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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Ballet Dad

This post originally appeared in The Long Beach Post ( in March 2007.  I came up in a conversation today and I thought I would repost here on my infrequently used blog site

My daughter Blaire 5 years after this post was written as Spanish
Dancer in Long Beach Ballet's "The Nutcracker"

My Front Porch
Dennis C. Smith

Post #10 Long Beach Post

March 31, 2007

Come Prepared

“One or two?”
“Two, then a third at one.”

It is just before nine o’clock on Saturday morning, the above conversation just happened between me and one of my peers, someone who fits my demographic, a demographic that appears not to be as heavily sought after as our counter-demographic—if there is such a thing.  I am a white male in my mid-forties who is engaged in private enterprise with no tattoos or piercings and have Barry Manilow, Glenn Miller, Alan Jackson, Vegas Lounge Tunes and Vivaldi on my iPod.  The only thing I know about my demographic cohort is that he is about ten to fifteen years younger than me, black, has an earring in each ear, a tattoo on his impressive bicep slightly covered by the sleeve of his UCLA t-shirt and when he plugs his earbuds in I hear what sounds like R&B/Rap mix—who can tell right?  But we share a demographic that appears to be ignored by politicians and the ubiquitous Madison Avenue marketers. 

My cohort and I are not alone, but we are once again in the minority this morning, outnumbered about fifteen to one.  There is another one of us standing by the water fountain, holding his Styrofoam coffee cup, sporting the weekend stubble I am unable to grow, wearing a ball cap with the logo of a golf resort, a well worn t-shirt from some pub in Illinois, cargo shorts and sandals.  He appears to bridge the fellow sitting next to me and myself, he’s olive skinned, late thirties and no visible piercings but a small Asian symbol tattooed on his ankle.  He doesn’t move for the next 55 minutes, I never notice him even sipping his coffee he is so still; he looks the way I have felt some mornings after a great night at Lasher’s or 555 enjoying a terrific meal with a few bottles of wine and then a nightcap at Four Olives or EJs before we can walk home to relieve the babysitter. 

At 9:55 the number of occupants in the room practically triples, the cacophony some mornings drives me nuts.  I have finished the Saturday editions of the Press-Telegram and the LA Times and the Sudoku was too easy.  I wait for the transition before firing up the laptop—must keep occupied.  One group comes out and the other group goes in.  By 10:05 the transition is complete.

“You camping this morning?"
“Yep, one just finished and one just started.”

My neighbor has changed, replaced by a late forties white male opening a biography of Benjamin Franklin.  The human hangover by the water fountain is gone, I look around and now there are just two of us—Franklin scholar and me.

We spend our Saturday mornings in hour increments, some of the guys get an hour, some of us two, I heard of one guy who did four hours one day—4 Hours.  We are vastly outnumbered, of the forty people in the room there are usually one or two other men, sometimes four or five, and the rest are women.  We try to occupy ourselves but nonetheless we hear the conversations, usually we just don’t get them.  They aren’t talking about whether UCLA will beat Florida tonight or if Georgetown will contain Oden and Ohio State; the snippets of conversation aren’t about the tree on the left side of the fairway on number 10 at El Dorado Golf Course that eats drives and spits them into the sand traps in back; none of them are wondering if the Angels will win the West or if the Dodgers rotation will hold up; nothing about Benjamin Franklin’s “diplomatic” relations while in France with the ladies of court. 

“Hey, Sooners huh?”
“Yeah, Boomer Sooner.”
“Great game.”
“Sure was, unbelievable.”

He takes his seat catty-corner from the Franklin scholar and I, he picks up last month’s Golf Magazine from the stack on the floor next to him—I have already read it, it is mine and I left it here last Saturday; so I know I need to roll my left wrist while keeping it loose and my arm straight and flexible while pointing my right toe in a little to prevent my right hip from flaring with my chin on my chest and head up pretending there is another ball in front of mine to hit straighter and longer drives (none of it worked).  I look at my t-shirt, that is where the “Sooners” comment came from, my Oklahoma Football shirt and their loss to Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl.  Guys use t-shirts as conversation starters much the way women use purses and shoes.  No matter what t-shirt another man is wearing I can probably find a conversation to have with that as the premise—it is a skill almost all of us have. Ramones? No problem, “Hate Mondays huh?”  Joe Jost’s? Too easy, “Hey, Specials, huh?”  Pick a college…Rhode Island? “Go Rams! Harrick blew that gig.”  Any t-shirt. 

New guy is that, a new guy. He has nothing. No coffee, no book, no newspaper, no laptop, no crossword, no hangover—he came unprepared and thus will get sucked into the conversation around him concerning school uniforms, cookie sales and the outfit that looks like it cost $125 but in reality was bought on sale for $19.50 and her husband could not believe it (at which point I want to interject, “yes he can believe it because no wife has ever bought anything that was not on sale. Anything. Ever.”  But that is for another Post.)  He was too slow grabbing the Golf Magazine and even slower to become immersed in the regular “How To Break 70” column.

I am distracted and feel the slow suction of the conversation pulling me in as it begins to involve softball, gymnastics and soccer.  But I refrain.  I let myself get sucked in once when the conversation was about pie crusts—my latest challenge—only to se it quickly swing to an older daughter’s beginning her first period.  It affects me to this day.  Never again I thought, stay on the outside, don’t get caught in the whirlpool.  New Guy let go of the Golf Magazine branch and was involved in Ralph’s versus Vons.  In a few minutes he would learn where to get a good deal on training bras—he looks like a cat back stage at the Westminster Dog Show.  I’m betting next time I see him he is prepared, book, paper, magazine, hangover, something.

I look around and many of these women have been labeled.  They drive minivans and SUVs, they volunteer with the PTA or Girl Scouts, run bake sales and sell See’s for fundraisers, make lunches, carpool students and otherwise are like the Sun keeping all the planets of the family in their orbits and moving according to plan.  To the Politicos and Madison Avenue they are “Soccer Moms”.  We do not hear as much about the Soccer Mom demographic anymore, but in times past they were a target, a bloc, a coveted prize. 

My cohorts and I aren’t.  We aren’t coveted or labeled as a bloc to be targeted, but we should be.   We are Ballet Dads.  While our wives are shuttling another child to another activity, or volunteering at a Rummage Sale, or painting the cafeteria or some other project, we bring our daughters to ballet on Saturday morning.  While my brother is spitting on the infield grass and hitting grounders to my nephew and his teammates as a Little League Dad, I’m listening to some French piano concerto coming out of the studio next to me for the fifteenth time this morning—the repetitive monotony of which will be ingrained so it will be the melody that puts me to sleep tonight. 

Franklin Scholar, Hangover Dude, Hip-Hop, New Guy, myself and others are Dads with daughters and we struggle.  Personally I am glad I have two daughters, I love my hugs and kisses and everything being Dada brings.  But still I struggle as I know my fellow Ballet Dads do.  We do not know the difference between a tutu and leotard, that they are slippers and not shoes, also we really don’t care.  Looking at the girls you can tell which ones are with the Ballet Dads, their buns aren’t quite tight and loose hair flies, they may have some syrup on the edge of their mouths and once in a while a shoe (slipper?) or belt is missing.  We are Dads, we try but sometimes with daughters we just don’t get it.  We call the costumes for the performance “uniforms” and the performance photo for the girls in the scene the “team picture” and the changing room the locker room.  We’re Dads, but we are here in a semi-alien environment doing our best to encourage and support our daughters, and a few sons.  “Ohhh Daddd,” is our calling card.

While we are not a unified and labeled demographic, and we can vary in age by up to twenty or so years, and run the gamut from Asian to Black to White to Hispanic to WhoKnowsWhatDifferenceDoesItMake, we all love our kids—we are Ballet Dads and proud.  Girls are different than boys and Dads are different than Moms—and Ballet Dads know and feel the differences. And love it.

Class is over, time to gather up the papers, magazines, puzzles, shoes, coffee cups and clear out as Blackberry Guy ambles towards my seat, daughter in tow, somehow making it through the transition crowd as the 10:00 classes end and the 11:00 begin without looking up from his handheld, checking messages and scores (a very valuable Ballet Dad, a few weeks ago he was giving updates on college games), two Ballet Dads passing in transition.

“Hey, Sooners huh?”

Useful links:

Wikipedia page on Soccer Mom

The Official Oklahoma Sooner website

The Official Barry Manilow website

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