I sat outside the dressing rooms at Kohl's with my brother, who was visiting from Orlando, waiting and waiting and waiting.
Finally, I called out to my daughter: "Madelyn, hurry up."
I shouted out to her not because of my impatience, but because other women in the department store kept looking at my brother and me like we were two guys hanging out by the ladies' restroom in a late-night bar trying to pick up women. Hearing Madelyn's voice informed them we actually had a reason to be hovering between the girls' section and the women's section.
I never realized taking my daughter to a tea party would involve lecherous looks, a fashion faux pas and, eventually, big fun. In the end, our excursion to the Brandon South Rotary Club's Mad Hatter Tea Party last week turned out to be a memorable experience.
But getting ready for the party? That's another story.
• • •
It all started after I spoke to the Brandon South club last fall. One of the members suggested I come to this lovely tea at Cross Creek Ranch bed and breakfast in Dover. I puffed up my chest, tensed my flabby biceps and said, "You think a brawny man like me would go to a tea?"
She suggested that I bring my daughter, and suddenly the idea had some merit. Plus, the club scheduled the event after football season, so whiling away a Sunday with chamomile and crumpets didn't seem horrible.
So I agreed to go and then roped in the dads of three of Madelyn's friends. How? I asked the moms.
Of course, the wives thought the scene of their husbands dressing up to take their daughters to a tea was wonderful.
I said to one of the moms, "Are you sure your husband won't mind?"
"No, he won't mind," she said with a wry smile.
So as the day approached, I headed out with Madelyn to get her a dress. First mistake. After all, my wife banned me from buying clothes for her years ago, so what made me think my fashion sense could work for a 7-year-old? My brother kept asking why I didn't leave the task to my wife. I had no answer.
Madelyn gravitated toward dresses that allowed her to bare her shoulders and I gravitated toward, well, nothing. Frankly, I was looking for a tasteful croaker sack, but apparently the fashion world has given up on burlap.
We settled on two dresses — one she liked and one I liked — and then it came time to buy shoes. And a purse. And a hat. Cha-ching, cha-ching, cha-ching.
I thought Madelyn chose shoes (open-toed, white with a small wedge heel) that were okay — until I got home. Her mother said she was too young to wear heels, and made me feel like I bought home some 6-inch glass spikes more suitable for a certain infamous stage in Tampa.
I pleaded, "They're not stilettos and they didn't have flats. If they aren't age-appropriate, why do they make them in size 2?"
Actually, I know the answer to that question — but that's another column for another time.
• • •
Despite my tasteless fashion touch, we survived and made it to the tea in the dress Madelyn picked. On a breezy, sun-splashed day, we sat at a white-linen table under a spacious tent, enjoyed lemonade, tea and great food while the girls petted a pair of horses in a nearby field.
When they returned to eat, I reached for my purse to get the hand sanitizer.
Oh wait, I don't have a purse and I don't carry hand sanitizer. I'm a dad. Hey girls, just wipe your hands on your dresses. Hold on, don't do that.
Don't worry, moms, we found a sink and some antibacterial soap.
After the meal came time for the Mad Hatter parade. Several groups came with hats they had decorated at home, and our daughters — with a little help from the moms — had turned their hat into a ladybug masterpiece.
The idea was to parade around and solicit donations for the club based on the quality of your hat.
Us dads being dads, we urged the girls to use their puppy dog faces —- the same ones that have resulted in us filling their rooms with Polly Pocket toys — and it worked. Sure, some of the ladies gave us the "You're not being fair" look, but we were in it to win it.
After taking third place in the parade, we prepared to depart and began planning our next dads-and-daughters get- together. As a live auction carried on in the background, we settled on the next tea being at Buffalo Wild Wings.
Hey, they serve tea.
Suddenly, Betty Jo Tompkins, the auctioneer, called out and said, Ernest, "Aren't you going to bid on this? It's lunch with four pageant queens: Miss Plant City Nikki Fraser, Miss Tampa, Miss Lakeland and Miss Hillsborough."
I threw out a token bid and then another. I'm not sure how I won, but come next month, four queens, us four dads and our four daughters will be having another tea at a tearoom. And this time the girls get to wear tiaras.
So much for the wings.
That's all I'm saying.
Ernest Hooper also writes a column for the Tampa Bay section. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3406.