Within a period of two weeks, my fatherly skills have been put to the test twice with my oldest daughter's wedding and my youngest daughter's 30th birthday.
It's not like we didn't know these events were coming for several months. But trying to spawn some magic moment for their milestones had me completely baffled.
You see, I can be a sucker for the grand gesture. Romantic, symbolic, whatever.
Admittedly, I'm not to be confused with the Great Gretzky of grand gestures, former astronaut Eugene Cernan (though we did attend the same high school). Cernan, as you might know, is the last man to have walked on the moon, doing so just before Apollo 17 left the lunar surface for its return home in December 1972.
Earlier this spring, the sitcom "Modern Family" evoked the fatherhood legend that is Eugene Cernan. In that episode, dad Phil Dunphy and daughter Alex share a conversation in which Phil (Ty Burrell) calls Cernan "the coolest dad of all time."
Here is that exchange:
Phil: "When he (Cernan) was leaving the moon, he reached down and wrote his daughter's initials into the lunar surface. Since there's no atmosphere ..."
Alex: "They'll be there forever. Wow, so every time she looks in the sky she'll know there's a message just for her."
Phil: "Exactly. That's why dads everywhere hate Eugene Cernan."
Now I certainly don't hate Eugene Cernan. Actually I've met him and he's a great guy. But he has set the bar far too high for the rest of us dads.
When youngest daughter Nicole got married, I spontaneously high-fived her while departing the altar during the wedding rehearsal. Everybody loved it, and we decided to work it into the ceremony the next day. That fits her personality, and I thought it was our perfect dad-and-daughter moment.
With Kara, my oldest, it was never that openly demonstrative between us. She's the practical one who would rehearse and measure her most public moments until she was adept at whatever she tried without anyone else being allowed to see any possible failings.
So she, of course, had this wedding stuff down to a science, despite planning it from faraway Iowa.
She had the photos perfectly arranged outside East College at DePauw. And they came out beautifully with the bridesmaids' red dresses sparkling against green grass and blue sky.
Even a big production to get 35 garlic cheeseburgers brought in at 11 p.m. went off without a hitch (I'm told Marvin's bossman Kevin Sullivan was even working on those special GCBs). And it's a good thing they came at the end of the night --- after all, who wants to kiss a girl with garlic on her bridal breath?
Meanwhile, all I was trying to do the whole time was avoid doing anything dumb enough to end up on "America's Funniest Home Videos" -- unless it was so ridiculously stupid that we'd win the $10,000 prize. The closest I came was stepping on the ends of the aqua sash that accented Kara's wedding dress -- just before we were to make our grand entrance into the hangar at the Dixie Chopper Business Center (by the way, thanks, Jamie, Angela and Sue!).
Even then the idea of a magic moment was still bouncing around my head as we strolled down the aisle to see bridegroom Karl and friend-principal-presiding minister Alan Small waiting to conduct the ceremony. Alan, of course, was Kara's Jones School principal the entire time she went to school there in what was the last class to go K-5 at Jones.
This is too perfect, I kept thinking. Just ideal. I can't wreck it. I can't trivialize it with some goofy last-second stunt ... or could I?
Our progress up the aisle had ground to a halt in front of The Rev. Mr. Small. He was saying something. But with my mind racing, I wasn't listening. Kara and I still had our arms locked as I stared straight ahead in numb silence before suddenly realizing Alan was talking softly to me.
"You can let her go now, Eric," he said with a smile.
And there it was. That was the point. I couldn't let her go. Didn't want to let her go.
Not my little girl who had come into this world 33 short years ago.
As I was thinking back about waiting out her birth at the old hospital, I remembered how I'd worn a pair of cowboys boots (it was during the urban cowboy craze, OK!) there in a snowstorm, and by the time she decided to arrive, I was ready to cut those boots off with a scalpel and walk home barefoot in the snow.
Meanwhile, back at the altar, my feet throbbed again, thanks to those shiny but unsupportive patent-leather dress shoes the tuxedo folks rent out as some unsuspectingly sadist torture. If I hadn't needed to return them, I'd have set them on fire right there whether it meant giving myself a hot foot or not.
Suddenly I realized I was hearing Mr. Small's voice again, a little more insistent this time.
"You can let her go, Eric ..."
I did let her go at that moment, but in my mind, she'll always be clinging to my arm. I want that memory. I need that memory.
Yep, that's the Father of the Bride logic I learned, magic moment or not. Let her go ... just don't let her go very far.