My Own Billy Elliot

*Posted with permission

It was a warm, balmy Friday evening in the fall of 2000, I was guarding a side entrance to the local football field so that people wouldn’t sneak into the game. Not interested in high school football at all, I was sitting in a lawn chair reading the novel Dune. I hear the running pattering of tiny footsteps and I look up. I see this little boy, with brown hair and beautiful big brown eyes, I smile at him and I beam at the woman coming up behind him.

Amanda and I had been dating for a few months and tonight was the night I got to meet Zain for the first time.

We sat around, talked, and eventually they went on into the game. That is the last time I remember not having Zain in my life.

He was so excited to tell Amanda’s students that his mom was dating Kermit. Never, have I been so proud to be referred to as a green frog.

His mom and I got married that next July. Amanda wanted Zain to walk down the aisle with her in addition to her father. I was standing, waiting anxiously to see Amanda as my bride, when I saw her father run down the side of the sanctuary with a panicked look on his face. In just a few minutes, everything was back to normal and my wife-to-be was walking down the aisle with her father and her son. Come to find out, literally seconds before they were walk down the aisle, Zain disappeared. In his own innocent and innocuous way, he had gone to look for his mom and just wandered off.

I had the privilege of being able to call Zain my son right from the start. As any good fathers do, I started introducing him to all of the music I enjoyed — one of those genres being Broadway musicals. I remember exposing him to the music of Les Mis, Rent, In The Heights, Billy Elliot, Phantom of the Opera and doing everything except pulling out my power points while explaining the plots of these and other musicals. One day, in his own innocent and adamant way he announced that he wanted to audition for the next children’s show at our local community theatre. Thus began many long hours taking him to rehearsals and picking him up from rehearsals, waiting in the car, waiting in the theatre, until that day he decided he was going to audition for the acting department at our magnet performing arts high school. After four years of that, he was one of the only students in his graduating class to continue to pursue acting as a career in college.

In his own innocent and extraordinary way, Zain is not an easy person to describe. In his own innocent and bombastic way, Zain is always absorbing a new project, coming up with a different idea, launching another scheme. He is always on the look for something new, interesting, and exciting. He defies explanation — he is an actor, a social justice revolutionary, an avid outdoorsman, a fisherman, a rock climber, a skateboarder, a juggler, and, best of all, my oldest son.

Zain was four years old when the movie Billy Elliot came out. I took Amanda and him to see it — he was too young to really appreciate it, but that movie meant so much to me that it was ever-present in our house. I owned it on VHS, DVD, and eventually, digitally — both the movie and the musical. No where in the movie does anyone ever utter the line “Dance, Billy, Dance” but in my mind, I feel like someone should have yelled that. They would be encouraging Billy to do what he loves and do what he does best. Whenever I see Zain perform on stage, I always want to scream out “Dance, Zainey, Dance” because I want to encourage Zain to do what he loves and do what he does best. I want him to be the best version of himself.

I want to be very clear, I don’t live vicariously through him. But what I do is live joyfully through him. Everything he does (well, most everything) brings me joy. I watch him transform into every character he has created on stage and literally don’t recognize my own son as he becomes this new person.

The final moment of Billy Elliot is of an adult Billy, dancing in Mathew Bourne’s Swan Lake, leaping across the stage. The last scene before the movie goes to credits is Billy’s father gasping in awe at his son’s artistic beauty. That is how I feel every time I see Zain perform.

Dance, Zainey, Dance.

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