DAD STORIES... memories of a man who got it right


Growing up, I was an awkward girl.

Stocky and shy in an era of willow thin Twiggy and man-eating aggressiveness.

I should have been born on the praire- bumping along the back of a covered wagon with a bonnet to hide my too-much hair and gingham dresses to cover my too- thick calves.

My mom let it slip in one of those adult conversations that the kids aren’t supposed to hear, that I was built like my Grandma Waterman.

No woman in the world wants to be shaped like my Grandma Waterman.

She was… thick. And strong. And old.

I wanted to look like my Grandma Stewart, who had tiny ankles and skinny legs and wore a Dolly Parton sized brassiere (that’s what nice girls called a bra in those days).

I’ve got to give my mom credit- she tried her best with me.

Wrestling my mass of stick straight hair into a double ponytail at the top of my head each school day morning, making bows and home-sewn dresses to make me look cuter than I was.

She tried valiantly to steer me from styles that I loved but looked ridiculous in. Things like go-go boots and white fur coats.

She tried, she really did.

And she knew that ugly ducklings eventually grow into, if not graceful swans, at least decent ducks.

But my Dad looked at me from behind his thick-rimmed glasses and saw something no one else did.

He saw beauty.

I remember getting ready on a Sunday morning and coming out to the living room to wait for my family to go to church. My dad was there, loading his favorite 33’s into his treasured multi-player record player.

Burt Bacharach, Glenn Campbell, Johnny Cash, Glenn Miller.

He took one look at his decidedly less than lovely little girl and held out his hand. Without a word, my dad swung me into his arms and taught me to dance.

Or at least he tried to teach me to dance. But my feet kept getting in the way of his and I couldn’t seem to stop falling and giggling and getting it wrong.

So awkward.

So not what I wanted to be.

That’s when my dad did what every dad of every awkward little girl ought to do—

He let me dance on his feet.

Not because my feet wouldn’t go where they were supposed to, but on purpose.

Dad just lifted me onto his feet and proceeded to dance me around the room. And I felt like a princess— like Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn and Sophia Lauren all wrapped up in a little girl moment.

My Dad made me beautiful when I didn’t know how and couldn’t be and wasn’t.

And he kept it up for years and years of far-from-beautiful awkwardness.

When he paid for ballet lessons to see if maybe someone could teach me to walk a little less like a boot clomping farm boy. And when he graciously let me quit because the lovely ballerina teacher shook her head in sad dismay.

And when he bought me just-right riding breeches and elegant long boots and paid for me to try to sit the back of a horse without falling in the mud.

And then kept paying and kept watching me ride and kept taking me to buy books about horses and listening to me chatter endlessly about bits and bridles and Morgans and Arabians.

He made me feel beautiful when the mirror told a different story.

I remember once overhearing him tell my mom that I looked like his sister. My heart about stopped.

Oh my gosh!

My Aunt Carol was gorgeous! As in stunningly-glamorous-Hollywood-worthy-gorgeous.

She had that very much in style in the late 60’s red bouffant hair… mine was brown and straight and growing in places it shouldn’t.

Her eyes were crystal blue- almost transparent and so big they dominated her sculptured face. Mine were brown and boring and topped by bushy eyebrows.

And she dressed like a beauty queen. Flamboyant and elegant and always perfect.

I wanted to look just like her. I wanted to be beautiful and elegant and sophisticated.

My dad thought I did and that I was and that someday I would be.

And I believed him.

Now sometimes I’ll see a girl like I was— just a little too hairy and awkward and shy and embarrassed.

And I’ll remember how I felt inside when my dad told a different story. And how I believed him because, after all, dads know more than daughters at that age.

I wish every one of those little girls had a dad like mine. A dad who would redefine beauty to match the mirror.

A dad who called brown eyes hazel and stubby noses adorable. Who thought my legs looked longer in riding boots and made sure I had the confidence to think so too.


every girl ever born wants to be a Beauty

and every dad of every daughter has the power to make her believe she is.

From my heart,



  1. He told me, all my life, that I was beautiful.
  2. He paid attention to me.
  3. He bought me riding boots.
  4. He saw something no one else could have possibly seen.
  5. He told my mom what he saw.
  6. When I couldn’t be who I wanted to be, he let me dance on his feet.