“There was somebody behind me and he said 'it looks beautiful' and I turned around and it was my dad. I couldn't believe it. I was so happy I just started laughing and then I ran to him and gave him a big hug,” Scarlette said.
Scarlette's father, U.S. Marine Staff Sgt. William Liesenfelder, drove 16 hours from Pensacola, Fla., to take his daughter to the dance Saturday night, then leave right away after the dance to be back in Florida for duty Monday morning.
“These little moments like a first daddy-daughter dance, are the opportunities we get as parents to show our kids how much they mean to us. I just felt like I needed and wanted to be there,” he said.
The staff at Inspire Salon in Caledonia was in on the surprise set up by Scarlette's mom, Macenzie Brown. They arranged to record the meeting. “There wasn't a dry eye in the place,” said Macenzie. “It was amazing and the staff there were so incredibly supportive and willing to help.”
When Scarlette saw her dad she jumped out of the beauty salon chair and into her dad's waiting arms, wrapping herself around him in a hug so tight neither wanted to let go.
William has been a Marine for 12 years and missed much of Scarlette's life already. He was deployed to Afghanistan for 10 months, spent two years stations in Japan and then another deployment. He then landed in California for three years before his latest assignment in Florida.
“I just have missed so much and I didn't want to miss her first dance,” he said. “I knew it meant a lot to her and it meant a lot to me to be able to be there.”
William said this was the first time it was really in his power to be able to be there for his daughter and he didn't want to miss the opportunity to let her know how much she meant to him.
Scarlette said she couldn't have been more happy.
After the hair appointment, Scarlette and her dad had time to visit the Grand Rapids Museum where Scarlette was intrigued by the whale exhibit. Then they went for ice cream before making their way to the dance.
Scarlette said she couldn't stop smiling all night. Dressed in his Marine uniform, William and Scarlette twirled and danced the night away along with other dads and daughters at the AYSO dance at the Thornapple Kellogg Middle School.
William said another dad took some photos of the two as they danced and several others shook his hand and thanked him for his service. Dance organizers refused to accept his money for tickets to the dance or for the photos. “It was pretty heartwarming. I certainly didn't expect all that. It was a good feeling,” he said.
The best part, he said, was watching his daughter smiling all night long as she enjoyed the dance.
William credited his ex-wife with helping make the surprise and the special night happen. Scarlette's stepfather also graciously bowed out of taking Scarlette to the dance, giving William and Scarlette a chance to have their own special night together.
“I felt like a princess all night,” Scarlette said.
Shortly after the two-hour dance ended, Scarlette and her dad had to say goodbye and William had to make the 16-hour return trip to Florida.
“Then I didn't like a princess any more,” Scarlette said.
But fairy tales always come with a happy ending. Scarlette is counting down the days until she will visit her dad in Florida and they'll get to spend all of spring break week together.
William said the trip for one short daddy-daughter dance was long, but it was worth every mile.
“I would do it again in a minute,” he said. “She's growing up so fast and I just don't want to miss any more.”