Sophie’s school held its annual father/daughter dance was last week, an event that we’ve attended for several years now. The two of us began our night with a pasta dinner at our favorite Italian restaurant; Sophie wore a pretty dress and looked gorgeous. It’s a rare occasion that Sophie and I go out to eat on our own. When those times occur, I consider them treasured moments. Even if our conversation is about mundane everyday events, it’s a pleasure to hear her thoughts and to witness the way her mind works.

The dance was held in the school’s multipurpose room. Tables were set up to the sides, leaving a large open space in the center of the room; a deejay had his laptop set up on a podium and large speakers blasting various rock and dance tunes. We arrived early and had our picture taken before the line became too long, then we listened to the music as more fathers and daughters arrived.

Throughout the course of their evening the DJ played a variety of rock standards like “The Twist” and “Staying Alive” mixed with current hits by Beyonce and Taylor Swift Between the slices of cake and sips of lemonade, Sophie clung to me as if she were amongst strangers and not her peers. Her mood surprised me and I did my best to get her to mingle with her classmates, the ones huddled in little groups throughout the room. But she didn’t want to and chose to stay by my side.

I foolishly worried that she’d be missing out on some “great” experience with her friends, all of them comparing dresses and shoes and admiring the makeup they wore. I seriously didn’t think it would be cool to simply stand with her dad all night. Yet by my side she stayed, the smile on her face never changing, even when I danced like a dork.

Midway through the dance, Kelly Clarkson’s power ballad, “Breakaway,” brought all of the girls and their dads out on to the dance floor. I know this song well: ever since Sophie brought home Princess Diaries 2 (which features the song) Clarkson’s huge hit has been one of her favorites. Whenever I hear it a little bit of my heart cracks and falls away. While the song is uplifting and inspirational, I feel that song also symbolizes that my little girls is getting older, slowly moving away from me. I want her to spread her wings and learn how to fly; I also want her to remain my little girl, one who needs her dad to protect her.

I wonder if all parents share these same bittersweet feelings. Do they swell with pride when their child comes home with a wealth of knowledge, but feel a tinge of sadness because that child is growing up and doesn’t need them in the same way they used to?

As the song played, I watched Sophie’s eyes wander around the dance floor, looking at everyone dance. While she sang along with Kelly, I chose to look out and observe the other father’s. What I saw was grown men with a look in their eyes, a look that betrayed that they felt exactly as I did.

The song ended and the squealed in excitement when some ridiculous Lady Gaga song came on. Sophie and I moved off to the side and went to look at our photo. It turned out nicely, the proud father and his wonderful daughter. I suddenly didn’t worry that Sophie didn’t want to giggle and gossip with her friends. She wanted to hang out with her dad. How cool is that?