Nicole was 10 years old, openly attending school as a transgender girl, and Valentine's Day was right around the corner. I was working late on a farm safety problem when Dave, the custodian, poked his head into my office to say "hi." Dave often shares a few words of old Mainer wisdom or a good joke to cheer me up. He was well aware of the bullying and harassment that my daughter was facing at school. This time he told me about his weekend plans with his granddaughter. They were going to attend a Valentine's Day dance.
He proudly described the small-town Mainer tradition that requires fathers or grandfathers to escort their granddaughters to the local community center or firehouse dance. He told me that he was going to borrow a friend's Cadillac, buy his granddaughter flowers and a corsage and take her to dinner before the dance. He showed me her picture, and when we'd finished talking, I told him what a beautiful granddaughter he had. He smiled and said, "Thank you, Wayne," and went back to work.
After he left, it hit me. It was another one of those moments that require me to expand my comfort zone. I began to wonder if Orono had a Valentine's Day father-daughter dance. Dancing is my last big fear, but I knew that if I was asked, I had to go. I could not let Nicole think I was afraid to do so.
Later that evening Nicole came home, and while we were preparing dinner, she announced that there was going to be a dance at the town recreation building. I am sure I flinched, and I glanced at Kelly, wondering what her reaction would be when I responded. Having already thought about it made it easier for me to respond. Regardless of my fear, I could not break my daughter's heart. I said, "That is great!" Nicole smiled and gave me a hug, and nothing more was said; it appeared to be a natural event, but for me it was not.
The night of the dance finally arrived. Nicole and Kelly had corsages and new dresses, Jonas had a new shirt and tie, and I put on my best suit. The kids had no idea how stressed and nervous I was, but I think Kelly at least had a clue. When we arrived, all our friends and fellow community members were having fun and waiting to dance. Jonas ran over to his buddies with no worries or cares. I imagined that Kelly and even Nicole were waiting to see what I would do. I could be wrong, but I thought it was a test -- and, for Nicole, confirmation that she was my daughter.
Soon the lights were turned down low, the music started, and the disco ball began to turn. I started to panic. Thank goodness the first few dances were fast dances for the kids. Then it was time for the father-daughter dance. Nicole and I walked out to the middle of the dance floor. I could feel Kelly and the rest of crowd staring as we began to dance. I remember trying to waltz and keep my composure. I tried my best to calm down, smile and not step on Nicole's feet. As we danced, she looked up at me with a big smile.
It was a very special moment for many reasons. I was happy that I could show her how much I loved her, and happy that I could show our town that were father and daughter. The entire time we danced, I had to tell myself to breathe. Occasionally, out of the corner of my eye, I could see Kelly acknowledging what a special moment this was for our family. I still felt that everyone was watching me, but in reality, there was little of that happening. We were at a small-town dance, nothing more and nothing less.
That night I did not conquer my fear of dancing. Maybe I put a dent in it, but I have no interest in dancing again anytime soon or trying to conquer this fear head-on. However, I do hope that someday I will dance at Nicole's wedding and share another special moment with her. When that happens, as I imagine everyone watching us, I will no longer be concerned that they might be judging me or wondering how I will react to the evening's events. I know that everyone will be smiling and thinking how beautiful Nicole is and what a special moment it is for a father and his daughter.
As a father of a transgender child, I worry a great deal about the present and the future. I often overanalyze simple daily events, but sometimes the simple things are not that simple. Planning ahead and obtaining advice from those who have already been down this road are very helpful. The challenge for me is the fact that there are few dads of transgender daughters to talk with me about how to handle things like small-town dances, or signing up for softball, or dating. Sometimes I wish that I could just have a cold beer with a few other dads from my world, and between talking about sports, they could share how they handled their first father-daughter dance and provide some advice on how to proceed.