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“Daddy, will you dance with me at the wedding?”

“Mmmm… you know I don’t dance.”

Look at the two of you dancing that way, lost in the moment and each other’s face. So much in love, you’re alone in this place, like there’s nobody else in the world…

She tried another time.

“Daddy, I’d really love for you to dance with me at the wedding.”

“Ohh… my legs hurt… I can’t…”

I was enough for her not long ago. I was her number one, she told me so. And she still means the world to me, just so you know. So be careful when you hold my girl.

Time changes everything, life must go on, and I’m not gonna stand in your way.

Another day she tried again.

“Daddy, please dance with me at the wedding?”

Silence.

“Okay… but can we keep it short?”

But I loved her first. I held her first. And a place in my heart will always be hers. From the first breath she breathed when she first smiled at me. I knew the love of a father runs deep.

And I prayed that she’d find you someday, but it’s still hard to give her away… I loved her first.

IMAGE-Kiersten-Steps-with-Dad

“Could I have your attention, please?” her brother-in-law said. He waited for conversations to quiet down before continuing. “It’s time now for the father-daughter dance. And then we’ll have a toast by the best man and maid of honor.”

As he spoke a couple men carried a serving table out of the way, turning the small patio into a dance floor.

The bride took her father’s hand and they walked between tables over to the cement.

“You know, I don’t know how,” he said.

“That’s okay. We’ll just sway,” she told him.

And that’s just what they did… stepping and leaning on one foot, then the other, back and forth, gentle and slow.

How could that beautiful woman with you be the same freckle face kid that I knew. The one that I read all those fairytales to, and tucked into bed all those nights.

And I knew the first time I saw you with her, it was only a matter of time.

IMAGE-Kiersten-Dancing-with-her-Dad

This was daughter #4. His baby and the last one to be given away. He wasn’t a dancer, and he tried to get out of it.

Less than half a minute is all it took to find their rhythm. And once he adjusted to standing close, to holding her, listening to the lyrics and swaying, he couldn’t stop looking at his girl. Couldn’t stop kissing her beautiful face. Couldn’t believe she’d grown up so fast. Couldn’t help thinking that now too soon she would be gone. Couldn’t ignore the fact, he’d almost missed this opportunity.

When she leaned over and kissed his cheek, that’s when the tears slipped. She hadn’t planned on crying – wasn’t expecting waves of emotion to pound her heart. Wasn’t prepared for this display from her dad.

Swaying, crying, wiping tears, stepping right, then left, side to side… and remembering, loving, cherishing these last moments of just father and daughter…

IMAGE-Kiersten-Steve-Dancing-Kissing

But I loved her first. I held her first. And a place in my heart will always be hers. From the first breath she breathed when she first smiled at me. I knew the love of a father runs deep.

And I prayed that she’d find you someday, but it’s still hard to give her away… I loved her first.

This day marked the end of her childhood. Over a decade of home schooling plus four years of college – finished. And now gone. She had squeezed in a wedding before she and her groom would go back east again, so he could finish his last year.

How the couple savored these three minutes in each other’s arms, of marking the end of one era and the beginning of another. Transition from daddy’s girl to grown woman, from loyalty to the family she grew up with to loyalty to a family newly formed.

From the first breath she breathed, when she first smiled at me, I knew the love of a father runs deep. Someday you might know what I’m going through, when a miracle smiles up at you. I loved her first.

No, her daddy didn’t dance.

But the father-daughter dance isn’t about the dancing. It’s about the holding.

Holding on to his baby one more time before letting go… holding on to her rock one last time… holding and whispering, Thank you for always being there… Remember the camping trips… I’m so proud of who you’ve become… I’m so glad you’re mine… Have you any idea how much I love you…

And relationship. A quiet celebration of the unique bond between a girl and her dad.

She hadn’t figured on this aching in her heart. Balancing the weight of realization of now belonging to someone else, with the thrill of being in her daddy’s arms. Of all the years he had sacrificed to provide for her and the family, and all he had done to make this day possible.

The tears kept coming.

I loved her first. I held her first. And a place in my heart will always be hers. From the first breath she breathed, when she first smiled at me, I knew the love of a father runs deep.

And I prayed that she’d find you someday, but it’s still hard to give her away. I loved her first.

IMAGE-Kiersten-Steve-Looking-at-Her

 (I Loved Her First. Performed by Heartland. Music/lyrics written by Walt Aldridge and Elliott Park. Photos used by permission.)

But they weren’t the only ones that evening with wet cheeks. Friends and family watched, and time stopped – as a dad and his girl held each other close. And just swayed.

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