Clad in a tuxedo, the young man dotingly eyed my daughter as she walked slowly toward him.
When they met, he took her hand while I looked into his eyes and firmly said, "Take care of my little girl."
And then, following a flurry of photos, they were off to prom.
Welcome to high school prom night, a pseudo wedding rehearsal if you're a dad who sired a girl. True she didn't exactly walk down the aisle; wearing foreign heels and a floor length dress far less cooperative than her normal t-shirt/yoga pants/headphones attire, she sort of clunked through the kitchen and into the front foyer where her date awaited. Also, there was no organ accompaniment. Hours before the doorbell rang, one of my Spotify "Hits of the '80s" playlists purred through our home speakers until my daughter yelled from the bathroom, "Dad, what ARE you listening to?"
Jeez, what's wrong with a little Duran Duran to set the mood?
Apparently everything, which is why I pressed "mute" and made myself scarce. Whether it's prom or a wedding, Dad has multiple duties. First and foremost is:
Say nothing and stay out of the way
I'd planned to adhere to that rule by mowing the lawn and tidying the backyard for pictures. But the higher ups at my daughter's suburban Chicago high school chose to hold her end of year celebration in early April, reasoning that nothing would be more memorable than photos of girls and their dates traipsing through slushy snow in formal attire. And that's before getting in their cars with their newly acquired licenses. So, once I returned from the hardware store with yet another bag of ice melting driveway salt, I retreated inside and snuck an occasional peak at my daughter's preparatory regiment, being careful to adhere to Prom Dad Duty #2:
Never, ever inquire about cost
A boy's prom fiscal requirements haven't changed since the 1800s: pay for tickets and rent a tux. But a girl? I was ready to Google my prom date from 1978 and shoot her an email with the subject line, "Did you do all this stuff?" Never mind the dress and the shoes. Now there are French manicures, hard-to-pronounce makeup brands and skin treatments featuring terminology that sounds like it could easily appear in a Jeopardy category.
"Alex, I'll take 'Methods of Exfoliation' for $600."
"It's prom," my wife said. "It's one special event in a girl's life."
Actually it's two special events since my daughter is a junior and will most likely be repeating this entire process next year. I'm not sure of the exact date but I'm reasonably certain snow is expected.
Mute button firmly enabled and financial calculations firmly disabled, I was ready to move onto Prom Dad Duty #3:
Serve as official timekeeper
This is an important responsibility in an age of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. When high school girls get together, it is imperative that they take photos which each other in more combinations than exist in your average Powerball drawing. A pre-prom get together of eight girls was thrown into total chaos when three more girls and their dates arrived late. Suddenly Julia had to pose with Mara, who hadn't yet posed with Jessica and Brittney, who just HAD to get a shot with Lauren, Monica, Jackie and...you get the idea. The boys, too nervous to do anything except stand in the corner and consume punch, are useless in this situation. Therefore, a dad must eventually remind everyone that prom officially started 35 minutes ago. It's the only time we are allowed to unmute ourselves.
Finally it was time to go. As my daughter descended the driveway, my mind flashed back to a little girl playing dress up with her preschool classmates. Now she was wearing a real princess dress. Her date had one arm protectively around her waist while clutching an umbrella with his other hand. As he steered her to the passenger side of his father's borrowed car, I knew I would be unable to follow Prom Dad Duty #4, just as I will fail miserably when a wedding ring is slipped on her finger:
Try not to cry