The Pride Undisguised
Finding a father-daughter wedding dance song that's just right.
Our daughter called last night to have The Talk. No, no, not that Talk — I'm referring to the question of what song to choose for our father-daughter dance at her wedding, which is the middle of this month.
Given that my dancing experience is limited to the hokey-pokey in grade school gym class and a brief community-college class shortly after my own wedding ("Get out and never come back!" were, I believe, the instructor's encouraging parting words), perhaps we should choose, "Sit Down, You're Rocking the Boat" from Guys and Dolls. My daughter confesses to not being much of a dancer herself — ah, the power of genetics, gifting her with her dad's two left feet! — so the actual dancing is not going to be, say, YouTube-worthy. (Except perhaps in the sense of "Hilarious video of father and daughter dancing and crashing into the dessert buffet at her wedding.") Besides, I'm going to be so weepy that my feet are unlikely to cooperate even if I brought Fred Astaire-like skills to the party.
Nonetheless, there is tradition to think of. As one website I consulted in search of appropriate song titles put it (unhelpfully in the weepiness department), "Is there a more emotional moment in a father's or a daughter's life than when they dance at her wedding or reception? Maybe, but I can't think of one."
Without the assistance of Google, I could come up with only two, equally maudlin ideas (perhaps reflecting my overall lack of musical with-it-ness, a perfect match for my dancing ability). Reaching into the Broadway repertoire for something a tad more appropriate than Guys and Dolls, of course there's "Sunrise, Sunset" from Fiddler on the Roof: "Swiftly fly the years/ One season following another/ Laden with happiness and tears/ What words of wisdom can I give them?/ How can I help to ease their way?/ Now they must learn from one another/ Day by day."
Oy vey. I don't think so.
In much the same vein is the other song that popped into my head, "Turn Around" by Harry Belafonte: "Where are you going my little one, little one/ Where are you going my baby my own/ Turn around and you're two, turn around and you're four/ Turn around and you're a young girl going out of the door."
OK, to be honest, I'm bawling just copying and pasting those lyrics from the Internet.
Other suggestions I found online, frankly, ranged from the surprising to the downright bizarre. One list of top 10 father-daughter wedding dance songs (based on an "informal survey of other fathers of the bride") was topped by Bob Carlisle's "Butterfly Kisses." Perhaps even more maudlin, it goes down the "Turn Around" path ("She'll change her name today/ She'll make a promise and I'll give her away"). On the bright side, since I don't know it, I'd be less likely to sob openly — too busy trying to follow the lyrics.
That site served up some more weepy, little-girl-grows-up selections, such as "Through the Years" by Kenny Rogers and Natalie Grant's "Always Be Your Baby." The latter mention included the cautionary note, "One bride told us, ‘It is the most tearjerking father/daughter song I have ever heard! My father and I danced to this song at my wedding, and I cried the entire time!'" Great, just what I'm looking for. I checked to see if the website was sponsored by Kleenex.
I was more familiar with others among the suggestions, but if not "Turn Around"-ish they seemed like just ordinary songs: James Taylor's "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)," "The Way You Look Tonight" as sung by Frank Sinatra, "Unforgettable" crooned by Natalie Cole. Apparently my choices were either to be dissolved in sappy tears or to sing along with something that could be on any ol' playlist — like a bad episode of "Glee."
Another, more exhaustive list at the "Project Wedding" website (don't even get me started on the whole wedding industry!) had most of these plus some more off-the-wall suggestions. "Celebration" by Kool & The Gang — are you kidding me? I will consider absolutely nothing by Miley and Billy Ray Cyrus, either, sorry — just too creepy. And no, I will not be dancing to any tune immortalized by Ozzy Osbourne.
Rod Stewart's "Forever Young"? What's the idea — kind of the anti-"Turn Around"? And a sappy remembrance of going fishing with your daughter (Trace Adkins' "Just Fishin'") probably isn't the right tone for a wedding: "Throwin' back what we couldn't fry/ Drownin' worms and killin' time…" Unless your daughter happens to be named "Michelle," the Beatles' song by that name seems a tad peculiar, too. The Beatles' "When I'm 64" works only if that age is a long ways off and you don't mind sounding kinda needy in the meantime.
I don't think our future son-in-law would appreciate the title sentiment of Neil Sedaka's "Should Have Never Let You Go." Ditto for the already-rejected Cyrus duo's "Ready Set Don't Go." (Apparently there's no song titled, "He's Not Good Enough for You," or it'd be listed, too.)
"Bridge Over Troubled Water" by Simon and Garfunkel? I guess the "I'm on your side" and "sailing right behind" lyrics suggest a supportive dad, but I simply have too many other associations with Simon and Garfunkel. (Remember that the duo did the soundtrack for The Graduate, which climaxes with Dustin Hoffman interrupting a wedding. Not good karma there.)
Similarly, "Pretty Woman" by Roy Orbison suggests the movie by that name, in which the title character was a prostitute. Oh, my daughter would love that! ("But she was played by Julia Roberts, honey!") Movie associations also spoil "Stand By Me," originally recorded by Ben E. King: I think of the film adaptation of the story by another King, Stephen, which involved boys going to see a dead body. Great movie, not exactly wedding material.
Several suggested songs run toward the self-glorifying (if I'm helping to pick, that is): "You Are My Hero," "Wind Beneath My Wings," "On My Father's Wings." Then of course there's the Eddie Fisher oldie, "Oh, My Pa-Pa," which praises Dad while also putting the "sap" in "sappy": "Oh, my pa-pa, to me he was so wonderful/ Oh, my pa-pa, to me he was so good…"
Fortunately, all my Googling was unnecessary. Our daughter already had a song in mind, which, besides being a perfect waltz number that perhaps even I could fake it through, expresses just the right sentiment. Turns out I'd actually picked it out myself, unwittingly, several years back for her 21st birthday.
I'd half-forgotten, but she'd remembered and even saved the card on which I'd transcribed the lyrics. The song was penned by folk singer Ann Reed, but I think the version sung by Bill Staines will be more appropriately paternal-sounding.
It's called "Every Long Journey" and speaks to what I think every parent ought to aspire to for their children. Your job as a parent, after all, is to send your child out into the world as a capable, sensible, loving adult. As much as you might be tempted to cling or to think "Sunrise, Sunset" and "Turn Around"-type thoughts, keep those to yourself. I always remind myself how the poet and philosopher Kahlil Gibran put it: "Your children are not your children./ They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself./ They come through you but not from you,/ And though they are with you yet they belong not to you."
That's tough for a clingy, weepy parent to hear, but as Gibran goes on, "You may house their bodies but not their souls,/ For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow.…/ You are the bows from which your children/ as living arrows are sent forth."
So back to the song. It speaks to life's journey, and of course this wedding is a big step along that way. The journey that your child must make can't be held back, any more than Gibran's archer can resist the loosing of that arrow. You can send your child on her way, but you can't go along with her to the house of tomorrow.
This is how the song we'll be dancing to, father and daughter, begins:
"Every long journey is made of small steps
Is made of the courage the feeling you get
When you know it's been waiting, been waiting for you
The journey's the only thing you want to do…"
The point is, that's OK. That's the way it's supposed to be. As hard as it might be for a father to waltz with his daughter and then give her hand to the new man in her life, that's what being a dad is all about. It doesn't mean I don't love her — it means I love her enough to let her go off on her own life's journey.
And I know already that our daughter knows the unshakable truth of the song's chorus:
"We cannot know what you go through or see through your eyes
"But we will surround you, the pride undisguised
"In any direction whatever you view
"You're taking our love there with you."
Desert Exposure editor David A. Fryxell is stocking up on Kleenex.