A few years ago, my daughter's high school band director started making requests that I sit in with the jazz band at the school during a concert. He had heard about my playing and wanted to have me in as a guest artist. It has always been my policy to refuse these kinds of requests. I've never wanted to be one of those old guys that relives his glory days by comparing himself to a bunch of kids or attempting to look good by being the big fish in a really really small pond. So, for the last few years, he has asked, and I have said no. At some point in that time frame, my daughter asked me if I'd ever grant the director's request. I made her a deal. She's a pretty good singer. She gets solos from time to time. So, I told my daughter that if she were singing in the concert and they asked me to, I'd play. Silly me. I figured that as the years went by, she'd forget about that promise. Until about three weeks ago when I got a phone call from the band director, that is.
It's my daughter's senior year. It would be her very last concert as a high school student. I made my baby girl a promise. I had to keep it. Which meant I had to actually get my chops back in shape to play a few tunes with the high school band. I had to get up at the crack of dawn to rehearse with a bunch of teenagers. For a busy doctoral student, that's neither easy nor fun. But, I figured it was really only a couple of solos on a couple tunes. Not much prep time required for that. Then, at the last minute, things got switched around. A student couldn't make the concert. At the final hour, my participation in this concert went from a couple solos to playing the whole show with the band AND soloing on half a dozen tunes. Anyone who has played a wind instrument (and then taken years off of performing and practicing) will tell you that there is a big difference between the energy and stamina required to play a few solos and that of playing a whole show.
Thankfully, my training didn't totally fail me. I fumbled through the concert and managed to sound as though I knew how to play a horn. I FELT more like an old man attempting to play a game of full contact football, but I'm confident that the audience didn't get that impression. When I got off stage, my mother leaned over to me and said, "Wow Rueben. You still have it!" I thought to myself, "Um...No. I actually don't."
The highlight of that night, though, wasn't any bit of music I played. It wasn't being recognized as a guest artist. It wasn't the applause from the crowd. I missed all of that stuff from my younger days, but on that night, none of it mattered. The greatest moment of the night was back stage during the transition from the portion of the show I was in to the portion my daughter was in. She ran up to me with a huge smile on her face and half a tear in her eye. She wrapped her arms around me and said, "Daddy!" She said it with that voice that suggested that I had been holding out on her all this time. Like I'd been keeping a secret. Confused, I asked why she was so shocked. She said, "Daddy, I never heard you play before." Of course, that's not true. Its just that she hadn't seen me perform when she was old enough for it to matter. She clarified. "I've heard you practice. And I've seen you perform, but that was when I was young. I didn't know you could do that!"
That's when it hit me. I remembered why I made that promise to her. In my attempt to just be dad, I had totally neglected to show my kids what my former life was like. And my hope was always that I'd get a chance to give them a glimpse of what dad used to do before he was dad.
I had to get up early to go to those rehearsals. I had to play a lot more than I expected. I had to fumble through that show, to be sure. But every bit of the hassle of it was worth it just to see that smile on my baby girl's face. In my daughter's eyes, at that moment, I was a superstar. And that's all I could ever ask for.