Daddy's got a date with two girls A lovely tradition for two young ladies By Bill Hagerup

Photo courtesy of Bill Hargerup Bill Hagerup with his two daughters, Cheney, 10, and Isabel, 5.

I approach the house with a combination of eager anticipation and nervous apprehension. This is the first time I've gone out with two girls on the same date.

How will they look? Will they get along? Will I inadvertently play favorites-heaping attention on one at the expense of the other? How will I perform with two at once?

It's all water over the dam now. I pull into the driveway, get out of the car, step up to the front door and ring the bell. I hear the eager footsteps of four feet running to the door. It bursts open, revealing two gorgeous strawberry blondes, dressed to kill in their Valentine gowns.

"Hi Daddy," they exclaim in unison.

"Hi Cheney. Hi Isabel," I respond. "You guys look terrific. Is Mommy around?" Another strawberry blonde appears from the living room-this one dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt, a tiny baby in tow.

"Hi there," she says. "Your dates are just about ready. Isabel, where is your wrist corsage?"

Isabel, who has the uncanny ability to lose anything, any time, anywhere, begins to search the room for the flowers I had delivered. Izzy would follow a butterfly off the end of the earth. She's a leaf in the wind; a free spirit, oblivious to the forces that will one day rein her in and force her to conform. But, for now, she basks in the white light of childhood, a 5-year-old secure in her fantasy world.

"Daddy, are we going out to dinner with the Cherneskis?" Cheney asks. Cheney is Daddy's girl-10 years old and as sweet as the day is long. Since my divorce nearly two years ago, my relationship with her has improved markedly. I no longer have to enforce her bed time or coerce her into cleaning up her room. I still reprimand her every so often, but it's quickly forgotten-melted away with a hug and a few affectionate words.

"That's the plan," I reply. The Cherneski family lives down the street, one of several families in the area with children who match Cheney and Isabel in age.

"Goody!" Cheney claps with delight.

"Daddy Daughter Date Night" is the brainchild of someone at the Glen Ellyn Park District. It's an eagerly-awaited event that brings fathers and their 5- to 10-year-old daughters together for their first "date." The setting is a gymnasium decorated much like a high school dance-party ball on the ceiling, balloons everywhere, stuffed animals for the girls, ice cream, cookies and punch as refreshments.

This year we're going to be triple dating with two other "trios" -the aforementioned Cherneskis and Mike Flemming, another friend with two daughters the same ages as mine.

"Wait a minute guys-don't forget the pictures…" Susan reminds them, as she grabs her Nikon. My dates and I gather around a chair and Susan snaps a few shots to preserve the moment for posterity. It's times like these that I'm especially thankful I have an amicable relationship with Susan. The divorce was difficult and not without pain and hurt feelings on both sides, but we've managed to remain friends, which has made it much easier on the girls. Susan now lives with Mark, her fiancé with whom she has another child.

"OK, guys-let's go," I prod my dates. "We don't want to be late for dinner. The Cherneskis will eat all the pizza." Getting these two out the door is like moving mountains. Eventually they gather their purses, corsages, coats and hats and we're ready to rock.

"Bye, Momma," they yell to Susan as we get into the car. I take a quick glance back to make certain their seat belts are fastened. This is precious cargo. I pause for a moment to marvel at how fortunate I am to have such beautiful, affectionate daughters-and how short a time it will be before I'm sending them off on a real date with Tom or Larry or Biff. But for now they're all mine, and I make a mental note to relish the fleeting moment.

As we get out of the car and make our way into the restaurant, a cold wind slices through our coats. I grab a little hand in each of mine and make a dash for the door. Inside, we find the Cherneskis already there, waiting for the Flemmings and us.

Mike and his dates arrive shortly after we do. The girls rush to greet one another-admiring each other's dresses, hair, corsages and anything else they can find an excuse to chat about. Mike, Rob and I talk sports, business, politics and girls (little ones).

"Isn't it kind of amazing how quickly they grow?" I comment.

"Yeah," Rob replies. "Seems like just yesterday I was changing diapers."

Just then, the pizza arrives, the girls return and we finish off three large pepperoni specials in a matter of minutes.

When we arrive at the dance, the girls quickly locate more friends. They rush off to a neutral corner where they giggle and talk about whatever little girls talk about.

This is the first year both girls are old enough to attend the Daddy Daughter Date Night. I wondered how I was going to dance with both of my dates simultaneously, and now I see I shouldn't have worried. They seem more interested in their friends than dancing with their dad.

"Can you believe this?" my friend Greg asks. "I spend $15 on flowers and my date won't even dance with me."

"That's women for you," I respond.

After an hour or so, the girls come and ask if I'll dance with them.

"Well, which one shall I dance with first?" I ask.

"Both of us," Isabel replies enthusiastically. So we head out on the floor and dance to a 70's BeeGees disco number. Cheney insists I swing her around, endangering everyone within a 15-foot radius, but I oblige. And of course, whatever Cheney gets, Izzy must have as well, so I do it a second time-nearly falling and sending Isabel into the next county in the process.

After a few more dances, it's time to go. Cheney and Isabel pick up their complimentary stuffed animals, bid good night to their friends and we head home.

"So, was it everything you hoped it would be?" I ask.

"Yeah, it was a lot of fun," Cheney replies.

"And Isabel, what did you think of your first date?" I inquire. There's no answer. "Isabel? Isabel?"

"She's asleep, Daddy," Cheney informs me.

I turn around and sure enough, Isabel is out like a light. So much for my double date.

No matter. This is one date I'll be happy to chalk up to experience-an experience I'll remember for a long, long time.



Bill Hargerup is a writer in Elmhurst and the proud dance partner of two daughters.


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