As a little kid, I used to go on "dates" with my dad to the movies. I loved these outings, just the two of us, but to some people daddy-daughter-dates are gross, "everything that is wrong with the world," an affront to feminism, and... somehow related to the epidemic of incest in this country?? If you think daddy-daughter dates are some sort of scourge, let me put on my purity gloves, sit a tiara on your confused head, and pour you a very dainty cup of YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING from my porcelain teapot.
Is it because they're called dates? Does the term "date" bring with it some overture of weird sexualized voodoo for you? I mean we call kid meet-ups "play-dates" and no one has a problem with that. Moms take their sons out for individual "dates" without local papers filling with op-eds. But we have some difficulty figuring out how we want to feel about daddys in this country. They are heroes for wearing a Baby Bjorn, clueless when it comes to diaper changes, idiots for discovering feminism only once they've had daughters of their own. They're the problem, they're the solution. We want them to pay attention to their kids, but not too much.
As a mom who totally wants her daughter to experience daddy-daughter dates, they're innocent and so necessary.
I recognize that some of the fuss around daddy-daughter dates has to do with the show of genial manners — daddy helping little miss into her chair, and treating her like a princess — that we associate with "purity balls." But I assure you, as someone who has had many daddy-daughter dates with my father, and now as a mom who totally wants her daughter to experience these as well, that they're innocent and so necessary.
Fathers play a crucial role in their daughter's lives. According to The Institute for Family Studies, girls who have highly involved fathers are "most likely to have relationships with men that are emotionally intimate and fulfilling." These daughters are more likely to expect emotional support from their boyfriends and less likely to be pressured into sex. The research argues that these daughters ultimately have "more satisfying, more long-lasting marriages."
Fathers who invest time in the raising of their sons likewise engender more empathy, per the Fatherhood Involvement Research Alliance. The answer to the infamous man problem in society is not for dads to spend less time with their children; it's always to spend more time.
So what are we afraid of?
There are terrible men who do sexualize their daughters, but the devoted guy who chooses to invest his personal time in building up his child's ego isn't him.
My dad often bought me flowers and carved time out of his busy schedule to spend with me. He modeled the respect I should expect from future partners, and tried to help boost my confidence and self-esteem. To be clear, buying your child flowers and taking an interest in their lives isn't a sinister kind of sexual-partner role-play. It's the complete opposite.
The quality time we spent together encouraged me to see intimacy as something that doesn't always have to be sexual and so when I did begin to date, I knew just because a boy was nice to me and took me out, I didn't owe him anything.
Our dads are our first example of how we view men — how we think they should act and how they should treat us. By going the extra distance to signal "this time is important, and our bond is important" through designated one-on-one time with their daughters, fathers are setting their kids up for a strong paternal relationship, and in the process, immunizing their kids against the kind of creepy, predatory men we all fear.
As I grew up, things that might seem taboo to the average girl to talk to their father about were relatively easy for me. I didn't shy away from my dad just because he was a guy. My dad gave me a ton of advice. He shared his own dating philosophy and was honest about the mistakes he made when he was younger. This transparency made me smarter when it came time for me to start dating. I knew that I should always respect myself and that men should respect me, too; that I should not feel pressured into doing anything I didn't want to do. The quality time we spent together encouraged me to see intimacy as something that doesn't always have to be sexual, and so when I did begin to date, I knew just because a boy was nice to me and took me out, I didn't owe him anything. I already had high expectations for the way I wanted to be treated, because my dad set the bar.
Whenever a boy treated me badly, teased me, or hurt my feelings, I knew I didn't deserve that — and I have my dad to thank. If you have a problem with a girl's first "date-like" experience being with her dad, or a daughter sharing her first dance with her father, let me just say that I would rather it be with my dad than with a random teenage boy for the first time.
But, you might think, why should the time a father and daughter spend together be called a "date"? Why must the girl dress like a princess, and be treated like a princess? And look, the proliferation of glittery dresses and purses and hair accessories is quite independent of the dads — have you heard of the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique? You have to reserve that thing months out! Young girls choose the trappings of royalty for themselves, in the same way sane adults choose to dress in drop-crotch overalls and paint themselves entirely green like Gamora.
I'm arguing that the more this world seems littered with terrible men who hurt women, the more we need guys who want to take their daughters out and teach them, "You are worth the world, and you should only accept partners who treat you like a superhero." The more we have grotty old men sexualizing teen and pre-teen girls, the more crucially important it is that we take our values out on the town — to a movie, maybe, or a coffee shop for a large vat of cappuccino froth — and build an action-force of daddys and daughters who want something better for the world.
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