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.”
“Daddy-daughter date” brings to mind Atticus Finch and Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird. “Mother-son date” brings to mind Lucille Bluth and Buster from Arrested Development.
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 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”.
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.
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Thank you for this article!!!!!! When I was a teenager my mom convinced me to go out with my stepfather when she was on vacation. He acted like it was a date, opened the car door, acted romantic the whole time. It made me super uncomfortable. Then when we got home he told me that I had “nice breasts” and asked if I “liked him” and told me to go lie down in the bed with him. I started crying and went to bed, seriously afraid that he was going to rape me. The next day I found out that… Read more »
I was six years old when I started going on ״Dates”with my uncle, Andy yes they were always referred to as dates by my parents and other adults. We would go to movies, plays, the symphony, and ballets. The evening usually ended with my being molested or raped No I am not ok with the term “Date” for child adult events!!!
I’m here because we failed to register for the dance deadline in time… and my kiddo is crestfallen. This stated, I’m dubious she’s thinking on the outing with me – I’m fairly convinced it’s all FOMO. All this stated, we do a ton together now, albeit it’s hardly gender-typical play. While I completely understand (and appreciate) pomp, and formal outings… a lot of that stuff is BORING, especially for kids. Yes, they get to dance with Dad, but is a specific event required to get it in? We already dance… at home rocking out to 80s pop music, a twirl… Read more »
I completely agree. Yes, I think fathers should spend time with their daughters, take them to all the zoos and circuses they want, even spoil them on occasion. But I think all of this can be done in the privacy of a family. To set up public spectacles in schools or churches and call them “daddy daughter dances” is bizarre for several reasons. First, people in my parents’ and grandparents’ generation never heard of such a thing and they got by without having to worry about things like “human sex trafficking.” It forces young ladies to think of themselves as… Read more »
This is not a real world problem. It is a problem in your head.
As human beings, we only have a limited amount of time and energy to deal with problems. Let’s focus on the real ones – you know, the ones that might ruin the world altogether.
Here’s a pro tip: If you don’t like the phrase “daddy-daughter” date, just avoid thinking about it, talking about it, writing about it. You’ll be 99% less creeped out if you do.
You shouldn’t be so freaked out of the word “date”. Just like you go on a date with your spouse to spend one-on-one time together, you can (and I propose, you should) do the same with your children! The beauty of this is that your dates don’t have to happen at night and don’t have to look like traditional “dinner and a movie.” going on a bike ride with Daddy in the park; having ice cream with Mommy; getting to go to the hardware store with Dad; going shopping with Mom for a family member’s birthday gift. The kids simply… Read more »
Too bad. Daughters will learn how to be treated while out with you. Who should pay for the date, who should open her door. She will learn to be respected by you, and learn that she will deserve respect when she eventually marries. Perhaps I am creepy, but my five year old son and I are going on a “mother/son” date this Saturday. He is going to take me bowling while we spend time together. He will pay for the date, and open my door. He will also learn how to treat girls with respect and kindness.
I agree. And good for you and your son.
I’m a few years late on this, but I wanted to say I LOVE THIS!! I feel EXACTLY the same way, and always thought perhaps I am the only one to feel this way!! Thank you!
I love this. I’m a woman, but this whole “daddy daughter date” thing seems to have become a phenomenon after when it would have applied to me, thankfully.
My dad took me out for things just the two of us and that was special, but the whole “date” part that people have added completely weirds me out, for all and more of the reasons listed by the author.
Yeah…sounds like you spend too much time around people who are very rigid in their perceptions of gender roles and even homophobic. I take my sons on dates. Lots of mums take their daughters on dates. Lots of dads take their sons on dates. It simply means planning exclusive time together for a specific calendar DATE. It’s weird that you find that a creepy concept. It’s different from just saying “lets go to the zoo today” or “lets have lunch before we go to the supermarket” it’s planned. They feel special. Because it’s a planned date. Gender and cute alliteration… Read more »
I spent 5 minutes saying what you just said. Almost to a “T”. There is something else going on there. The biggest of them all is that society has romancized the word date. A date is not romantic. A date to a hotel room is romantic. A date to the movies, dinner, a dance, sporting event etc. is simply a scheduling of said event(s) with that person or people. Married couples go on dates. How can that be you say? They are already married so there’s no need to date? Because they would be subjecting themselves to romance they already… Read more »
This seems like an overreaction to the whole purpose of which is to spend time with your daughter.. As Shakespeare said, a Rose by any other name would smell just as sweet. The purpose of this “date” is to spend time with someone you love. If that time does not creep someone out, why should what its called…..to some extent it appears that what we are trying to avoid – the compartmentalisation of relationships, is exactly what is happening. I have a daughter and i spend time with her going to meals, taking her to spelling bee and kung fu… Read more »
I feel like daddy daughter dates set a good standard for male interaction. If you take away your ‘this is creepy because of how others may perceive it” mentality. Then you’re showing your daughter a good time in a manner which is elevated from the average trip to the ice cream shop. If nobody teaches her that treating her like a princess is normal and expected, any Johnny football hero can put on a tie and spend 50 bucks on her in the future …and she’ll feel like he’s earning her love and affections. I hope by my daughter daddy… Read more »
Lol, really ? ”teaches her that treating her like a princess is normal and expected”. I admit that we should respect them as any other people, without male/female distinction, but what you say is a bit much. Just making her understand the difference between a good person and a jerk should be enough. No need to make her expect to live a fairy tale. We’re not in 1850 anymore, women have nowadays every rights a man have, the whole point now is respecting them in the daily life, and that’s not something the ”ladies” need to work for.. It is… Read more »
I’m going to teach my sons if any girl demands to be treated like a princess they should ask to see her patent of nobility first
Old thread, but here’s the thing: my kid shouldn’t need a dance to “teach her how a lady should be treated” because there isn’t a way I think girls should be treated that boys shouldn’t. Sexism shrouded in politeness and pedestals is still sexism. Practice dances are creepy to me both because of their start in the chastity movement but also because girls who are raised to be assertive and not taught that girls and boys are inherently different, girls being fragiler and needing to be taken care of, will expect appropriate, equal treatment by a partner. I am not… Read more »
At my house dating was never about sex. It was about spending time getting to know someone and building relationships. I had tea, lunch, and shopping dates with my mother, aunts and grandmother. I had play dates with my friends, and from as far back as I can remember, dad-daughter dates with my amazing father. He was a model dad (he passed in 2011) and a true gentleman through and through. He taught me that a real man treats a lady with thought, care, and respect. As a result it never occurred to me to feel pressured to have sex… Read more »
Thank you so much for posting this. I find it really bothersome. The word DAte and father daughter dates. Then to see moms on Facebook dressing the little girl up with make up red lips and a white dress. One was a v neck halter. She literally looked like her mother on the date. And I love this family and they are Christian. But wow it was so inappropriate. It’s not just them. My husband and I both have the same sentiments and will not get on board with that. Besides the questionable parts like calling it a date and… Read more »
I think it’s all about the motivation behind it. I have no problem taking my daughter on “dates” and then also just hanging out or playing. I agree with the author that you want to avoid setting yourself as the ideal, but I also think fathers have the responsibility and privilege of helping our daughters properly value themselves. They should have expectations—generally, on “actual” dates, and specifically, in how they choose men. I don’t care if the guy she chooses doesn’t like sports, but I do care very much if he has her well-being in mind, like I do. That… Read more »
Tom – thoughtful article – thanks for starting the conversation. I am one that uses the phrase, but I think the sadder reality is there a ton of dads of daughters (and sons for that matter) that don’t spend intentional time with them. Guys like you that want to spend time with your daughter (call it a date or not) are the exception, but it’s fun to see momentum of young dads that actually do give a rip, keep showing up, and are trying to engage with their kids in meaningful, emotionally connected ways. Rethinking my submission of “10 Daddy… Read more »
I have two boys. I state that ads a disclaimer that I don’t and most likely won’t ever have to deal with the situation you described. However, my 8 year old son regularly asks my wife if he can go on a date with her (and we don’t find it creepy.) And when I take my 4 year old to the skating rink and post a picture of him with the caption “skate-date with my boy-o” I don’t find it creepy. Maybe if I tried calling it a “father-son date”, but when my kids think of a “date” that just… Read more »
I never went to a daddy-daughter dance with my dad: but some of my fondest memories are of our daddy-daughter dates. They were always about trying something new, be it food or a new gallery. But for me it was also it was about me learning how I should be treated. He would point out behavior of dating couples in restaraunts. Say if a man was being short/rude with the waiter, not pull out his dates’ chair, or not open her car door. I take my son on dates now. Attempting not just to have fun, but to also show… Read more »
It gets creepier if your daughter’s name is Destiny!
The power/ impact of a word never ceases to amaze me . . . no wonder Freud et al never pull out the dictionaries in the middle of a session . . . the wrong word could make Rorschach obsolete, or is it the right word?
Freud n Gustav Jung would have a field day with this, society pushing the electra complex?
I think daddy daughter/mother son dances are meant to be cute n fun, innocent. I think the term date is applied similarly as “play-date”.
Great article, Tom! Some fine points.
However, one very minor quibble as a former cub scout…it’s pineWOOD derby, not pine BOX derby. Haha. A pinebox derby might be something Eddie and Herman Munster do together, though…
Hahahaha! Good to know. I guess Pinebox does sound pretty… mortuary when you think about it. 🙂
I’ve given this some thought and what bothers me is how, in 2014, we’re stigmatizing father daughter dances or even father daughter dates. A date with your daughter is no more then a special time set aside for the two of you to do something together. At my daughter’s wedding, the “ father daughter dance” is one of the most memorable moments in my life that I will have in my heart until the day I die. Is it the word “date” that people are struggling with? In a time where we’re finally making some progress with respect to dads… Read more »
Here’s the thing – nowhere in my article do I ever say ANYTHING negative about fathers spending time with their daughters. Of course, dads should spend as much as time as possible with their kids and hanging out with my daughter is probably my favorite thing in the entire world. However, what I was trying to address in my article is the fact that I think society romanticizes the father-daughter relationship. There’s this creepy veneer of idolization and romance that people layer onto the relationship — fathers are held as their daughter’s ideal men, people joke about the dad protecting… Read more »
Tom Burns, (I use your full name so as to not appear that I’m talking to myself) you know I’ve read other things you’ve written and I’m with you all the way. Never intended for it to appear that you didn’t encourage interaction, I know you do and from what I know of you, you have a lot of special moments. Ya see,I don’t see it as romanticizing in that there is no romance involved. From when my daughter would put her feet on top of my size 13’s and we would dance in the living room to the father… Read more »
Dude… Did you read the article? Great job Tom Burns!
Oh, and, to clarify, I have no problem with dads and daughters dancing. Of course, a father and daughter dancing together at a wedding is going to be a special occasion. But the daddy-daughter dances — which are structured exactly like romantic high school dances – and a father and daughter dancing together a family event are two completely different things.
If it wasn’t 2014, they wouldn’t be called “daddy-daughter dates” at all.
I remember that the local girl scout troupes in my area had a collective “Father-Daughter Dance” when I was in 4th or 5th grade. My dad and I were both a little creeped out by it, so we ended up hosting a craft booth together. It was an activity we both enjoyed, we spent time working on this stuff at home together anyways, and it was a way for us to enjoy a strictly father-daughter event without the incestuous implications. In response to a user’s comment above: yes, fathers are supposed to help their daughters understand their intrinsic worth and… Read more »
I certainly understand that a certain context of the word “date” would make you uncomfortable. I, too, have 2 daughters and I have no interest in confusing their sensibilities, however I could not disagree with you more. Granted my girls are young. My oldest is about to turn 5. I firmly believe that as their father it is my job to teach them how they should be treated as a woman someday. Not in a gross way, but to be treated with respect, courtesy and love. My oldest has so much fun getting dressed up to go and do something… Read more »