WHITEFISH BAY — He joked that it wasn’t going to be easy, but Mitch Nelles, speaking to scores of dads and daughters at the head of the dance floor, made a promise.
“I pledge tonight to watch my daughter through my eyes, not through my phone,” Nelles said.
About 125 people attended the annual father-daughter dance at the Harry & Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center on March 2, 2019, where this year for the first time attendees were encouraged to keep their cell phones in their pockets. Nelles co-chaired the event with Mike Dykeman.
“I suppose I can attempt to not look at it,” joked Scott Franklin, in an interview before the event. It’s usually difficult to pry the cell phone from his hands, he said, though he certainly understands the benefits of a cell-free night.
“It’s a nice father-daughter bonding thing and both kids really enjoy it and have been really excited to go,” he said. “They look forward to it and like getting all dressed up.”
Franklin’s twin girls Melanie and Laci, 10, tend to pull him in different directions at the annual event, but it’s a joy. “One of them might want me to go out on the dance floor with them. The other might want me to work on an arts and crafts project,” Franklin said.
This is a night of men in suits or otherwise splendid wear, paired with girls hitting the candy bar, dancing with dad, or participating in contests where they dart from the dance floor at top speed to grab “something blue” or some other object from dad.
Nelles and his daughter Hallie, 8 and in third grade at Milwaukee Jewish Day School, attended together.
“Her excitement level is off the charts,” Nelles said beforehand. “She’s been counting it down for about two weeks. Every morning she’ll tell me how many days left including today with one day left with a ginormous smile on her face.”
The father-daughter dance is actually not just for fathers and daughters. Nelles asked during his interview to make it clear that this annual event is inclusive. Families with two moms, with an uncle or grandfather or other combinations are all welcome. “It’s very important to us,” he said.
“I think it’s important to remember to treat our loved ones in a special manor all the time,” added Nelles, who lives in Whitefish Bay. “It’s nice that an event like this highlights spending time together but it shouldn’t replace the everyday specialness of being able to spend time with each other.”
Matt Honigman, father of Emily, 7, said it was truly a magical evening. “I got to see my daughter in her own light,” Honigman said. “That image of her smiling and laughing on the dance floor…Well, I’m going to hold onto it for as long as I can.”