Chris and Claire hug at wedding of DC widow blog writer Marjorie Brimley Hale

She’s His Daughter

I wasn’t really prepared for the moment when it finally arrived. Though I knew it was coming, at least some day. I knew there would be a time when I would witness it, when I would see what it looked like right before my eyes.

And yet, I was still stunned when I first saw Claire dance with Chris.

Of course, it wasn’t really the first time they had ever danced in each other’s presence. We dance all the time in our kitchen, and sometimes Chris offers to show Claire a dance step. But since there haven’t been any school dances in the past few years, we haven’t been able to show up as chaperones and dance with Claire in the school gymnasium. Even at our own wedding, we mostly just danced as a family, which was fun, but not the same as watching Claire and Chris dance.

We were at our first party after the Omicron lockdown, one that felt joyous and normal and also somewhat unreal. Was life coming back for all of us?

Claire was elated. There she was, celebrating a dear friend of hers who was reaching an important milestone. The DJ blasted music and the kids jumped with joy. The parents stood on the edges, watching. It took my breath away to see the unrestrained joy of a bunch of 12 and 13-year-olds. They were so happy. Especially Claire.

She came up to us a couple of times. “This is the best night of my life!” she screamed, and then went to join her friends. Chris squeezed my hand.

“She’s so happy,” he said, his voice full of emotion.

It was one of those moments that parents have sometimes. The ones where you look at each other and are so happy for your child’s happiness. It’s one that, years ago, I never imagined I would again share with someone else, and yet, it is now my reality. It chokes me up when I really stop and think about it. And at that moment, I felt overwhelmed by it all. I am so lucky, I thought silently.

Maybe Chris could read my mind. He squeezed my hand again. We watched Claire jump up and down to a Taylor Swift song. I actually let a tear stream down my face. It was all I wanted for her. To be happy.

I let myself relax into the party. We chatted with friends and Chris got me a drink. There we were, just a happy, normal couple watching their daughter have fun with her friends. I wanted to drink it all in, savor every moment of joy on her face and relish in the fact that I was there, at a party with my husband, and he was holding my hand as we watched our daughter in all her preteen glory.

It was all so simple, really. But these days, simple joys are ones I can see so clearly. Sure, maybe it’s because the pandemic has made life so difficult that when it’s good, it’s obvious. But I think it’s also because I remember so many other parties where I didn’t have these simple things – a happy kid and a partner squeezing my hand because he loves her like I do.

Eventually, it was time for a slow dance. Claire’s friend would be dancing with her dad, but then there was some sort of announcement: “Mothers find your sons and fathers find your daughters…and come and dance!” Or something like that. I didn’t really hear it. I guess Chris said something to me when he left my side but I didn’t really process it all. It took a few moments before I realized what was happening.

And then there it was. Chris was right in the middle of the dance floor, laughing and dancing with Claire.

I was standing next to a friend and I tried to talk to her, but I couldn’t say much of anything. I was frozen, watching them dance.

It was so normal, of course. A father dancing with his daughter.

But it was all so surreal, too. This simple joy. I tried really hard not to cry. I didn’t want anything to take away from the moment they were having.

At the end of the song, Claire ran off with her friends. Chris came back to me, and seeing my face, put his arms around me.

He gave me a squeeze. We didn’t even have to talk. He knew what I was thinking and I knew what he was thinking.

What an amazing moment that just happened. Their first dance together.

I could tell he was trying to check in with me, and make sure I was feeling okay. I smiled at him, trying to reassure him that those were happy tears in the corners of my eyes. But then I realized I wasn’t the only one feeling such emotion. His voice wavered just a bit as he said something about Claire while he watched her bounce around with her friends.

I could see the joy in Chris’s face. I wasn’t surprised by it, not really.

She’s his daughter, after all.

Image Credit: Sharyn Peavey.


  • Barbie Swanson

    Wow. Beautiful writing, as always. As a fellow widow with a daughter, I had to read it several times. The references to “our daughter” and “she’s his daughter, after all” were honestly tough for me to read. I’m not condemning how you feel, I just don’t feel the same way. My teen daughter would be so angry if I ever called someone else her father, and she would also never tolerate being referred to as another man’s daughter. This is very interesting and thought provoking.

    • M Brimley

      I totally understand where you are coming from. In fact, when I saw this comment, I was with an old friend, and I read it to her. She said to me, “remember, that’s exactly how you felt just two years ago!” And then she reminded me about how much my feelings – and my kids’ feelings – have changed. That’s not to say that my experience is the “right” way, just that it’s a big change that I didn’t expect. I’m actually working on a post about this concept (how things changed, and how my kids really do feel they have two dads) and I really appreciate this comment.

  • Kate

    I love this for you AND your children, especially Claire. And I love that they feel loved and cared for by your new husband and that they consider him dad and he considers them his own.
    My son is 15. He lost his father when he was 11. The chances are slim that he will have in his life that loves him and looks out out for him before he reaches adulthood. I have not been successful dating anyone who interested in being a part of our little family. I can tell that my son is looking for guidance and role models and he has found it in a few of the male teachers at his school who inspire him.
    My hope is that perhaps one day, he may get married and that the family and perhaps the father-in-law will love him like a son. Until then, I will do my best to make sure that he feels loved and valued and he knows that it’s totally okay just to have one parent.

    • M Brimley

      I totally get that. My dad was like this with me, once my mom died at 19. He never dated anyone else, and I found such solace and love from the other women in my life – my aunts, my family friends, my teachers. And it is 100% okay to just have one parent. What matters is the love, not the family structure.