DAVENPORT, IOWA – Children are children for only so long, then they grow up. No second chances.
With that realization in mind, and not wanting the COVID-19 pandemic to rob their daughters — and themselves — of the special experience of a fancy father-daughter dance, two Quad-City dads created their own Sugar Plum balls when the popular Festival of Trees event was canceled this year.
Tim Riley, of Eldridge, and Jackson Frerichs, of Davenport, are brothers-in-law with daughters, and they came up with the idea of do-it-yourself dances independently. When they happened to mention their plans to each other, they thought, “Holy cow, that’s so cool,” Riley said.
“It had become tradition,” Riley said of the festival event that he and his daughter Bella, 11, had been attending for about five years. “It was really important to her.”
Rather than lament that it wasn’t happening, Riley proposed to Bella that the two of them plan a special night together at their home, incorporating all the elements of the festival dance.
That started with fancy clothes. Riley wore a suit and Bella picked a black top with a patterned skirt of gold, green, red and silver squares. Based on those colors, Riley ordered a flower corsage for Bella and boutonniere for himself.
The Sugar Plum begins with dinner, so they discussed whether to order restaurant food or make their own, and decided on the latter. Together, they prepared chicken alfredo, which Riley served up on the dining room table under dimmed lights decorated with a bouquet of red roses, strewn with rose petals. They toasted the meal with plastic flutes filled with sparkling grape juice.
The festival dinner also includes a special dessert so for that, they bought cookies and icing and, the week before, decorated the cookies to the sound of Christmas music in the background.
While Bella knew about the dinner, the dance segment of the evening — set up in the home’s lower level — was a surprise.
She walked down to a space decorated with large snowflakes and rope lights and a playlist of favorite dance tunes such as the YMCA song.
She and her dad danced, and “Zoomed” with her cousins in Davenport who were doing their own dance on the same night. That was Tuesday, Nov. 24, which would have been the night of the Sugar Plum.
For the Rileys, the evening ended watching “Explorers” on the family TV.
“With the year being so crazy, it really meant a lot to me and my wife to be able to bring some normalcy back during these times and to show that you can still have a fun and vibrant time, to bring some joy,” Riley said
By day, Riley is the assistant principal at Ed White Elementary School Eldridge, where his wife, Sarah, is a counselor. The couple also has two sons.
Father-daughter dances ” are a big part of our lives, and we weren’t going to miss out on it,” Frerichs said of himself and daughters Greta, 9, and Parker, 6, after the Sugar Plum cancellation.
The dance interest started in 2015 when Frerichs and Greta were supposed to go to the festival dance for the first time. “Then she got the flu and slept for three days,” Frerich said. “When she woke up, the very first thing she said was, ‘Dad, when is the Sugar Plum Ball?’ It broke my heart.”
So, being the dad he is, Frerichs started calling around to find another father-daughter holiday dance they could attend, but all the dances in the Quad-City region already had been held. “It killed me,” Frerichs said.
Finally he located an upcoming dance in Wheeling, Illinois, a Chicago suburb, and he and Greta went there. In fact, they still do, making it a daddy-daughter weekend in Chicago.
But they attended the Sugar Plum balls in the Quad-Cities, too, so when it was called off for this year, they staged their own in much the same fashion as the Rileys.
Jill, their mom, fixed their hair, and they dressed up in fancy clothes, with corsages courtesy of Dad, dressed in a suit.
They ordered a restaurant dinner and for dessert they borrowed an idea from the Wheeling dance with an ice cream sundae bar that Jill set up in the kitchen. Gummy worms, Oreo cookie crumbles and chocolate chips were among the offerings.
Like their cousins, neither Greta nor Parker knew in advance about the decked-out basement with a strobe light system and a long playlist of favorite dance tunes.
“We had a blast,” Frerichs said of the evening.
“I’m a dad with daughters. I’m looking for anything to do with them for their special time. We get a short window. It goes quick. We’ve already talked about it, how Greta will be a teenager and she’ll be too old.
“It’ll be gone, I know it. And I don’t want to miss it. Especially in a year when you don’t have many of these (opportunities).”