Usually, I’m a very opinionated (and somewhat annoying) person, but I genuinely do not have an answer to my title question. I’d like to, but I just don’t, and I’ll tell you why: one side of me thinks logically about daddy-daughter dates and the implications and undertones that sometimes come with them, I feel kinda yucky—but the other side of me is super biased because I loved dates with my dad when I was a little girl, and nothing about the way we had special father-daughter time was creepy.
I started tossing the daddy-daughter debate around in my head last week when I came across a Tik Tok made by a young woman who grew up in a fundamentalist church. I can’t find the video now to save my life, but the gist was that she used to go on daddy-daughter dates when she was a little girl, and she argued that the church and the surrounding community fetishized and romanticized these dates as more than simple quality parent-child time, eventually culminating in her father “proposing” to her with a purity ring and asking her to swear her virginity to him until she was married.
This young woman obviously had an extreme and very disturbing experience with the father-daughter dates in the eyes of people like me who were not raised in this kind of culture, but for some sects of fundamentalist Christians, this kind of behavior is celebrated and sometimes even expected. When I was confronted with this subject, I began turning the concept of daddy-daughter dates around in my head and I even ended up having an hour+ discussion about it with my best friend of many years who often helps me flesh out my ideas about feminism and womanhood.
Together, the two of us chewed on the idea of daddy-daughter dates and the pros and cons thereof and came to the conclusion that although both her and I hold very pleasant individual memories of our fathers and the quality time we spent with them, not every daddy-daughter date is created equal, and there are many nefarious and ulterior motives that are synonymous with the daddy-daughter date; the three overwhelming negative themes being the ownership, the fetishization, and the unnecessary praise that comes from daddy-daughter dates in our culture. Let me explain.
Firstly, I think when it comes to the father-daughter date—and moreover—the father-daughter relationship; we do still carry the baggage of the generations before us, in which it was expected for a father to own and protect his daughter until the day that he is able to pass her off to another man. Maybe this made sense in a time when women couldn’t travel alone, couldn’t open their own bank accounts, and when marriage was a political and social move as opposed to one of free choice, but as of 2021 and fourth-wave feminism, this just isn’t the case anymore.
As women, our relationships with our fathers have been evolving and changing for the past century or so… we should no longer see women as the property of their father, husband, or any man, rather an autonomous being with free will. That’s where I find that the father-daughter date kind of contrasts with my general beliefs and values. Father-daughter dates can sometimes be synonymous with old-school standards of masculinity and femininity, and can often suggest ownership. Sometimes, these dates can work to serve as a tool to tell young women and girls “until you find a man to take care of you, I’ll take care of you and take you out.” Instead of “Let me spend quality time with you because I love you.”
While there’s nothing inherently wrong with a father taking his daughter out for quality time—some of my best moments with my dad were spent on father-daughter dates—when the father-daughter date is used to solidify the roles of men as provider and owner of a young woman when the father is trying to fill the duties of a proper husband, I find that this is less of a date and more of a lesson in traditional femininity and ownership.
Fetishization of Daddy-Daughter Dates
Secondly, I think in a weird Freudian way, we as a culture tend to romanticize and fetishize relationships between fathers and daughters and this idea can be solidified in the father-daughter date.
Personally, I think fetishization stems from ownership because when fathers try to inherit some form of husband-role in the lives of their daughters they are co-opting many pieces of the husband, which is of course an inherently romantic relationship.
When a man feels as though he owns his daughter, and he feels as though he’s providing the protection and love of a husband until she’s officially married off, his relationship with his daughter can be fetishized by himself and the world around him.
I know fetishized is a big, powerful word, and I’m not at all suggesting that there is physical or emotional abuse going on there. I am suggesting, however, that some fathers do try to behave like husbands to their daughters and I’m not cool with that. Taking your daughter out on a date as if she’s your partner is weird, asking your daughter on this date to pledge her virginity to you (like it’s any of your business) is weird, telling her “this is how a man treats a woman” while on this date is weird!
It is a father’s (or male role models) job in any young girl’s life to show her how a respectful man behaves and how a respectful man treats the women in his life—his partner, his mom, his daughter, his co-workers, etc.—but it’s not his job to put the daughter in the shoes of his partner for this demonstration. The fetishization around father-daughter dates contributes to a larger issue of men’s inherent fetishization and ownership over women.
Lastly, when I think of what could be deemed as problematic and somewhat archaic about the father-daughter dates is the unnecessary praise that men get when they spend quality time with their children when this behavior is simply expected of women.
We’ve seen this many times when it comes to men and their children, how the world around us tends to praise men for doing the bare minimum with their children while simultaneously criticizing women for the same behavior as “not enough”. This is a pretty popular and well-talked-about feminist issue, the classic “stop calling men parenting their children ‘babysitting’” idea.
This concept definitely implants itself in the father-daughter date and the culture surrounding it. Men shouldn’t need a special occasion to take their daughters out for quality time, nor should we praise anyone for putting interest in the children that they’ve created. Don’t get me wrong, men spending time with their kids is great, I love hanging out with my dad, but it isn’t a revolutionary act, it’s a part of being a decent parent, and it doesn’t need praise. Especially because it shouldn’t be a chore for any man to spend time with his daughter, in fact, it should be something he wants to do!
What I’m Left Thinking
See, personally, I’m still torn. When I was a little girl, my dad would take me on what we’d call a “Daddy-Morgan Day” every once in a while and it was honestly the best. My dad has always been a big part of my life and a big part of my heart, and when he could take the day off work to take me out and about it was like Christmas.
I was a very traditionally feminine little girl and my dad was (and is) a pretty masculine steel worker, so it was always very special to me when he’d take the time to learn what I was interested in and we’d spend time doing it together.
Mini-putt was a big deal when I was a kid, so was Build-A-Bear; my dad would take me out for lunch and buy me a new Sims 2 expansion pack, or we’d go to our favorite antique shop together, we didn’t always have a ton of money when I was a kid but it didn’t matter because I got to spend the day with my dad—even if it was just at the park. So, when I say I have a huge bias to daddy-daughter dates, I mean it.
I think the conclusion I came to myself is that there is of course nothing inherently wrong with daddy-daughter quality time and if you want to call it a daddy-daughter date, knock yourself out. Some of my all-time best memories were with my dad on our days out together, and I encourage that kind of special quality time in all parent-child relationships.
Where I have an issue with daddy-daughter dates is when they have ulterior motives; when daddy-daughter dates work to teach outdated gender roles, when they become fetishized or cross boundaries, I start to have an issue.
Is there a space for Daddy-Daughter Dates in 2021? I would say yes*
*on a case-by-case basis.