8BD Blog Entry
Daddy-Daughter Dances: I Do Not Want to Date My Daughter

daddy-daughter dances

I attended my first-ever Daddy-Daughter Dance this past weekend. I know some fathers love these kinds of events, but I was fairly apprehensive about going.

Why? Because aside from perhaps family weddings, when does a father ever get dressed up, buy his 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 über-intense dads who seemed a little too emotional during some of the slow dances, but, largely, the night was, if not innocent, fairly innocuous.

But I think the almost exclusive use of the word “date” to describe father-daughter interactions just promotes this sick romanticization of our relationship that’s detrimental to both of us.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.

You see, 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).

Louis CK Daughter Diner Scene

Pic Related.

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 pine-box derby together. Meanwhile, I can’t take my daughter out to lunch on my own without someone asking me if we’re on a “date”.

SeinfeldI realize there’s an element of semantics to all this. (Complaining about a word makes me feel like a hacky Seinfeld clone – “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 father-daughter interactions just promotes this sick romanticization of our relationship that’s detrimental to both of 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.


Author: Tom Burns View all posts by
Tom Burns is a husband, a dad, and a veteran of the educational publishing industry, living just outside of Detroit Rock City. After years of obsessing about what his daughter was reading, he founded BuildingaLibrary.com, a website devoted to helping parents find the right books for their kids. He’s served as a contributing editor for several print and online publications, and his writing has been featured on Brightly, Time Magazine, Reading Rainbow, The Huffington Post, xoJane, and various other sites. He’s also made appearances on The Meredith Vieira Show and HuffPost Live.
  • I think one of the hurdles to overcome IS the fact that we won’t call dads and son outings “dates” too. I think it falls into that class where men are afraid of being feminized, which in turn, insinuates that the men are less than men. So…I don’t know what the solution is – I don’t really agree with father-daughter dates either. Why can’t, like you mentioned, a father just hang out with his daughter without it being romanticized?

  • I think you’re over-analyzing it but that’s just my opinion. I have no problem with the term “date” because you know exactly what context it’s being used in. Frankly, I’m more disturbed by the people that put some kind of sexual label on it. I took my daughter to a Charity Gala just the other day and she kept calling it her Deeder Dodder Date, which was just fine with me. The only time I could see the argument being valid is if you use it every single time you take your kid somewhere, in which case you are probably just looking for validation for doing what you are already supposed to be doing as a father. Just my .02

    • I don’t mind kids using the term and I’m not calling for a full-on jihad on the word “date” or anything. And I don’t think that daddy-daughter dates imply anything sexual. That being said, I DO think that the term contributes to the “romanticization” of the dad-daughter relationship. That romanticizing isn’t normally sexual, but there is this tendency to promote dads as the “perfect men” for their daughters and I think that’s weird. Particularly because it’s a very gendered thing. Mom and sons don’t go on dates or go to dances together. But, for some reaons, when dads and daughters hang out, we borrow all of these tropes and terms that are normally used for dating couples (they get dressed up, they go to dances, they go on dates, the dad brings flowers, etc), and are those really the associations we want to be making? It just seems odd to me.

      • I don’t do the flowers and candy, but we did get dressed up for the ball and danced to a song, which I found to be a very cool thing to get to share with my daughter. My wife and I both make an effort to spend one on one time with both kids on a regular basis and although we rarely call them dates, it does happen occasionally, regardless of which kids we have. My point is that if someone does say they are going on a date with one of their kids, whether it’s Mom/Son, Dad/Daughter, etc, I never think, “Wow, that’s kind of gross”. At a certain age, you stop doing that anyway and it becomes a non issue. Again, that’s just me and everyone is entitled to their own thoughts on it. I liked the underwear article but I’m just not on board with this one.

  • Carol “You Sit Here” S.

    I share your discomfort with the acceptability of “daddy-daughter” but not “mommy-son” (can you say “Norman Bates”?), but it occurred to me that it might be good to set the bar for girls for what they should expect in a date. And I don’t mean flowers and chocolates and outdated gender roles, but just courtesy and respect. Too many young girls lack self-esteem and eagerly embrace attention at any cost in desperate attempts to be popular. Which is not to say that young boys don’t have self-esteem issues as well and also allow themselves to be treated badly in order to fit in. I wonder…how could mothers help their sons to have self-respect?

  • ABM

    I don’t think people think these things through very well… the “date” aspect of the daddy-daughter dance hearkens back to the sexist concept that your daughter is your property until you “give her away” (or actually sell her) to another man (her husband) to become his property. And that’s not cool or modern, and you obviously know it, and it weirds you out. I don’t blame you one bit. I plan on spending time with my daughter in many fun and varied settings, but this ain’t one of them.

  • Jeslyn Elizabeth Agee

    It is completely normal to find a spouse that is either similar or unlike a girls father. We learn things from parents, and thats why as parents we strive to be great role models of supportive, loving, teaching parents etc. Of course we are not perfect, but I would disagree with the author, if my son marries someone who has some same qualities, I think it means he appreciates those things and I dont find it creepy at all, its normal.

  • Fiona

    When I was a little girl, I enjoyed getting dressed up in a pretty dress, going out for a nice dinner and watching the symphony with my mom (even if I did fall asleep after 10 minutes). I felt so fancy.

    I also enjoyed putting on a pretty dress, going out for a nice dinner and going to dance with my dad. He’s a really good ballroom dancer. (I still insist on a dance with him whenever we find ourselves at family weddings or the like where they’re playing that sort of music). I felt so fancy.

    For me these things were the same. They weren’t dates. They were just fancy “grown up” evenings with my parents sharing things that we liked to do together. I think it depends on the surrounding context. “Dating your daughter” sounds creepy. But dancing with my dad shouldn’t be (IMO). It’s unfortunate to me that this has all gotten mixed up together in a really bizarre and creepy way.

  • Surlie

    Ewww, I would not want to dance like that with my dad? Eww. That’s just nasty

  • Guest

    The real problem with the dad-daughter date, walking the daughter down the aisle, and asking only dad for his permission to marry the daughter, is that with these we wrongfully place the dad above the mother, who conceived, carried the baby, and gave birth to then any. If we had been fair in the creation of these sexist rules, we would have created mother daughter dates, asking mother’s permission to marry the daughter, and mother walking the daughter down the aisle.
    These three practices tend to brainwash females into thinking that they must abide by these rules. Let us stop exalting men over women. Dad is not more important than mom.

  • Heather B.

    I like your attitude of focus on your relationship with your daughter. So important to hang with her, have a strong bond and build her up. We just started reading a new (well renewed, re-release) book about what you’re saying – making the investment into the life of our daughters, walking the journey to grow their relationship and a confident woman some day. It’s called “She Calls Me Daddy: 7 Things You need to Know About Building a Complete Daughter, “by Robert Wolgemuth. The original book came out in the 90s, a best-seller. Now his daughters have contributed to this re-release. I highly recommend it.

  • Surlie

    Strong daughters do not come from dads They come from mother AND fathers. Please stop saying this and stop confusing females children of the world.
    I do not know why females started to accept this man-made doctrine that places fathers in a position over the female child’s mother, who we ought realize and know are really the most detrimental esteem builder for the daughter.
    Mothers, along with sisters and grandmothers, are the like gender role model in the daughter’s life who love and guide her. Father is important, but he is not the KING people and he is not the only parent to their daughter Stop placing dad in a high position above the mother!!.

  • Guest

    Love what you wrote. Healthy relationships. Healthy boundaries. Pure gold. Thanks for writing this piece!