He only embarrassed me a few times.
When people ask me to describe my dad, I always say the same thing: Fred is a character. He’s not your average dad, who wears cargo shorts and forgoes the gym for a night of drinking beer with suburban dads to talk about hockey and married life. He commands attention wherever he goes, in his latest Armani Exchange suit and booming voice. Instead of Dad Jokes, Fred loves to give his opinion on Drake’s new album (which he loves, btw) or what Thursday-night hotspots he goes “cocktailing” at.
When I was a kid, I wanted to be just like my dad. He was my best friend, and we’d constantly go on adventures together. We watched every Ohio State football game together (his alma mater) and I told him I wanted to go to OSU and become a cheerleader. Hell, I even forced myself to eat left-handed just because he did.
As someone who’s introverted and flushes at any sort of attention, my dad became my worst embarrassment once I hit middle school. My parents divorced when I was in fifth grade. When it was just me, my dad and my brother, I wanted to avoid any and all public places where I would risk running into anyone from school. My nightmare came true when I was in seventh grade. I had just started making real friends at my new school, and the first school dance of the year fell on a Friday night, when my dad was supposed to have me. I gave him very specific instructions that when he picked me up, he had to park a block and a half away from school and I would walk to his car.
After the dance, I waited outside with my friends so I wouldn’t miss out on post-dance gossip. That’s when my dad pulled up right in front of my friends and me in his shiny BMW. He got out of the car and introduced himself to each of my friends, shaking their hands with the bravado of a CEO closing a business deal, an ear-to-ear grin across his face. I was absolutely mortified.
After that scarring experience, never ever would I have imagined that, 11 years later, I’d ask him to chaperone my company’s Under The Sea-themed adult prom. I mean, it would be my seventh-grade nightmare come to life: my dad mingling with my friends and colleagues meant he’d have ample opportunity to embarrass me. But just like I’ve changed over the past 11 years, so has our relationship. So I thought, why not?
When I told him about the event, he didn’t even have to think before saying yes. He wanted to meet everyone I worked with (and of course, shake all of their hands), especially all the new friends he hadn’t yet met.
Since the idea of our “adult prom” was to relive our high school prom (but without all the awkwardness), we made it a point to abide by traditional prom rules. My dad’s duty as prom chaperone was to make sure that no one was visibly drinking or twerking. Simple enough. The prom itself was a pretty big spectacle. Pre-prom, we went to Dorothy & Delora Makeup Room for a glam sesh with Susan and The Frock Shop to rent dresses. The event was held at Chicago’s Motor Row Gallery. Energy Productions provided an awesome DJ set, and Windy City Novelties gave us amazing decorations. Every guest took home photographic souvenirs, thanks to Big Hugs Photobooth and K+B Photography, who took classic prom portraits. Oh yeah, and there were a lot of people there.
Like the eager guy he is, my dad was the first one to arrive at prom. He was also one of the first people to take advantage of the punch (spiked with dark rum and Malibu), because Fred Ishler will always use “booze” as an excuse to “schmooze.” (Ew, this is something he said, I swear.)
Throughout the night, he mingled with our CEO, my boss, and my coworkers, while also taking plenty of pictures of me acting like a weirdo, amid blue lights and dangling fish decorations. Apparently, he loved bragging about how I’m “going places” and what exciting things my future holds (the only “future” that’s usually on my mind is Netflix and pizza, but I’m really glad he has high aspirations for me).
He captured me in my best moments. Honestly, I’ve never looked drunker hotter.
Never one to shy away from the camera, he jumped at the opportunity to take photobooth pictures with me. (I have to give a shoutout to his self-tanning job, because the rest of us look like a family of vampires next to him.)
Sure, I may have felt a twinge of embarrassment the few times I’d catch a glimpse of Fred chatting it up with my coworkers. For all I know, he was telling them about my “Matilda” phase, during which I was convinced I had superpowers. But this was adult prom, and it was about doing things differently because we finally had the confidence to be ourselves. When he shook my friends’ hands, I wasn’t embarrased, like seventh-grade Julianne would have been. In fact, this time, I was proud to introduce my dad. He got to experience this fun night with me—one that I’d come to cherish—and watch me win prom queen.
Adult prom wasn’t just a fun night with my friends and coworkers—it was also a reminder of how far my dad and I have come. Though we were joined at the hip when I was growing up, things changed as I got older—especially after the divorce. I didn’t tell my dad things, because I didn’t expect him to understand. He wasn’t around as much, and part of me was mad at him for moving all the way to the city and abandoning our weekend routine in the suburbs. The more he tried to ask me questions, the more I would shut down because I was angry at him for not sticking around.
So, for me, my dad chaperoning prom felt like the culmination of a journey he and I have been on—a journey to reconnect and cultivate the closeness we’d shared in those carefree, pre-divorce years. It started a few years ago, when I began slowly opening up to him about even the most mundane things in my life. I’d tell him where I had brunch, and he was genuinely interested. I’d tell him about a success I had at work, and he’d tell me how proud of me he is. I’ve come to realize that, whether it’s chaperoning adult prom or supporting my writing career by helping me Instagram like Selena Gomez (yes, my dad did that for me), he just wants to be there for all the moments in my life, big and small.
Even at 24 years old, I still want to grow up and be like my dad. He’s the happiest person in the world—a fact that was reaffirmed to me as I watched him work the room at prom, charming everyone he met with his outgoing personality and easy sense of humor. My dad taught me to live in the moment and extend my heart and positive energy to everyone.
One day, I might even bring him to my wedding. At least, as long as there’s enough vodka there.
Here are the details on the local Chicago vendors who made Dose Prom a night to remember!
Venue: Motor Row Gallery, firstname.lastname@example.org, chicagoloftvenues.com
DJ: Energy Productions, (847) 581–1031, energyp.com
Decorations: Windy City Novelties, 1(800) 442–9722, windycitynovelties.com
Photo booth: Big Hugs Photobooth, 1 (855) 755–4847, bighugsphotobooth.com
Portrait photography: K+B Photography, (773) 770–5562, knbphoto.com
Makeup: Dorothy & Delora, (312) 982–1080, dorothydelora.com
Gown rentals: The Frock Shop, (877) 376–2571, frockshopchicago.com