My step-dad, Kip, came into my life when I was 9. At first, our relationship was rockier than an unpaved country back road. Still seething from my parents' divorce, I met every rule he set with utter defiance. Not used to being around children, he set impossible standards. It seemed we didn't stand a chance.
But somehow, we survived. As the years went by, resentment turned to understanding, attitude turned to appreciation and today, I consider Kip to be more than my dad. He’s my great friend, confidant and advisor. I know for a fact I would not be as driven, conscientious and detail-oriented as I am without him. And I happen to like those parts of my personality, so for that, I will always thank him.
When it came time to pick a song for Kip and I to dance to, I wanted something that was very....us. Something different. Something that celebrated our unique bond. None of this “Butterfly Kisses” BS. Something fun, upbeat, positive.
I wanted Journey.
During the course of countless family road trips, Kip had instilled within me a deep appreciation for Journey that has stuck throughout adulthood. Something about that odd mix of sappy sentimentality mixed with '80s electric guitar riffs resonates with me. Every time the tape would loop back around to “Don't Stop Believin',” I'd feel that inexplicable rush. Today, if there’s a jukebox nearby, it’s the first song I play. It is the only song I’ve ever karaoked to (extremely poorly and extremely drunkenly).
The closest I've ever come to death was when, in a packed Pittsburgh bar, I played “Don't Stop” on a jukebox. I figured everyone would love it as much as I do. I figured wrong. The town's beloved hockey team, the Penguins, were, at that very moment, facing off against the Red Wings in the Stanley Cup playoffs. As soon as Perry belted out: “Just a city boy! Born and raised in south Detroit!,” a bar full of eyes turned away from the TVs showing the game to glare at me. My brother, who realized my faux pas, downed his beer in one gulp, grabbed my hand, and got me the hell out of there. We stopped just outside the door so Eric could double-over with laughter, stand back up, look at me, and double-over again.
When it came to narrowing down songs to dance with Kip to, “Don't Stop” was on the top of my list. But when I pitched it to him, I got shot down quicker than you could say “Steve Perry.” Kip didn't want to do a fast song. He wanted a slow song. And he wanted it to be special. I was upset, sure, but I knew the moment was about more than just me. If Kip wanted something different, I could be open-minded. So I began to search the webs for some suggestions, and he did the same.
It didn't take long for me to realize Kip's definition of “special” and mine are two very different things.
A quick Google search landed me on a page listing the top 100 father-daughter dance songs. Some were easy to dismiss. (“Can You Feel the Love Tonight”? Really people? The lion sex song?) Others made it onto a list I emailed Kip, including a top three of “My Girl,” “Stand By Me,” and “You'll Be in My Heart.” “Surely he'll love one of these!” I told myself. Wrong again.
“He doesn't like them,” my mom told me during our fourth phone call about the song debacle. “He's researching more options right now. He's actually sitting at the computer ...crying.”
“Crying?!” I was stunned. Kip doesn't cry! Kip doesn't emote anything. Unless cranking up the volume when my mom and I dare to talk to each other when he's watching golf on TV constitutes “anger,” the only feelings Kip has as far as I know are annoyed and really annoyed.
“Yes, crying,” my mom, chuckled her signature Betty Rubble laugh. Yes, she was laughing as her vulnerable husband wept in the background. And that's why I love her. “Honestly, Rachel, I had no idea picking this damn song would cause so much drama.”
“I didn't know either, Mum,” I said. “What the hell is he listening to that's making him blubber like that?”
“I don't know, some song about loving you first.”
I groaned. I knew exactly what song she was talking about. I had ruled it out immediately for two reasons.
- I had been to no fewer than a dozen weddings where a bride danced with her dad to “I Loved Her First.” It was just so predictable. I wanted something unique, not the Standard Father-Daughter Dance Song.
- Its message is so not us. The whole song is about a father loving his daughter “from the first breath she breathed.” I'm thinking if I hadn't breathed until age 9, I'd have more pressing problems than what song to dance to at my wedding.
So when Mum put me on speaker and they both asked me what I thought, I mustered the most excitement I could.
“S'alright,” I said.
“You don't like it!” Kip, who had composed himself, was annoyed.
“It's just not....us,” I said.
“Ok, whatever.” Really annoyed.
I sighed. “Look, we have a ton of time. We can keep looking. If we can't come up with something we both like, then I'll be fine with this.” Luckily, they couldn't see my shudder.
“Fine,” Kip said.
For the next few weeks, I got daily updates from Mum. Songs he'd vetoed. Songs he'd liked, but only kind of. Songs he wanted me to hear. Songs he never wanted to hear again.
“Just pick one,” Mum would implore. “Any one. I don't care. Just do whatever you have to do to put an end to this hell!”
By this point, I would have gladly agreed to do interpretive dance to “Butterfly Kisses” if Kip wanted to. He still hadn't found The One. And until he did, we'd all suffer.
Until one day, when Mum called me on my cell. The only reason I knew it was her was by the caller ID. Otherwise, I would have sworn someone was holding their phone up to an episode of “The Flinstones.”
“Hmmmmhmmhmhmhmhmh!” I heard the Betty Rubble giggle the instant I hit Answer.
“Oh, God. What?” I asked. When something strikes Mum as really really funny, she loses control. She literally can't stop laughing. There have been many times we've had to leave places because Mum couldn't get ahold of herself.
“Kip Hmmmmhmmmhmmm picked a song,” she said through gasps of air.
“Oh?” What could be funny about that? What had he picked? “Jungle Boogie?” “I've Got Friends in Low Places?” “Single Ladies?”
“Tell me,” I demanded as Mum continued to cackle.
“Oh, you'll have to hear it for yourself,” she sniffled a few times as she's laughed herself to the point of tears. “Check your email.”
I hung up, and pulled up Gmail. I had one new message. It was from Kip with the subject line “This is it!!” I opened the message, and clicked on the link to the YouTube page he'd sent. It took me to a song performed by a person named Crystal Shawanda called “You Can Let Go.” I'd never heard of either. I hit play.
The opening verse lured me right in. A five-year-old child tasting her first freedom while learning to ride a bike and telling her father he could let go. Cute. Appropriate. Kip had taught me to swim, drive, write a check. It was fitting. I was on board.
Verse two: A woman on her wedding day telling her father he could leave her in the hands of her new husband. Okay, a little anti-feminist, but lovely. I could really get behind this one. Until...
Verse Three: The father freaking dies! Literally, he dies. He's in the hospital, barely hanging on and the daughter tells him – you guessed it – that he can let go.
I called Mum before the song dad had even croaked.
“You've got to be effin' kidding me,” I said.
“He dies! Mum, the dad DIES. Is he joking? Is this some cruel joke? IS HE KIDDING?”
“He honestly doesn't see a problem with it,” Mum said, cracking up again.
“Okay, listen. Please tell Kip that death will, in no way whatsoever, be part of my wedding day! Is he insane? Is he trying to tempt fate? This from a man who already had one stroke and spent a month last year in the hospital with pneumonia??! Is he fucking kidding???!!”
“Right?!” Mum was enjoying this way too much.
“Okay, just tell him I've had a change of heart. Tell him I listened to ‘I Loved Her First’ a couple more times and now I really like it. Tell him that's the one I want.”
“As long as that's what you really want,” Mum said.
“It is. It's fine. No one dies in it. It will do just fine,” I said.
After Mum and I hung up, I sat back down at my computer and really did listen to “I Loved Her First” again. It was just as sappy as I remembered. It was cheese on top of cheese on top of sugar.
But after about the third listen, I decided I kind of liked that Kip saw our relationship that way. I could live with it. It would be great.
And everyone would make it out alive.