The Dance: Dad’s Lead

By Beth Hannon Fuller

By Sarah M. Wells

“What song do you want to dance to, Dad?” I asked, scrolling through lists of popular father-daughter dance songs.

Nothing seemed right. No Michael Buble or Paul Simon or Stevie Wonder would cut it; this, after all, was my father—my flannel-shirt-and-faded-blue-jeans, muddy-work-boots, calloused-hands, five-o’clock-shadow, “fetch-me-a-Miller” father. What qualified as “our song?” Maybe “Feed Jake.” Maybe “Friends in Low Places.” Maybe “Act Naturally.” Maybe “There’s a Tear in My Beer.” Hank and Garth and Buck and the Pirates of the Mississippi sang about misery, friends, beer, and mama; they didn’t sing anything about their daughters.

By the day of our wedding, Mom and Dad had settled on a song. “It’s a surprise,” they said.

Four months earlier, I had come home from college graduation with my boyfriend who they liked well enough but were still warming to, and an engagement ring. Brandon had asked my dad’s permission first, of course, out of my hearing the day before, and Dad had said yes—he hugged me extra-long before I left, cap and gown still on.

In the early planning days, Mom and Dad offered to write us a check instead: big party vs. down payment on a house. We waffled for a day or two, but in my head were visions of a white dress and a man in a tux waiting for me, dreams of dancing and spinning under a spotlight, all of our friends and family clapping and celebrating.

It was my day to plan, along with my mom, who navigated the wedding planning with me like she was my maid-of-honor. Mom and I picked the flowers—sunflowers and blue delphinium—the same that decorated the cake display we chose. We taste-tested the catering, got weepy-eyed over my bridal gown and veil, and designed the party favors together. The reception venue was our decision, too, even as my soon-to-be mother-in-law raised her eyebrows and said, “Really, a barn?”

After the father-daughter dance to whatever song Mom and Dad had picked, Rhonda and Brandon would get the party started. Rhonda’s choice for the mother-son dance was easy: Louie Armstrong would sing “What a Wonderful World” for thirty seconds, then the record would screech to a stop. Brandon and his mom would look confused for a second until Lou Bega’s “Mambo No. 5” would begin to play. It fit them perfectly.

I wrote the order of music and communion and rings; I designed the program and inscribed a poem; I recruited our friends as musicians. Brandon and I selected most of the songs and all of the Bible verses for the ceremony. We picked the pastor and the bridal party and the style of music to be played at the reception. We determined the flavor of this wedding, and this wedding would taste just like us.

The guest list: that was their decision—the parents—and it grew, and grew, and grew, until we all silently stared at it sitting on the kitchen counter. Who could we possibly cut? No one. Maybe there were a lot of other commitments that weekend, and the guest list would just… trim itself. Maybe in true Father of the Bride fashion, we could declare, “Well, cross them off, then!”

Also their decision: the alcohol. We toyed with the idea of a dry wedding for about a twelve-hour timespan because Brandon had just gotten a job at a new school, and we weren’t sure yet exactly how conservative they were. A few of his new employers made Round One of the guest list. It hadn’t been decided if they’d make the Round Two cuts.

“You want a what?!” Dad asked, his voice rising steadily. “We are not going to invite all of our friends to a wedding and not have alcohol. What kind of a party is that?”

“But, Da-ad,” I said. “We just thought, you know, the school… and maybe…” but it was no use. My excuses were weak, anyway; it wasn’t like Brandon and his family and our friends and our relatives never kicked back and drank a glass of wine or a can/ six-pack /case of beer, so why pretend otherwise and ruin a good time? Besides, it was Dad’s call. Dad’s decision. Dad’s lead.

So, okay, beer and wine, Dad. And yes, invite all of those people, even those people I won’t know when they come through the receiving line, and I’ll look at Brandon and he’ll look at me, and we’ll both smile and shake their hands and give them hugs and thank them for coming. And, okay, yes, pick our father-daughter dance.


Down the aisle we went, Dad in his black tuxedo looking sharp, no John Deere hat to cover his balding head or shadow his features. His hand was tight in mine, tense against a few hundred sets of eyes that watched us while we two-stepped—left-together, right-together—our paces matched, the Fugman stride slow and easy like a mosey.

I saw only my future husband at the end of the aisle where Brandon waited for me. When we reached the pastor and he asked, “Who gives this woman to be married to this man?” Dad answered gruffly, “Her mother and I.” I turned my gaze back to him for just that second and wrapped my arms around his neck, and he held on, squeezed and squeezed, then released me to my groom, taking his seat in the sanctuary while I remained standing.

Later, after the bridal dance ended and I parted with a kiss from my new husband, our spunky blue-haired emcee called Dad onto the floor. Dad had donned his Father-of-the-Bride ball cap as soon as the wedding ended and wore it now as he met me for our dance. The bubbles from the bride and groom dance settled and popped on the dance floor. A slow piano, slide guitar, and light percussion played.

The cut-time of Mickey Gilley singing “True Love Ways” carried us along the hardwood, Dad’s calloused palm in my manicured hand. I smiled, even though the tune was unfamiliar to me. I guess it went to number one on the country charts in 1980, the year my parents started dating. Dad would sing it to her in the car as it played on the radio. So romantic, Mom says later. But this was our dance, our slow turn under the spotlight. It didn’t seem like the right fit—know true love’s ways—but what would have been?

Earlier in the afternoon, Dad gave me over, his daughter, his only daughter, his dazzled blue-eyed daughter grinning with confidence over the man she had chosen. I came into the sanctuary my father’s daughter. I walked out of the sanctuary my husband’s wife.

How long had I dreamed of becoming Mrs. Anyone? A boyfriend, a boyfriend, a boyfriend: I wanted one, as long as he would stay around. And then another one, and then I wanted that boyfriend to become a fiancé and that fiancé to become my husband, so I could become Mrs. Anyone. In college, that was the title that mattered: I wanted a partner. I wanted someone I could pour my heart into. That’s what I thought you did after high school and certainly after college. My mom and dad had grown up across the street from each other; she was nineteen when they married and twenty when she delivered her first baby: me. Today it’s ill-advised to marry young, trouble from the start, they don’t know what they’re getting into, a whole life ahead, plenty of time for that, but from where I stood, I felt behind already.

Yes, I also earned a bachelor’s degree. I sought out opportunities to lead and to stretch and to achieve, to do more, earn praise, perform. Dad always said Fugmans aren’t afraid of work, Fugmans are hard workers. He instilled this drive. He was the man who had been my guide. But Brandon was the man I had chosen to walk with me out of the sanctuary, the man who would walk beside me from the altar forward. He brought me a different sort of pride. We had weighed and measured our potential, considered our compatibility, discussed the ways we would raise children, established our priorities. In him, I had found a worthy Scrabble opponent, someone I could adventure with, a man who could say “I’m sorry,” a man who would forgive me, too. For all of that and more, I had chosen him.

Now, Dad held the hand and waist of Mrs. Brandon Wells as we danced. Far in the past, a little girl crawled across his chest and stole his John Deere cap, blue eyes grinning into the face of the camera. She asked for Hooper Humperdink at bedtime again, and now we can all recite it from memory—Pete and Pat and Pasternack, I bet they come by camel back! Back there, too, she watched her mom and dad spin slowly in the living room to “If We Make It Through December,” not knowing then the depth in that melody, not knowing then the weight behind eyes connecting and smiles, what it means to make it through December, together. He taught that little girl the cast of a rod, the slow click and reel after the bobber plunked onto the surface of the water, how to bait a hook with a squirming night crawler. He coached the in-and-out of orange construction cones for hours until she mastered how to parallel park before her final driving test. Whether intentionally or accidentally, he had been preparing me.

Now, we turned slow around the dance floor, each sway a step closer to the last note in the song. Gone was the night we stared up at the cloudless sky on the hill by the old maple and waited for the meteor shower. Evenings swaying in front of a fire pit, turning front ways then back to warm our bodies as we talked about God and faith and family and regret, until the coals flashed red and black, flames dying, then walking slowly into the house to bed. There would be no more creasing wrapping paper in the dry heat of the excavator’s shop on Christmas Eve with him, no more Dad topping off and lifting my bushel basket of corn from the end of a row and spilling it with ease into the bed of the red pickup truck, Dad gunning the accelerator of the snowmobile through the fields with me clinging to his coat toasty in my snowsuit and helmet, Dad showing me the slow slide of a cue stick between thumb and index finger and then the thrust that sent the cue ball breaking against the racked triangle of billiard balls.

All of life before that day squeezed between his dusty calloused hands and mine, a slow turning, slow turning until the end notes began to play. My fingers are my father’s; long and lean, rough along the palms from a summer shoveling mulch, tough where a pen had rubbed and formed a writer’s bump. They were made for work; they were made for pouring your sweat into the thing you loved.

Even over the black tuxedo, fresh trim, and aftershave, I could breathe him in when we embraced, the scent of sweat and sun and earth and oil, “I love you, Sare,” he said.

“I love you, too, Dad.”

“It is a beautiful song,” Mom tells me later, “and we chose it for a beautiful girl.” Sometimes we’ll sigh, sometimes we’ll cry, and we’ll know why, just you and I… Maybe it was perfect. As Mickey Gilley lulled a final “…know true love ways,” Dad spun me out, then pulled me back in, my white dress billowing, the bill of his father-of-the-bride cap shadowing his smile.


SARAH M. WELLS is the author of Pruning Burning Bushes and a chapbook of poems, Acquiesce. Poems and essays by Wells have appeared recently in Ascent, Brevity, The Common, The Good Men Project, New Ohio Review, Poetry East, Puerto del Sol, River Teeth, and elsewhere. Sarah’s poetry and essays have been honored with three Pushcart Prize nominations. Two essays were listed as notable essays in the Best American Essays 2013 and 2012. Her memoir-in-progress on dads, husbands, and the girl between is tentatively titled American Honey. She is the Administrative Director of the Ashland University MFA Program and Managing Editor of the Ashland Poetry Press and River Teeth.


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We All Dance Together

by !Lauriin/ Flickr

By Rebecca Myers

The Persian Tea House in Atlanta is the opposite of a dead, hollow concert hall—it’s alive with flowers, Persian rugs, and the aroma of tantalizing herbs and spices. Against the crimson walls, the lavish feast looks like a still-life masterpiece. This concert will be like no other I have experienced.

Tonight’s concert features Sattar, one of the pioneers of Persian pop music. He was an icon, the Frank Sinatra of Iran, before the revolution in the late seventies. His music still reigns nearly four decades after the revolution banned him from singing and put him in exile. Now living in America, he performs to an expatriate community who yearns for their country.

To my right are ten “beds”—raised wooden platforms separated by rails. Each bed is richly appointed with a crimson Persian rug and large tapestry pillows; each can host about a dozen people who sit cross-legged and dine picnic style.

My best friend reserved the prime bed with the best view of the room overlooking the dance floor, musicians, and other guests dining at round tables. Her Farsi name, Afsaneh (OFF sah nay), means “fairy tale” in English. For a decade, she has introduced me to the delights of Persian culture and hospitality.

Persian concerts can start one hour late. It’s much more important for the Iranian community to spend time connecting. I witness an overture of hugging and kissing.

Iranian women prepare for such events with great attention to detail. Dark eyeliner sets off their eyes. Crystals sparkle on their dresses cut in the latest American fashion. Gold jewelry adorns their hands, necks, and ears. Stiletto heels boost the figures of the younger women. They are elegant birds gracing the arms of their men, handsome in their suits. Afsaneh is no exception. She welcomes her guests by kissing us on both cheeks.

We sit on the thick rug, drape our bodies against the pillows, and nibble on Kashk-e bademjoon (eggplant and onions), borani (yogurt and spinach), shirazi (cucumber, tomato, and lime salad), and Naan-o-Paneer-o-Sabzi (Iranian thin bread, feta cheese, and herbs). When we’re ready, we can step down from the bed and join the dancers.

All of Afsaneh’s guests are couples, except for me. And alone is not the only way I feel different from the others. I’m overweight. I dressed sensibly in a pantsuit so I can sit cross-legged, although not with any kind of grace or comfort. My knees stick up in a V instead of a flat, yoga style. I’m awkward and out of my element eating while sitting on a rug in front of others. I can’t seem to find a comfortable position as I balance the food on my lap. I feel underdressed next to the exquisite fashion surrounding me.

I’m a duck that has just waddled into a bevy of swans.

To escape my awkwardness, I stand up, perch on the railing of our bed, and close my eyes, absorbing the music into my body, tuned to the key of Middle-Eastern music. The dark, minor chords infused with joyous rhythm resonate with my own dance of life, which has taught me that joy has its roots in sorrow.

My mind shuts off its negative chatter as the music elevates my spirits. I forget myself as I sway and arabesque my hands.

I figure I will probably hand dance the whole night. But Afsaneh breaks my reverie; she calls and invites me to dance with her and her date. I step off the bed and join them.

Encouraged by Afsaneh and feeling anonymous in the crowd, I let the full flow of the music speak through my hips, torso, and arms. My hips create figure eights of infinity; my arms are undulating snakes.

I keep dancing even when Afsaneh and her date leave. A tap on my shoulder interrupts me. I turn. A young Iranian couple wants my attention.

The man asks me with a quizzical look, “You…Iranian?”

I smile and shake my head, no.

They both shake their heads and she blurts out, “Noooooo! You American?”

“Yes, I’m American.” I raise my eyebrows in question.

They look at each other and he says, “You wonder why we ask?” He pauses. “It’s because you dance like an Iranian—a beautiful Iranian dancer!”

I’m stunned and it clearly shows on my face.

“You don’t believe us!” They laugh. He holds up a camera and points at it. “We take a picture of you, we think you dance so beautiful!”

I blush. In a split second I go from anonymity to the spotlight. A duck to a swan. The swift shift is jarring. If they were Americans, I’d chalk it up to alcohol, but no drinks are served at this event. Are they sincere or making fun of me? As if in answer, people sitting near the dance floor meet my eyes, nod, and smile. A waiter passes by; he winks, one arm laden with dishes, his free hand motioning thumbs-up.

I breathe in their good intentions, their smiles. A rush of profound gratitude fills me. Speechless, I put my hand on my heart to acknowledge their kindness.

After a few more dances by myself, I feel another tap. I turn and see a handsome Iranian man with salt-and-pepper hair and a younger woman. “You are a wonderful dancer,” the woman says.

The man nods eagerly. “You dance with me!” he exclaims.

I look at the young woman.

She smiles. “This is my Uncle Ali. I’m his niece.” She waves us on. “Go dance!”

Ali and I swirl around each other. When the music changes, he pushes through the crowd to make sure I get a close view of the star singer. Sattar’s gray, cropped beard and darker mustache frames his songs, while his handsome face and dark eyes emote the song’s joy and passion.

Time for a break, I think. I’m about done in.

But a tall, big-boned woman with flowing bronze curls parts the crowd as she strides up to me with a powerful presence. Ali steps back, watching. “You dance with me,” she demands with a smile.

We dance around each other as Iranian women do, and as Afsaneh and I have often done. We mirror each other’s movements and send our arms back and forth under our eyes toward each other while our eyes lock. The surrounding dancers encourage us by clapping to the beat.

At the end of our dance, she turns and looks at Ali. “Sooo—are you with her?”

I fully expect him to say no. Any American guy who has just danced with you a few times would say no. “With” could have complicated meanings, and we certainly didn’t arrive together.

Instead, Ali leaps up and proclaims, “Yes! Yes! Yes!” with much enthusiasm.

“You’re a very lucky man,” she declares to Ali.

I suddenly feel hot and shake my head in wonder, caught somewhere between crazy reality and magic. My hand on my heart silently thanks Ali for his exuberant yes. I observe this scene like a reader of my own story, as if I’m floating outside my body. This moment shimmers in suspension.

She then turns to me and intimates with a sweep of her hand, “You know, I know all these people here for many years. The Atlanta Iranian community is close, but they come from different religions. I myself am Christian. There are Jews here as well as Muslims. But you…” She pauses and cocks her head. “…I think you are Sufi!”

I am honored. I love the illuminating poetry of the Sufi mystics, Rumi and Hafiz. Six to seven centuries later, their poems are still beloved around the world today for their spiritual beauty and wisdom, their weaving of natural wonders with profound insights.

We part for dinner and rejoin our own groups.

The Persian feast is sumptuous. Iranians show their generosity and love through food, and this event is no exception. Pyramids of apples, oranges, dates, figs, and pomegranates. Festoons of grapes. Dishes of eggplant, onion, and garlic. Fresh greens and mint. Skewered lamb, beef, and chicken with tomatoes and green peppers. And fragrant rice sprinkled with dill or saturated with rose water. A feast to feed your soul!

After dinner, the lights dim. The darkness reflects the mood shift from gaiety to seriousness. People hush, anticipating. I sit on the edge of our bed as everyone returns to their seats. Sattar changes from singing upbeat pop music to a traditional song full of ancient, guttural tones.

I close my eyes and feel the pain of a people separated from their beloved homeland and families; their longing to be reunited; their love for their mountains, deserts, ancient civilization; their cities and culture. They have their freedom, but not their home. I find myself weeping at their heartbreak.

Sattar ends his song. The silence speaks the audience’s profound respect and emotion. I need a tissue for my eyes and nose. I’m a mess. I open my eyes; sitting next to me is a petite, chic woman with ebony hair. She reminds me of Audrey Hepburn. She stares at me with gorgeous green eyes swimming in tears.

She huskily asks me, “You…you…understand Farsi?”

“No,” I apologize, “just a few words of greeting.”

I gingerly venture forth. “But I think the song was very sad—about missing your homeland, about all you’ve sacrificed…yes?”

Her eyes widen with surprise. Her voice trembles, part anguish, part anger, when she says, “I raised two children in America, but they don’t understand!”

We hug each other for a long time. In this moment, we’re no longer two women from two different cultures, but simply mothers connecting through the universal love of children and home.

I walk toward the door, and everyone waves goodbye to me. “MerciKhodaa haafez!” We’re no longer strangers. As I step out under the stars and breathe in the gift of this night, I remember Rumi’s words: “There is a community of spirit. Join it, and feel the delight … Close both eyes and see with the other eye.”


REBECCA MYERS writes about transformation through travel, nature, work, culture, and relationships. She currently translates complex science into language our grandmothers can understand for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. She also teaches creative writing to her colleagues and is writing a memoir and a children’s book series about the spirituality of nature.