Friday, January 16, 2015

That's Not Dancing!

Dad would be 88 years old today.  This blows my mind.

When his faith became sight, he was just 47.  I used to think that was old.  Then 47 loomed, arrived, and faded back into my own rear-view mirror.  In case you’re still wondering, 47 is most assuredly NOT old.)
Somehow, Dad’s birthday is less of a thing in my memory than December 14, the date of his passing.  I’m not sure why that is, but it is.  However, as this reminder popped up on my calendar this morning, a concurrent blog entry popped up in my head.

Dad was a country boy from central Alabama.  He was also a lifelong Southern Baptist, including serving the last years of his short life as a deacon in a Southern Baptist church.  Whatever things come to one’s mind at the words “country boy from central Alabama” and “Southern Baptist deacon,” I’m quite confident that “dancing” is not one of those things.

And yet, that’s exactly what came to my mind this morning when the calendar showed “Dad’s birthday.”

Despite the awesome hair
& clothes--esp. the belt!--I
still wasn't a good dancer.
Shalimar, FL (across the bayou from Ft. Walton Beach where we lived.).  Meigs Jr. High School.  Early 1970s.  An abundance of long hair, bellbottom pants, and cluelessness (the latter of which is present at most any junior high school.)  Exhibit A: That picture right there==>

A weekend dance.  Being driven by your Dad to pick up your date if you were one of the few who had such a strange & mystical & wonderful thing, or straight to the school lunchroom for the dance if you didn’t.  Chaperones, both schoolteachers who were required to attend and assorted parents who ran out of things to do & thus volunteered to do so.

Enter James E. Madaris, Sr.  Never one of those overbearing, in-your-kid’s-face parent who must appear cool to all of his/her friends.  (Sadly, I think I just described myself a few years back!).  Dad was pretty good at being present without having to be the center of everyone’s attention (again, the previous parenthetical sentence).  It's a lot of cool to me that a number of my peers have very fond memories of Dad, despite those previous sentences.

In the haze of time & ever-more-present aging, I can’t recall if this chat occurred on the way home from the dance or later.  But it made me laugh then and makes me laugh now.  Dad summed up our dancing “skills” with this simple, powerful sentence: “That’s not dancing!”  At some point, he imitated our oh-so-goofy moves that we thought were amazing.  By “imitated” I mean “mocked.”  And deservedly so because we just were not the great dancers we thought we were. (Pro Tip: In all likelihood, you're not either.  You're welcome.)

The point of the dancing critique was that it was often unclear who anyone’s dance partner was, as we were all out on the floor flailing away.  Very little connection with our date or with the girl who probably asked us to date since most of us guys were too cool to ask.  By which I mean “too terrified to actually initiate a conversation with a girl by asking her to dance.”

I’d like to think I agreed with Dad back then.  I definitely agree with him now.  He explained that dancing was best done with an actual partner and involves synchronized moves with each other.  What we did was more like swatting mosquitos or at least hope the mosquitos laughed so hard at our dance moves that they lose concentration and crash into a wall.

Lisa & I haven’t danced in years (to my regret!).  Neither of us holds ourselves out as great dancers, but we used to enjoy it back in the day, despite both being lifelong Southern Baptists ourselves (wait…did I just drum myself out of the corps there?  Oh well...).  Aside: she & I grew up in different states; thus, she never saw my jr. high dance moves & attire, which might be why she was willing to go out with me in the first place.

And yet in another sense, like my country boy Southern Baptist deacon Father did with his beautiful Bama coed for 20 years, I’ve been dancing with her for 30 ½ years now.  As her husband.  A couple of years back, it occurred to me that observing a couple who has been happily married for a number of decades is much like watching two very skilled dancers.  Synchronicity…harmony of motion…anticipation of each other’s next move…reaction to the other that adds to the picture.  As I look at many of my generation and those younger in relationships, I sometimes feel like my Dad at our jr. high dances.  That isn’t dancing!
A few takeaways:
Younger folks in relationships—and especially in a marriage—watch those who’ve been at it for a while.  You might learn something.  Now sometimes what you learn is by counterexample.  “OK, see what they did there?  That did NOT work!  Let’s try something different.”  But if that’s all you have as examples, look around & find some new examples.  They’re out there, I promise.
Don’t give up too soon!  Remember your first dance?  I bring you bad news:  you were absolutely not an awesome dancer at first.  Hopefully, though, you kept at it & improved.  In my case, I like to think I improved to the point where I was not the worst dancer in the room, despite almost surely being the shortest.  In terms of my relationship with Lisa, I’ve come a long way…and I have a VERY long way to go.
Listen to wise counsel!  Even from a hopelessly-out-of-date Dad who says of you, “That’s not dancing!”  It turns out that there’s often a lot of wisdom in the words of an older person than you.  Not always, but often.  Sometimes, there’s a lot of wisdom in the words of a younger person than you.  I’m very thankful for any number of younger men who speak truth to me.  Whatever the age, if someone you love & trust says, “That’s not dancing!” pay attention.  Note that my Dad’s world growing was utterly different that mine.  And yet, he lived & doled out wise counsel from his that applied in mine.
The music changes—often quickly and dramatically—but dancing is still dancing.  Culture changes.  Pressures change.  Family size changes.  Living arrangements change.  Work situations change.  Money arrives—or doesn’t—and brings change.  But keep dancing anyway.
Finally, enjoy the dance!  Sure, it’ll be hard at times.  VERY hard.  Ever had multiple young ones all crying at the same time about different things?  Yeah…

Metaphorically, Dad danced until his last day.  After his first heart attack that fateful morning, he even joked with Mom about finally getting some time off.  You read that right; in the hospital recovering from a heart attack a couple of hours earlier, just a couple of hours away from another that would end his life, he was laughing & making others laugh.

Our last family pic, taken in the summer of 1974.
Happy Birthday, Dad!  I miss you hard on a daily basis.  And yet, somehow, it seems right that you’re forever in your 30s & 40s in my mental picture.  Thanks for living out & telling Jim & me the art of the dance.  We’re both working on it.  One day, we both want to hear you say, “Now boys, THAT’S dancing!”
O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds.
So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me,
until I proclaim your might to another generation,
your power to all those to come.
Psalm 71: 17-18
p.s. - Know anyone who has this metaphorical dance down & is putting on a clinic for the rest of us to watch?  Tell the rest of us about it in the comments section!

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