I had not held my father’s hands since I was five, reaching up above my head when it was demanded. Rebellious even then.

He approaches me, pointing with one bony, brown finger. Goofy grin. No tie. My rebelliousness has turned soft since I was oh so small and crossing streets. Now I am crossing state lines, crossing boundaries, leaving so much behind. But the crooked little man who haunted my dreams for ages wants to dance, and I am saying yes even as I am screeching over the music “Why me?” and shrugging hard, making evil faces and sticking out my tongue like nothing has changed.

But if it hadn’t changed, he wouldn’t be asking.

My mother reminds me time and again of the evil faces she remembers, when my father and I would scream across the house, ringing the walls with the sounds of the bloody wounds that neither of us understood. 4’3 toe-to-toe with 5’10, and never looking back.

Now I am looking over his shoulder instead, falling into his eyes from time to time but backing off before the intensity gets too much, and we might say things. He is not so tall anymore, nor me so small. Here he is before me, reaching a bent arm around my back and me instinctively putting up my hand. We try to create a distance at the same time that we are grasping each other, breathing the same air, holding our waists beside each other and unsure of what to say; we are forced into such tight quarters by our own arms, our own fears of looking ridiculous. I am smiling and he is laughing and I wonder what a picture we must make. Father and daughter. Man and girl. From a distance, I wonder if you can see all the resemblances that we have fought so hard to bury, but are only now just beginning to unearth -- the sameness we have sought for so many years to ignore for fear we may share the same pieces that enrage us, but which we have never been able to shake. Our looks go much further than our skin, and we dig deep with hard words. We know each other’s insides. We know where to place the pain.

He tried to hug me on the morning I moved away, but neither of knew how to do it, and our physical spaces felt compressed, unsure, and frightened. For the last two years, when it has come time to go, he has put out one finger, and I have laughed and mirrored as he has asked. I have reluctantly extended my own finger, so that we might touch tips in what I imagine is his own shy kiss.

He is close now, in an embrace so weak I can scarcely feel it.

We are at his best friend’s daughter’s wedding. Does he see himself giving me away when my own time comes in however many years? Is he picturing that even now? I do not think so. I think he knows he gave me all away a long long time ago. Or perhaps that I gave myself away and never asked him, only took. I imagine giving myself away again, and my father watching from the seats before me, the two of us parting the way we will tonight, letting go with arms, unsure. Feeling maybe we have found something new. Wondering who that stranger was, and if we will ever see him or her again. Maybe hoping so.

I said yes to him tonight, and I am shuffling along-side his crooked gait, telling stories. We each have our own space, our own distance, and we always will. We are too guarded now. But also we are laughing now. I think maybe I squeeze him just a little through the music and he is surprised, but it is all ok. He looks at me quickly and glances away. We’ve come far enough tonight and do not break it.

As the music stops, I think it’s him who’s squeezing my hand.

I am glad.

We usually dance a metre or so apart, my father and I. He jigs and jags to the strains of "Eagle Rock", getting the words all wrong, as I try to inch away surreptitiously without anyone noticing that I'm dancing with my dad. He does his patented "jackhammer" move, working his legs into an awkward wide 'V', then making small jumping movements to get his legs back together again, just as I'm shaking my head and looking away. He then doesn't notice that the song has finished and keeps wailing a mangled version of the lyrics...

"Doin' the eagle rock... rock, rock, rock... rock... rock..."

until a new song starts and he sits down, exhausted, or grabs at a stranger to start a quick foot-trampling waltz.

His enthusiasm is always partly induced by a large intake of alcohol- weddings, parties, gatherings, nights out at the pub; anything is a good reason to get pissed and have a good time. His eyes get bloodshot and unfocussed, and his words blur

"eaglerocroc... doiiiiiiiin' theagle rock...

as his legs get wider. There are flailing arms, a bopping head- it's a shamozzle. An ugly shamozzle that I want to be as far away from as possible. I want to change my name and erase all my features which make me look like Dad.

"Is that your Dad, out there on the dance floor? Is that supposed to be break dancing?"
"Are you crazy? I have no idea who you're talking about! I don't look like that guy! Let's go get a drink!"

There have been a handful of times when we get along, and that I have been happy to dance, arm in arm, with my dad. He spins me around, and we do a crazy mish-mash of waltz, and disco, and every dance ever known to man. I've seen photos of these times, and I look happy. Sometimes even deliriously happy. Proud and smiling and kind of dizzy from all that spinning.

And Dad sometimes seems startled in those pictures, as if he didn't know he could dance like this; with me, of all people. We used to be mortal enemies, and sometimes it seemed we would fight to the death. His temper would go wild, and I would hate him so much that if I could kill him right there at that moment I would. Those dances were ugly, dangerous and mean. But we got through it, and we have the photos to prove it: two similar faces, smiling shyly, our eyes crinkling with laughter as we spin awkwardly around the floor.

"Ahh, look at those two. How sweet... he's so proud of her..."

I thought I'd grow out of the embarrassment, that I would eventually just say "Oh, Dad!" and dance with him at those weddings and parties. But sometimes still I can't stand his drunken shuffling, and escape from the dance floor. And on those times, if anyone asks; no, he's not my dad. I don't know who that old guy is. I'm going to the bar.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.