Words matter. But they mean different things to different people in different contexts. That’s the lesson I’m learning today after initially being repulsed by event listings I’ve seen for “Daddy-Daughter Dates.” I am not the first to throw up in my mouth a little bit at the idea. And you, shaking your fist at me as you read this are not the first to think I’m being unreasonable and wrong.
Why am I so repulsed by a concept so many people hail as sweet and innocent? I should probably be on the side of advocating them. I’m close to my father and have always treasured spending time with him. But I have not, and never will, gone on a “date” with him. And I will never call my outings with my son “dates.” Sorry. That’s just a word I like to reserve for romantic occasions. I like to keep that demarcation clear in my language.
To look at it a different way, how many fathers say they’re going on dates with their sons? They don’t, usually, because of the connotation of the word.
But maybe I’m being uptight. Other parents here at SheKnows love calling their one-on-one time with their kids dates because it’s cute. Also, psychologists do say that parents are the number one way children learn how to have healthy relationships in the future, in a completely nonsexual way.
Okay, so maybe you can use the word date, but I won’t.
Issue number 2: the Father-Daughter Dance. I’ve never lived in a place where these dances were held — not that I know of. Actually, I hadn’t heard of them until I saw them mocked in the reverse via Arrested Development Motherboy dances. But I suppose these are now time-honored occasions held to let girls and their dads dress up and spend time together.
Fine, I guess. But what about the boys who would like to do the same? What about the kids with no fathers? What about the mothers? Those questions are what’s led to the cancelation of many father-daughter dances across the country in recent years.
Beyond language and inclusion, however, there are other problems with this kind of thing. For one, you might see this as an extension of the notion of girls being their dads’ little princesses, their treasured property until they get passed off to another man in marriage. For another, I am troubled by the fact that in the 21st century, men might still need this sort of event to encourage them to hang out with their daughters. As if playing sports balls with their sons is the only way they know how to be parents.
Put down your virtual pitchforks. I’m not calling for the cancellation of whatever remaining Daddy-Daughter Date Dances are still out there. All I’m saying is we can do better. We can have events that encourage parents and children to enjoy each other’s company. We can encourage dads to go beyond their gender-norm comfort zones. We can let our kids dress up like princesses, or we can put on our favorite ripped jeans and go get ice cream together. And you can call that whatever you want.