighbors we did have in our rural New Jersey farmhouse surely could hear his Bruce Springsteen blasting through the air on a daily basis. He loved to take his girls in his arms and spin us around the room while singing off-key at the top of his lungs. As a child, I would throw my head back while caught up in a spinning frenzie. My deep laughter barely audible in the maelstrom of dancing euphoria. I never want my turn to end, but it inevitably did as younger sisters eagerly awaited their chance to whirl around the room with daddy.

As the years went on, the music and the dancing never stopped, but many of my "performances" were preceeded by a quick roll of the eyes or some half-hearted protest. Ignoring my lukewarm defiance, my dad continued to spin me around the room while serenading his princess. Although I often acted indifferent to the experience, deep down, that desire to hold on to my turn never went away.

Looking back, I never really knew when my dad was going through a hard time because the music and the dancing never stopped. Now I know that life was not always easy, jobs were not always secure, friends were not always loyal, money was not always plentiful and health was not always perfect. But back then, our regular impromtu dance parties always let me know that dad loved me and would take care of me, no matter what.

Not too long ago, my kids and I were visiting my parents house for dinner. After the plates were cleared and the conversation about life's burdens passed, the familiar hum of the record player filled the room (yes, my dad still uses his record player). It was as if Kool and the Gang themselves burst through the front door clad in shiny jumpsuits. Exhausted from the day, I continued to sip my coffee as my dad dusted off his dancing shoes and began belting out "Celebrate." This time, his dancing partners were my three little children. Their eyes lit up in amazement as they watched their "poppi" fly across the room. I quickly remembered what it was like to see such a strong and serious provider become giddy with excitement at the sound of music. My dad took a turn with each child, spinning them around and singing to them. I could barely hear their laughter over the pounding bass, but I knew it was there deep in their belly, because it was in mine too.

Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, Kool and the Gang, Frank Sinatra and The A's (an obscure 70s band from Philly) are as much a part of my family as any pet we've ever had. Sometimes I hear a song that brings me back to high school or college and I reconnect with a difficult situation, a vacation, a bad memory or a friendship long passed. But when I hear "UpTown Girl," "Glory Days," "Joanna" or "Fly Me to the Moon," I am reminded that the love of a family overshadows all and a quick dance across the living room seems to cure all problems.

My dad has impacted my life is so many ways, way too many to capture in short-form. But, one of the most pervasive impressions he has left on my life is the ability to stop and enjoy my many blessings, if even for just the length of a song.

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