by Lianne Best
My daughter was in fifth grade. The last year of elementary school, and the first year of band. She was learning to play the baritone – an instrument choice that baffles me to this day; it doesn’t carry the melody, baritones are placed way in the back of the stage, and it was huge, a case as big as my skinny little girl, and we had to buy a wheeled luggage cart for her to carry it back and forth to school.
So it’s fifth grade, springtime, and the final band concert of the year. I’m sure it started at 7 p.m., all school events do, and we parents sauntered into the school multi-purpose room and arrayed ourselves on the folding chairs facing the stage. It wasn’t the first concert, so nobody was too concerned about being on time. And we were all dressed in our standard post-workday attire: dads in khakis and polos, moms in dark-wash jeans.
We chatted to each other as we waited for the program to begin. We parents had all known each other for years; this was just one more mandatory school event, the general weeknight inconvenience further complicated by the need to iron white shirts and the inevitable discovery that the black pants had been outgrown. It was all very anti-climactic and casual, just moms and dads looking at their watches and applauding politely.
Until the beginning of the second number. A new dad rushed in, worriedly late. Wearing a dirty baseball cap, torn canvas jacket, and paint-stained work pants, the Latino planted himself firmly in the aisle between the two sections of folding chairs. Deliberately he set a shopping bag at his feet, reached in and pulled out a shiny silver videocamera. He turned it on and trained it a dark-haired girl earnestly playing her clarinet. From my seat I watched his viewscreen, and he zoomed in and never strayed from what was obviously his daughter.
As the parents jostled and jiggled impatiently around him, the day-laborer dad never moved. He taped every remaining minute of the performance, never sitting, never shifting, never slouching. When finally the kids ended – did they play five, six numbers? I don’t recall, it was an unexceptional concert – he carefully turned off and put down his camera and, beaming, clapped and clapped.
His daughter saw him, looked down, bit her lip, and once she stepped down off the stage she rushed into her father’s arms.
I looked at all the khaki-clad bored parents around me and I was ashamed. I had just witnessed the American Dream in progress, and nobody else had even noticed.