Is That the Boy?

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    It seems we’ve come here to see her dance a hundred times before.

    The girls get older, the routines get smoother, and, well, a dad can’t help but notice that the little girl who once had all the grace and balance of an hours-old colt is now someone different – sleeker, more refined, and more confident, too.

    Yes, all is as it should be. And so I settle back for yet another showcase of ballet, jazz, and tap. But then her mother turns to me and whispers something that makes me sit up ramrod-straight.

    “I think that’s the boy,” she says.

    My dad radar, usually rusty and wheezy as it struggles to determine if the grass needs cutting, when the last oil change graced the SUV’s crankcase, or whether there’s enough organic milk in the fridge, snaps on with a vengeance.

    It cuts through the dark theater with laser-like precision that only the best military-grade night vision goggles can offer, scanning the scene for an alien presence that, up until now, has remained invisible to our quiet and tranquil family existence.

    Several shadowy figures waver uneasily near the stage. They are tall. They are shifty. They are trying so hard to look casual.

    “I think that’s him,” my wife whispers again.

    And so we must face facts. There is a boy. And that boy has come to see my daughter dance. And now that she’s seventeen, dressed in a black leotard, and about to swish and swoop to the sound of moody, sensual music, I suppose the time has come for her father to step back and let the world move on, and take her with it, and allow the eternal forces of nature to make their entrance, and seek their own level, and find their noble purchase.

    But not so fast, bub.

    You are the boy? I will admit it.
    I have heard of you. I have even spied a text or two over my daughter’s slender shoulder. You think I know nothing – that I am a fop, a fool, a grinning idiot stranded in the archaic and slow-as-molasses communications domain of email (email!), unable to navigate those fleet-footed digital freeways that might help me keep tabs on you and your generation.

    Okay, you’re right. But I have eyes. And I can see. And I know about you, even though I’ve never seen you up close and personal.

    And look at yourself. What girl would ever pause long enough to bother with you for a minute, with your rumpled Vineyard Vines shirt, untucked and draping over cargo shorts that look like you just finished cutting the grass? And that mop of hair flopping down across your eyes as if you want to avoid eye contact. And the frayed 2013 Masters Tournament golf hat you’re wearing backwards. And those sunglasses
    clinging to the top of the hat, but casually swung around so the lenses are resting on the hat’s brim and seem to be looking directly back at me where I sit. Yeah, really cool-looking, mister. (Okay, that is pretty cool.)

    Yes, you’re tall, and broad-shouldered, and as I take your measure, I have to wonder what kind of match you would ever make for my petite-as-an-American Girl Doll darling up on that stage. And yes, you’re probably some long-jump kingpin or lacrosse standout or soccer maven destined to take your rightful place on the varsity squad – if you’re not on it already, of course.

    But you don’t fool me. Because while you think you’re much, much cooler than I am, I was cool once, too. Well, at least I traveled in cool circles. Sort of. But trust me. We knew how to impress the girls. And we might teach you a thing or two as you huddle there in the dim light with your smirking pals as if you’re not interested at all in the dancing going on in front of you.

    Back in my day, we understood the seductive power of an honest set of Ray-Ban Wayfarers purchased by mail through a catalog. And you should know that a hot iron would often grace the collars and plackets of our button-down dress shirts – the ones with the monograms on the pockets. We were pictures of late twentieth century masculine perfection with our battered topsiders, our Adidas Stan Smiths, our Luke Skywalker haircuts. We wore white painter’s pants. And Swatches. And puka necklaces in summer. How could the chicks not dig us?

    We dated, too, I will have you know. None of this group-hang-out stuff you kids do today. We actually asked the ladies out. We dialed the rotary phone to talk to the girls of our dreams. Every story, drama, and heartbreak of our lives buzzed across 20-foot long telephone cords that stretched all the way from the kitchen to the bedroom so we could talk behind closed doors.

    And would it please you to know that I am aware that the homecoming dance is coming up? And that most of your buddies have already arranged to go with girls they’re interested in? And that I know you have not yet queried my daughter on this? Well, I find that unacceptable, and if you are even an ounce of the admirer you pretend to be, you had better get a move on, and you might want to think about a corsage, and you should also –

    “Actually, I don’t think that’s the boy.”

    Wait – what? Apologies, son. It turns out you are not the boy I thought you were. An innocent case of mistaken identity.

    But don’t go breathing easy.
    Because I know you are out there, mister, lurking in the shadows with those half-lidded eyes, that crooked smile, that grunting, monosyllabic charm. And she is helpless to resist, I know. So just remember – whoever, whatever, and wherever you are:

    I’ve got my eye on you.