When I was at the Y this morning I saw a flyer for an upcoming dance. A Father-Daughter Dance with “sparkles and dressy attire encouraged.” Dads! Bring your daughters and dance the night away! I couldn’t quite pinpoint it but something inside me went ick. I’ve got no particular beef with the Y. We’ve been members for years and I appreciate its programs, its work in our community, its accessibility and above all else, its FREE CHILDCARE. I know that Father-Daughter dances are widely celebrated in our culture, seen as a chance for Daddy to take his little girl out on a date. But something about it didn’t sit right with me and I tried to unpack my feelings as I counted down the time on the
rat wheel treadmill.
I will almost certainly never be invited to a Mother-Son dance. I can’t even imagine being invited to dress up in a formal ball gown with “sparkles” so that Isaiah and/or Gryffin and I can slow-dance under the stars. That would just be too weird, right? Inappropriate. Scornful even. But why? It’s precisely what we’re expecting our Daddies and Daughters to do when we host a Father/Daughter Dance. We applaud it and make it a rite of passage.
We don’t hail that sort of bond between mother and son, though, lest we encourage emotional dependence or unseemly boundaries. Having a mother-son dance would also make our sons look weak, right? Like “mama’s boys” or wusses. Certainly can’t be a “man’s man” and go to a “Mommy & Son” dance.
But we are openly encouraging our girls to go on these outings with their dads so why the double standard? Is it because we want our girls to view their dads, and men in general, as the protectors; to see themselves as something to be guarded and kept safe, not because they are children but because they are female? And do we want our boys to understand that they are the protectors, the knights in shining armor, the strong ones because they are male, regardless of the fact that they are still just little boys?
Each is problematic and puzzling. Should we not encourage our boys and our girls to be dependent on their parents? To view both parents as bulwarks? Boys and men need protecting just as much as women and girls. And women are every bit as capable of guarding and protecting as their male counterparts. Why cut either one short?
Culturally speaking, we can go one of two routes here: (1) We say that there should be BOTH Daddy/Daughter and Mother/Son dances or (2) we say there should be neither. I would argue for the latter. We shouldn’t have either one because we shouldn’t be dating our kids.
It might be a matter of semantics but I don’t date Isaiah and I don’t date Gryffin. I am their mama. I am the ever-watchful mother hen, the fierce lion protector, the soothing voice when they wake in the night, the maker of jelly sandwiches, the builder of forts and the eager listening ear. As their mother, I am a lot of things. But I am not their date.
Do you remember when I wrote about boys being boys? I think this is similar. It’s a chance to re-think some of the things we, as a culture, are telling our kids and ourselves. It’s a chance to challenge some of our assumptions and some of the things we do without thought or intentionality. I don’t want to knock on a special night out for a kid who might not otherwise get the chance. And I’m certain there is nothing but benevolence behind Daddy-Daughter Dances. But I do think we should take the risk and at least consider that there might be a better way to engage those good intentions.