From Chicken Soup for the Father & Daughter Soul

Bullfrogs, Butterflies and Dads

I placed my guitar on the park bench beside me and gazed at the Detroit River rushing past. Three weeks until Susan’s wedding. She wanted me to write a song for it. My heart sank. I thought daughters were supposed to marry guys like their dads. Rich and I were nothing alike.

My beef wasn’t with Rich. He can’t help that he picked Michigan State University over my alma mater, the University of Michigan. But what was Susan’s excuse? How could my first-born, die-hard Wolverine fall for a Spartan? I picked up my guitar and strummed, “Traitor.”

I remembered the first time Susan brought Rich home. I clutched my heart and pointed at her sweatshirt.

“It’s nothing, Dad,” she explained quickly, checking the MSU logo on her chest. “I was cold, is all. Rich loaned me his shirt.”

I immediately grabbed my favorite U of M sweatshirt jacket.

“Here ya go, Princess,” I said, holding it open. “This will warm you up.” She looked at Rich and shrugged her shoulders apologetically.

Then I ushered everyone to the kitchen for cards. While they visited, I covertly ditched my wife’s snack bowls and replaced them with my “Go Blue” party dishes. Later, I heard Mare quietly searching for her dishes. When she finally gave up, she poured the pretzels and chips into my bowls and plunked them down in front of me. I didn’t need to look up. I could feel her and Susan giving me the evil eye. Rich just chuckled.

At last, they had to go. I smiled through gritted teeth as I spied the “MSU” bumper sticker adhered to his Ford Explorer.

“I don’t believe it. He not only went to State, he drives a Ford.”

Mare said she didn’t think he meant anything by it. He might not have, but Susan knew better. It was my General Motors salary that helped pay her college tuition!

A few months later, Susan called to say Rich was loaning her some furniture. Could I help move it? Rich? Yikes! I didn’t realize he was still in the picture.

“Sure,” I agreed.

“Great! Rich will appreciate your strong arms.”

I smiled and flexed my muscles as I hung up the phone. As a dad of five daughters, I was a pro at moving and setting things up. I’d show Rich a thing or two.

Moving day was muggy and rainy, and I felt sluggish. Rich, on the other hand, was raring to go. He perched boxes on his broad shoulders and took steps two at a time. Show off!

Afterward, Rich invited us to his house. I winced when he served us beverages in his “Go Green” glasses. If I hadn’t been so thirsty, I would have declined.

On the way home I pumped my wife for information. “So what’s the deal with Rich and Susan? Are they serious?”

“Susan says they’re serious friends.” I could tell she was being evasive.

“What does Rich say?” I queried further.

She started to cry. “He says he wishes he knew the way to Susan’s heart. He says he loves her.”

I was quiet the rest of the three-hour trip home. That MSU Spartan, arch-rival, loved my precious, prettiest-baby-in-the-nursery, first-born daughter.

A few months later he asked her to marry him, and she said “yes.” When she came home to break the news, I noticed her car was sporting a “Go State” bumper sticker also. I’d lost my little Wolverine to the Spartan.

The years fell away as I held my guitar close and fingered a melancholy tune. Suddenly, I was recalling Susan’s first day of kindergarten.

“Ready, Dad?” she asked as she hopped into our old blue 1972 Buick Skylark.

“Ready, Princess!” I said as I kissed her head and tossed my briefcase under her feet. We stopped three times to pick up kids in our carpool. “It’s okay to talk,” I told them. They looked nervously out the windows.

Susan pulled a cassette from her book bag. “Can we listen to this, please, Daddy?”

“Sure,” I said. It was a song about Noah’s ark. Susan hummed, Jimmy kept time with his feet on the back of my seat, and the other two bobbed their heads. Before long, we were all belting out, “Bullfrogs and butterflies, they’ve both been born again!”

A horn blast from a passing lake liner shook me from my reverie. Thanks to that memory, the words for Susan’s wedding song finally came.

Three weeks later, the pianist began pounding out the wedding march. Susan looked up at me with watery blue eyes and whispered, “Ready, Dad?” I tucked her trembling arm under mine and steered her toward the open double doors. Flashbulbs popped and people “oohed” and “a hhed” as we started down the aisle. I glanced over to reassure her, but her eyes were locked on Rich.

At the altar, the minister asked, “Who gives this woman in marriage?” The church was so quiet you could hear the candles burning. “Her mother and I do,” I said proudly, as if I had just handed over a priceless gift.

I got my guitar and began singing. Coming to the last verse, I started to choke up.

Because, like bullfrogs and butterflies and how they live two lives,

Little girls play; grow up one day, with hearts changed into wives.

At the stadium-sized reception hall, Susan rushed from one wedding custom to the next. Finally, the lights dimmed as the DJ announced the father-daughter dance. I couldn’t believe my ears. “Bullfrogs and Butterflies!” I twirled her around, and she flapped her “wings,” and we jumped at the part where the frog leaps onto a lily pad. Then, like her childhood, the dance was over way too soon.

Afterward, Rich shook my hand and thanked me for the wedding—and for Susan, the very best gift of all. Suddenly, I realized maybe we weren’t so different. Maybe Susan had married a guy like her dad after all!

If God can change polliwogs to bullfrogs and little girls to wives, I guess he can change me, too. Okay, I’m probably never going to root for MSU, but I’ll always be right there rooting for Rich and Susan.

Joe Strube
As told to Marilyn K. Strube

More stories from our partners