Dads, Don’t Date Your Daughters

by Miranda on June 20, 2014

There’s a video making the rounds on Facebook right now about a husband who’s about to go on the most important date of his life…but not with his wifeSCANDALOUS!

He gets all dressed up and a friend asks if he’s nervous.

“Yes!” he says, as he ties his tie. “It’s been a long time,” replies his friend.

Then he leaves the house, turns around and rings the bell, and his very excited daughter answers, ready for their date. The girl is adorable. They go have lots of fun together doing things like drinking milk out of princess cups and swinging and going for piggyback rides.

It’s cute. Really. It is. The girl is adorable and they seem to have a good time.

I might not make many friends with what I’m about to say, but I’m banking on that whole “if you say it, they will come” thing that happens when we say things that we know will probably enrage people but might also show us we’re not alone.

Dads, don’t date your daughters.

And this goes for moms, too, though there’s an odd disparity between the number of events aimed at mothers and sons versus those aimed at dads and daughters, and those aimed at mothers and sons are very rarely called “date nights.”

(There’s a whole commentary on why these daddy-daughter date night events exist to get dads to spend time with their daughters/sons and why they shouldn’t have to exist at all because it should just be a thing parents do, but that’s probably another inflammatory blog post for another day.)

It might be a special occasion or a treat when moms and dads take their children to the playground, or out for ice cream, or to the movies, but it’s not dating.

Why is there this thing where we talk about our relationships with our children in terms of our relationships with spouses and friends? Our relationships with our children are neither.

Dating implies there’s a romantic element to the relationship and, quite frankly, it’s weird to talk about dating our children. Go back to the example from that video where the dad talks about being nervous and it’s “been a long time” and tell me that’s anything other than awkward and weird, even if it was scripted.

But Miranda, you say, it’s just a word! You’re giving it meaning where there isn’t any!

No, I’m really not.

The common use of the verb “date” means courting, pursuing a relationship with someone you’re romantically or potentially sexually interested in. Think about that for a minute and let’s stop dating our children.

We can do better. We can choose different words and not frame our relationships with our children in romantic terms.

And while I’m probably offending people, all of the memes declaring ourselves the “first loves” of our opposite sex children are weird too.

Didn’t you read Oedipus Rex?

Am I the first person in my children’s lives who will love them? Who will show them what love is? Yes, probably, but the term “first love” implies schoolyard crushes and high school romance and Mommy and Daddy issues they’ll need to work out in therapy some day.

It also sort of sounds like we can’t let them grow up and experience the world on their own without us, and while that thought sort of rips my heart out, it has to happen.

I don’t want to be my son’s first love. Not like that. And I don’t want my husband to date our daughter. 

Spending quality time with your kids isn’t dating. It’s just…spending quality time with your kids. It’s parenting. It’s the stuff we should be doing every day, even if it’s just reading together at night before bed, or sitting around the dinner table engaged in conversation instead of staring at our devices.

Instead of dating your daughter (or son), date your partner. 

That’s probably better for your relationships in the long run anyway.

If you want to teach your daughter what to expect from the men she’ll one day find herself dating and possibly marrying, show her (and your sons) a strong relationship. Show her what a solid partnership looks like.

Show her what respect looks like by respecting her mother or the mother figures in her life and she’ll learn to respect herself and demand that from others.

Show her what love looks like by loving her, certainly.

But don’t date your daughter.

Update/Response/Philosophical Waxing:

First of all, let me just say thank you for reading, even if you disagree with me and can’t wait to blast me in the comments (though I do hope that reading this update might help explain, at least in part, where I was coming from when I wrote this). I appreciate your being here and the conversation that has been sparked as a result of this piece.

I am not now nor have I ever been a crazy man-hating spinster lesbian bitch (or a wanker, I think) but I am sometimes crazy and sometimes bitchy. Occasionally the two overlap. (I’m even medicated! With a therapist!)

Prior to writing this post, it hadn’t occurred to me that others see and hear the verb date in terms of its less romantic definition, i.e. a social engagement. (The noun date means “a set place in time” or we’re talking about a fruit. Or maybe we have a Date Date and then things get really confusing.)

Yes, I was aware that the definition of date as a social engagement existed, but the connotation of the word date, to me, is a romantic engagement between to people who are dating, and I hadn’t realized just how infrequently I personally use the word “date” until the comments and discussions started rolling in.

I don’t say “I have a lunch date with my friend.” I say “I’m going to lunch with so-and-so.” That is not to say that others shouldn’t say that because I don’t say that, or that any of us is right or wrong because we do or don’t say date. It’s just…different.

But the word “date” wasn’t so much the thing that bothered me about the original video and which word to use wasn’t the point I was trying to make. Somewhere along the way, things got confused, so I’d like to take a second to try to clear up what my message was supposed to be.

I want parents to spend time one on one with their children, of both the same and opposite sex. It’s good. It’s healthy. Spending time with our children is vital to their development and our relationships with them.

Here, where I live, there are no “mother-son date nights.” You will never see a restaurant or event facility advertise a “father-son date night” because ::gasp:: they’re both dudes! ZOMG! And the same is true of mother-daughter events, with the exception of teas around Mother’s Day, but then I ask, what happens to the moms who don’t have daughters? Are they uninvited?

There are only events geared toward dads and daughters. There are only viral videos about dads and daughters. There is only anything about dads and daughters happening in this conversation.

So, yes, I do think that there are lines that get blurred when it comes to the notion of “dating” our daughters, and some of that, I now realize, comes from the places I’ve lived and the culture in which I was raised.

That is, the “purity culture.”

I’m a liberal Feminist thinker living in a veritable sea of people who see the world so differently than I do it’s a wonder we’re even looking at the same world sometimes.

In a place where “earn the right to wear white” is a mantra taught in sex ed classes and where daughters are encouraged to pledge their virginity to their parents, namely their fathers, complete with the exchanging of rings, and where there are no such pushes for young men to do the same  (nor do young men seem to need the same protection from the big, bad world of dating), the idea that dads should date their daughters so that the fathers can be the great protectors, standing guard with a shotgun while their little girls exit the house with a gentleman caller isn’t one that I can support.

And I don’t necessarily subscribe to the notion that young girls learn about their self-worth and have their self-esteem built up solely by their relationships with their fathers, or that one on one time with their fathers are the only ways they’ll open up when they need to talk about the big things in their lives.

I think a lot of that openness comes from the culture which is created within the home on a daily basis. Engaging each other in questions about the day, talking, sharing, and being kind to and not judgmental with one another.

Daughters (and sons) will learn what to expect from the men/women in their lives by how they see us treat the people around you, which includes them, our spouses or partners, our neighbors, and the waiters at your favorite restaurant. They will come to understand and see the qualities they want in a partner not from what we do on those special outings with them, but from how we live our lives every day.

Be the kind of spouse or partner to your wife that you hope your daughter will one day marry. Treat your wife how you want your daughter to be treated. She will see that. She is seeing that.

So sure, bring your daughter flowers, but bring them for your wife, too. (Chances are, if you’re the kind of guy who’s bringing his daughter flowers, you’re already doing those things for your wife. Good on you!)

Finally, the comments which have hurt me most in this entire thing are those about my dad and what kind of man he must have been.

Call me names. Make fun of me. Imagine me to be some perverted, twisted monster. I don’t care.

But my dad was a good man. He didn’t take me on “dates,” and quite frankly the thought that he should do those things would never have crossed his mind. My upbringing predates the Internet and blogs telling us how we should and shouldn’t be doing it.

But he didn’t have to do those things for me to know he cared.

My dad died last August, suddenly, and without a chance for me to say goodbye, or to tell him that I appreciated the sacrifices he made for me. Or just to tell him thanks for loving me. I will never, ever get that chance again, and can only hope to do his legacy justice by living with the same kindness and generosity he showed for everyone he met.

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