Valley Voices

Dana Zupanovich Lucka: Savoring special moments with Dad

Steve Zupanovich, in his work uniform as owner of an oil distributorship in Chico, with baby Dana.
Steve Zupanovich, in his work uniform as owner of an oil distributorship in Chico, with baby Dana.

It’s funny how life lessons have a way of sneaking up on me. Much of my formal learning has been so very deliberate, but it is the meaningful, heartfelt life lessons that seem to come about as natural and nearly accidental. Case in point: a recent Sunday.

As with most Sundays in our house, my husband sneaks outside in his tattered bathrobe to grab The Bee. I start the coffee and select a playlist to read the paper from front to back. Same ritual every Sunday and as predictable as the change of seasons. My playlists vary with the mood and the weather. Sometimes it is “Throwback Dance Party” and other times it’s “French Musique.”

This particular Sunday, with a crisp fall breeze, I felt like “Swing,” listening to the hits from the ’30s and ’40s. As I shut down my Spotify, I heard one of my Dad’s favorite songs, Glen Miller’s “In the Mood,” then thought, “What I wouldn’t give right now to have one extra dance with my Dad.”

My Dad loves to dance. He and my Mom were a marvel on the dance floor. I, on the other hand, looked like a baby calf in heels having some sort of fit. It wasn’t pretty, and it was safe to say my sister Stephanie got all of the dance genes in our generation.

Regardless, Dad was a patient lead, thus making me at least appear to be a passable dancer. I did have to be reminded to dance my “part” and drop the apparent power struggle, since my height always saddled me with the boy’s role in social dance classes.

In elementary school, I safely avoided the dance floor, but by junior high school, dances were a painful, often awkward, dividing line between the popular kids and the wallflowers. Being nearly 6 feet tall by eighth grade presented a unique problem. Most of the boys my age were no taller than my 80-year-old grandmother and wouldn’t be caught dead slow dancing with their head stuck somewhere near my navel. Seeing this, my Mom would always encourage Dad to dance with me. Feeling geeky and incredibly self-conscious, I rarely danced more than one dance. This “dance phobia” continued well past college.

These days, my Dad isn’t doing much dancing. A failed knee operation has left him sitting on the sidelines without a knee for the past year. As the swing music played, my eyes filled with tears, and I thought, “How could I have been so shortsighted?”

You hear stories of people speaking of their regrets, and no one ever says, “Gosh, I’m so sorry I didn’t ditch my daughter’s recital to finish the pile of paper on my desk!” We all want more time to savor the special moments and I, for one, would like a “do-over” for junior high!

In their 2011 “If Money Doesn’t Make You Happy, Consider Time,” Jennifer Aaker, Melanie Rudd and Cassie Mogilner discuss how happiness is indeed a consequence of the choices people make. Therefore, if we want to be happy, we should acknowledge that time is fleeting, and we should spend our time wisely by investing it in the things that give our life meaning.

Mogilner stated, “The more time that individuals spend with their partners, best friends and close friends, the happier they are. When they spend time with people who they dislike or when they spend time alone, their happiness levels drop. Loneliness is a relatively good predictor of unhappiness.” Clearly, my sitting in the corner in the Sun Empire cafeteria was not a good choice nor a predictor of future, happy dancing days.

At this point in my life, I know there are no regrets, only lessons, even if they now sneak up on me! Therefore, if I had the chance to mentor my younger self, I’d say, “Be braver. Focus on those things that give your life meaning. Oh, yeah, and dance with reckless abandon.”

For now, I will dance whenever I get a chance. I will dance the end-zone hustle in my office when things go right. I will dance with my sister to cheesy ’80s tunes. I will polka with my Polish brother-in-law, even if I think he looks like a dancing bear. I will dance and savor every step. In this fast-paced world, we need to slow down, savor the moment and connect in the dance of life.

As for Daddy and me, we may not be standing upright and toe to toe on the dance floor in the immediate future, but I know I will find a way to enjoy his patient lead a few more times as the band plays his favorite song.

Dana Zupanovich Lucka is director of development for the College of Health and Human Services at Fresno State and a doctoral graduate of Fresno State.