One night not so long ago, my wife and I attended the last musical performance of our daughter
Emma's high school career, and like any dutiful
dad, I was shooting video with my iPhone.
But the concert, by one of Pennsbury
High School's orchestras, had
already ended, and instead of playing music our diminutive daughter was busy
onstage, packing equipment into boxes larger than she was.
Don't get me wrong; Emma does play an instrument. Several, in fact. In the
orchestra, she is one of the percussionists, the rear-guard musicians who play
timpanis, xylophones and the like. But she stands not much more than 5 feet
tall, so at concerts it was all we could do to see the top of her head behind the
violins, cellos and French horns.
She was more visible in Pennsbury's marching band, where she worked her way
up the ranks to become pit captain, the leader of those who, instead of
parading onto the field at football games, are positioned in front of the
bleachers, working instruments that are too weighty to be mobile.
And she was the pianist in Pennsbury's award-winning (and male-dominated)
concert jazz band. Those concerts, especially ones where she got to solo on
standards like "Body and Soul" and "In a Mellow Tone," were
a revelation. Just a few years earlier, we'd had to badger her to practice
piano, and now her fingers were deftly flitting across the keyboard. As a
parent in the age of social media, I couldn't help posting videos of her solos
on Facebook, invariably accompanied by the label #prouddad.
So it went from the ninth grade to the 12th. In the fall, the marching band
played parades and Friday night football games, then boarded buses for
competitions on the weekends. Spring meant the jazz band, with rehearsals five
nights a week, concerts and more competitions. School orchestras were
sandwiched in between everything else.
And after every concert and football
game, Emma was always there, hauling equipment. She'll be the last one to
leave, my wife and I joked. And she was. As Emma once told me, she did it
"because it was my responsibility to my section and if I didn't do it, no
All of this was a bit strange for us. Hardly anyone in our brood had ever
attended a high school football game, much less join a marching band. And in a
tribe of relative introverts, it was shocking to discover our
Vietnamese-Scottish daughter was something of a social butterfly, with dozens
of friends, musical and otherwise. Inheritor of her mom's beauty and brains
(and her dad's quick temper and sarcasm), Emma is one of those people about
whom the cliche is apt: When she walks into a room, she becomes its focus.
But what strikes me most, now that the whirlwind of Emma's high school years
has blown past, is how hard she worked. Millennials catch a lot of flak for
supposedly being self-absorbed creatures who do little more than send text
messages. But between the curricular and extracurricular, my daughter racked up
60-hour weeks, or more, from one semester to the next. Most of her peers did
the same. Truth be told, I didn't work half as hard at that age.
And so it was that on a cool spring evening, we sat watching our daughter on
a cavernous stage, doing roadie work long after many of her classmates had
left. Something compelled me to record that moment, probably because, as much
as anything else, it was emblematic of a period of her life, and of ours, that
after four long years was ending all-too soon. She joins her older brother in
the collegiate ranks this fall, leaving my wife and me behind in the proverbial
empty nest. It's an exciting time for her, something else entirely for us.
I didn't post the video of her that night; it seemed silly to show my
Facebook friends shots of Emma hauling musical equipment. But I have it on my
computer, along with photos of a kid who once hated to practice actually
receiving awards for playing music, her face beaming in every picture.
Proud dad? That doesn't begin to cover it.
This column was originally published in the Bucks County Courier Times