I went to a high-school graduation the other week.
The crowd was amped. The parents never stopped looking for their children, and when they picked them out among the sea of green or white gowns, there was frantic waving, shouting, and something uniquely American: the “Wooo!” that is the hallmark of any excited person living in these United States.
Woo! It took me ages to learn how to do this, with varying levels of success. The first time I tried it, I adopted the Julia Roberts version, the one where she’s at the polo fields in “Pretty Woman”? In that spotted brown dress with the big, big hat? “Woof! Woof! Woof!”
I had to try, you see, because the Woo! had not made its way into our family. Certainly it never came out of a woman’s mouth. Men, in my family, express approval with stern nods, compressed lips, vaguely approving eyebrows, I think. No one ever smiled. Certainly no one ever whooped. So I had to work on it, make it sound casual, make it sound like I really meant it.
But here in America, we whoop. We whoop at everything. We whoop at goals; we whoop when people get married. We whoop when we have managed to land a Cheeto into our moths after tossing it into the air. We whoop when we have manage to get on-board a flight at the last minute.
I know this, because after many, many years of practicing, I have developed a passable “Wooo!” and I deploy it at will. With impunity, whenever I damn well feel like it. Sometimes I think I might even Wooo! more than I high-five. (At best, it’s a close call.)
Now that I am 41, I can “Wooo!” with the best of them.
Anyway. I digress. When it was my turn to graduate high school, like five thousand years ago, I was kind of…trembling. Not from excitement. No, I was worried that when I crossed the stage, there would be crickets. I wasn’t especially popular; I had fought with all of my best friends during school at one time or another, and I knew my parents wouldn’t make a peep. I didn’t have any visiting family, either, not that they would make a peep. Sure enough, they didn’t.
But I was lucky; apparently I did have friends, and they whooped for me, even if the size of whooping was smaller than it had been for our homecoming queen or princesses, or that girl who was so nice that everyone liked her even if her accomplishments were questionable and she missed all the college application deadlines by accident.
I may have dreamed this. But I think, months later, my parents commented on how enthusiastic Americans were, how happy they were. How awesome it was to hear all the noise, how joyful these parents were for such a small accomplishment as graduating high school. What, after all, is there to be proud of? Almost everyone graduates from high school.
I think I may have smiled weakly.
Anyway. Maybe it wasn’t by coincidence that, not long later, at a baseball game, with my brother and I yelling at the players and me occasionally get poked in the leg by my Ma, who was not excited at all to hear her daughter yelling, “You suck!”* at a random player on the field, my dad got up and did the wave. And out of his mouth came a noise that made me freeze solid. It was a cross between a cow in some kind of pain, although it sounded like it wasn’t actually sure if it was in pain, and Chewbacca. “Uuuhhhhhh! Whuuuuuuuh!”
I stared. My dad was cheering. He was working on it, just like I was working on my Woof.
Four years later, I graduated from college. First, I heard my brother. “THAT’S MY SISTER!” and that was awesome, but then, everyone already knew my brother is capable of generating awesome. Then, the dying-cow-choking-Wookie noise. “Uuuhhhhhh! Whuuuuuuuh!”
My dad, cheering for me.
Never was a sound so welcome, ever.
Here’s to the dads. The ones who buck everything they know, everything they think they know, just to make a kid feel special.
*I no longer do this. The PollyAnna in me says “Everyone is trying their best on that field.” And then, “Oh, look, hot dogs.”