I’ve been doing a lot of thinking since I posted about the “date your daughter” video. While I stand by everything I said, and I don’t believe I need to apologize or clarify anything, I do have some further thoughts.
I am not opposed to parents spending time with their children. I’m not opposed to dressing up in fancy clothes, if that’s what the child wants. I may think it’s weird to play on the playground in prom attire, but let’s face it—was there really any playing going on? That whole video was staged, not a real “date.” I challenged the heteronormativity/two-parent family model, but I also suggested that quality one-on-one time with our kids is a good thing.
After some more thinking, I concluded that one of the things that makes me feel creepy and strange about it is the idea that dads must show their daughters how a man should treat them. This is pure nonsense for several reasons.
1. It assumes dating and marriage, rather than personal growth and development, are the goals.
The assumption is that every girl is going to grow up to become a wife (to a man). I understand that culture too well. When I was in college, there was an unspoken rule that many young women were not there for college degrees but to find mates, or that the degree was secondary. Not every woman wants to get married.
2. It assumes heterosexuality.
By teaching girls how men should treat them, it sends the message that relationships with men are expected. This is awkward at best when a girl is not interested in boys. It’s destructive at worst.
3. It assumes every person the parents call “daughter” is a girl and every person the parents call “son” is a boy.
These daddy-daughter date nights with reinforced gender roles are hurting gender non-conforming, genderqueer, and transgender individuals. That applies to both people presumed boys and people presumed girls.
4. It assumes families configured other than Mom + Dad + Kids are dysfunctional and inadequate.
Some families have a single mother. Some have two mothers. Some are formed in other ways. If there is no man living in a particular household, that is not some automatic death knell for a girl’s future dating life. Plenty of women grow up in households with dads who don’t date them, and they adjust to being wives and partners just fine.
5. It assumes all dads have to do is show up for date night.
If a father is present in his children’s lives in other ways, it isn’t necessary to make up for it by having the occasional night out. The failure to nurture, protect, and teach our kids cannot be overcome with dates. If a father behaves in destructive ways otherwise, date night won’t help. Similarly, living with integrity and showing love to our kids on a daily basis does not need to be supplemented with dates. The primary purpose of one-on-one time should be because it’s enjoyable, not because it’s a teachable moment.
6. It assumes women cannot figure out for themselves what they want in a relationship.
My biggest question is why any woman would need a man to teach her how men should treat her. If she can’t figure out for herself what she wants, she has bigger concerns than can be cured by dating her dad. It makes it sound like girls are too ignorant, unintelligent, weak, foolish, or innocent to have any idea at all what they want in a potential partner. I have never heard of a boy being taken out by his mother in order to “teach” him what he should expect from a date. So why should anyone believe girls are less capable of figuring these things out?
I find the culture of Daddy-Daughter Dating to be highly controlling. It’s yet another way to transition a girl from being under daddy’s care to being under a husband’s care. It is an erasure of her personhood, her autonomy, and her sexuality. Not only that, it erases her mother as an influencing force. If a girl really needs help learning about healthy relationships, why is that not the territory of her mother? Why can’t her mom help her learn “how she should be treated” on a date?
Once again, I have a much better idea. Let’s teach our children how to respect themselves and others. Let’s help them set healthy boundaries for themselves and reinforce that they need to be aware of other people’s boundaries. Let’s help them develop as people first—to discover their interests, passions, hobbies, talents. If we put relationships in the context of helping them become well-rounded, we eliminate the emphasis on “someday, you’ll be appropriately straight-married.” Instead, they discover the kinds of people they want in their lives—whether romantically or in friendship—without the need to “practice” with their parents.