There are two iconic family photographs taken about 20 decades apart from one another or longer. The first is of my mother dancing with my older brother who would have been around seven years of age. She towers over him, naturally. In the second he’s a young man, much taller than his partner, our mother.
Dances with daughters
Now both mother and son were gifted. They both knew music. They could both dance. On both occasions, I was observer. And that’s how it always was in our family when it came to things like music and dance.
Our sister could dance but I have never seen her dance with our father. Indeed I think I’ve only seen him dance once, at his brother’s wedding. I might have got the default observer-gene from him. My sister remembers differently: ‘Appachchi did dance with me at my wedding. While Ammi danced with Mark. Then we switched. He danced with his mother, I danced with his father. Also, Ammi and Appachchi used to win the baila competitions.’ I had no idea.
Anyway, father-daughter dances, from what I’ve learned over the years, are at-wedding affairs. By the time girls can and are ready to dance they are more likely to be interested in dancing with someone else. Well, anyone but the father!
Wedding dances are now customary in certain circles. Well, there’s a lot that’s become customary over the years. We haven’t got to prenups yes, but we are well and truly enamored with pre-shoots. Whatever works for the happy couple and their nearest and dearest, I suppose. This, is about dances, though.
I saw a father dance with his daughter. A school friend, Prasanna Wanigasekera and his lovely younger daughter Pamodi. They danced to a song that is beautiful. And difficult to listen to, if you are a father of a daughter. ‘I loved you first,’ is a debut song recorded by the band Heartland in 2006. It was written by Walt Aldridge and Elliott Park.
I first heard it on YouTube where a father taught himself sign language so he could sing and also communicate with sign at his daughter’s wedding. The daughter apparently worked with hearing impaired people. The lyrics are what most father’s like to believe and maybe they are not too wrong.
‘I was enough for her not long ago; I was her number one, she told me so; and she still means the world to me just so you know — so be careful when you hold my girl.’
There’s a bit of nostalgia. Parents do remember when their children were infants, then babies and kids, especially when those children grow older and even move out of their reach or seem to have gone too far away to touch. Weddings bring back memories. In the end, they are left with nothing, or so they imagine, and cling to the one truth which, alas, does not yield anything tangible: ‘I loved her first.’
The bride, listening to her father, cries. This afternoon, a father danced with his newly wedded daughter. They could both dance very well, by the way. It was this song again. The bride didn’t cry. The father did. Other fathers may have too. One did, certainly.
We dance with our daughters when they are tiny and need to be entertained at every turn. We dance when their mothers are exhausted and need to rest. We dance with them for no reason at all and even if we don’t have an iota of rhythm in us. We dance, even though we’ve been spectators admiring those who could. We dance when they chide us, when they are exasperated, when they are out of control, when they simply don’t listen to reason, when they best us at argument, when they surprise us with wisdom, when they triumph, when they fall. We dance with them when their eyes and thoughts are elsewhere. We dance with them when they are asleep.
And sometimes, we realize that it was all a lie. It was not that the girl was first loved by her father but it was she whom he loved first. And last. Truly.