Tom Burns loves spending time with his daughter, but wishes people wouldn’t romanticize their relationship
I attended my first-ever Daddy-Daughter Dance last year. I know some fathers love these kinds of events, but I was fairly apprehensive about going.
Why? Because aside from perhaps family weddings, when do you ever get dressed up, buy your date flowers, and go dancing without there being some kind of romantic agenda on the table? I almost have panic attacks whenever I think back to all of those poor, unfortunate girls who danced with me at high school proms, tolerating my sweaty awkwardness as we lumbered through the long version of “The Lady in Red.”
I have a lifetime of iconography, emotions, and baggage that my mind associates with formal dances, so the idea of attending one with my DAUGHTER…yeah, it made me uncomfortable.
Fortunately, the night ended up being much less strange and much more benign than I thought it would be. As we walked onto the decorated rec center basketball court, the DJs were playing John Mayer’s “Daughters.” (Of course, they were.) The rest of the night was spent listening to Taylor Swift and “Gangnam Style”. There was face-painting and cookies and, after the scheduled balloon drop accidentally dropped half an hour early, my daughter and her friend asked if we could leave, so they could play at home. There were a few uber-intense dads who seemed a little too emotional during some of the slow dances, but, largely, the night was, if not innocent, fairly innocuous.
Let me be clear—I would NEVER criticize a father for taking their child to a Daddy-Daughter Dance. (Especially now that I’m a member of the club.) I really appreciate fathers who actively look for special events to share with their daughters. But I do have an issue with how society portrays father-daughter interactions, a portrayal that is, in part, reinforced by events like Daddy-Daughter Dances.
Because dads and daughters, apparently, can’t just spend time together. They can’t hang out. They can’t go on field trips. Rather, if a father and daughter are out together in public, everyone says they’re on a DADDY-DAUGHTER DATE.
That’s the word they use—DATE.
For the record, I do not want to go on a date with my daughter.
Do I want to spend time with her? Of course I do. She’s a fantastic lunch companion, I’ve never seen anyone enjoy a trip to a museum more than she does, and there are few things in the world I enjoy more than having a long, rambling conversation with her while we lazily walk around the zoo with her on my shoulders.
But, if I’m being honest, the term “Daddy-Daughter Date” just creeps me out to my core.
Why? Because I went on dates, a lot of dates, before I met her mother, and many of those dates were flirty, awkward, tense, embarrassing, and, occasionally, sexual. And I don’t like associating ANY of those words with my relationship with my daughter.
I’m not saying that the word “date” is an inherently sexual word. It isn’t. The term “play-date” is one of the most common parenting terms around. However, beyond play-dates, in the context of parenting, “date” has become a very gendered word. The easiest way to tell this is to just look at how the word “date” is used.
If I said, “I’m going out on a daddy-daughter date tonight,” people would say “aww”, I’d get appreciative winks, and some old woman would come out of nowhere, take my hand, and whisper, “She’s a lucky girl.” (I swear this has happened to me before.)
If a Mom said, “I’m going out on a mommy-son (or even mother-son) date tonight,” people would look around nervously, eye contact would be avoided, and that same old woman would take her hand, much more tightly, and whisper, “You’re going to ruin him.”
The Mom could say “We’re going to spend some mom-son time” or “We’re taking a mom-son trip”—either of those options probably wouldn’t cause anyone to raise an eyebrow. But add in that word “date” and it starts getting uncomfortable. And it only gets more uncomfortable when you start associating it with father-son relationships.
A dad would NEVER say “I’m going out on a father-son date tonight to Home Depot.” Or even worse—a “daddy-son date.” I know that doesn’t have the same playful alliteration as “daddy-daughter,” but it’s telling that most dads would never use the casual term “daddy” when describing their relationship with their son, unless the son in question was less than a year old. Daddies don’t play with their big-boy sons. It’s just fathers. Fathers and sons.
And fathers and sons don’t go on dates. They own plumbing supply stores. Maybe they’ll enter a pinewood derby together, but that’s it.
Meanwhile, I can’t take my daughter out to lunch on my own without someone asking me if we’re on a “date”.
I realize there’s an element of semantics to all this. (Complaining about a word makes me feel like I’m doing a hacky Seinfeld impression—“Why do we park on the driveway and drive on the parkway?”) But I think the almost-exclusive use of the word “date” to describe daddy-daughter interactions just promotes this sick romanticization of our relationship that’s detrimental to both us.
I know my daughter loves me, but I don’t want her to love me. Yes, it’s very common for sons and daughters to, at one point, express their desire to marry their parents, but that’s a fairly innocent phenomenon. They see the bond between their parents, they know they always want to be with their parents, they don’t totally understand what a married relationship is—I can understand why they’d ask to marry their moms or dads.
But, as the kids get older, there is this odd societal tendency to pair up the sons with the mothers and the dads with the daughters. The mothers are held up to be the “domestic ideal” for their sons, experts at cooking and kissing boo-boos. The dads, on the other hand, are just held up as “ideal men,” which is a terrible role for a dad to fall into. Because who can live up to that? And who would want their daughters to end up with a partner that’s “just like them”?
That creeps me out more than anything else. If, when my daughter eventually finds someone to love, that person acts exactly like I do, I will know I’ve done something wrong. Because I’m not trying to condition my daughter with my love. I don’t want to teach her that people who like bad jokes, comic books, and Doctor Who are the best kind of people in the world—maybe the kind of person she might just end up with one day. I want her to have her own preferences and make her own choices, without having me unconsciously influence her notion of an “ideal” partner.
I want her to find someone who gets her excited for her own reasons. Maybe she’ll be into tattoo enthusiasts or chemical engineers or strong, silent types. (I am the opposite of all of those things.) I want that decision to be up to her and her alone, and this notion that she and I go out on “dates”, I think it gets in the way of that. It muddies the waters. It misrepresents our relationship.
I have a beautiful paternal relationship with my daughter. I’m her dad and I love and protect her. I also have a ridiculous amount of fun when I’m in her company. But, when I hang out with everyone else in my life whom I love and enjoy, I never call it a “date”. That word is reserved for my trips out with my wife, the woman who I capital-L “Love.” So, why would I use that term for hanging out with my daughter?
When I’m spending time with my daughter, it can be an event, an outing, an experience, an excellent adventure—whatever. But, alliteration be damned, daddies and daughters simply should not date.
I spend time with my daughter and I enjoy her company. Our relationship is strong enough that I don’t need to make it any more cutesy or romantic and, c’mon, why would I want to? I’m her dad. And that’s enough.
An earlier version of this article appeared on 8BitDad.com; Images courtesy of the author.