Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Alternatives to father-daughter balls

Please read the previous posts in this series:
  1. I'm all for purity but...
  2. Fathers and daughters
  3. Let girls be girls

If the advocates of the purity balls really want to foster father-daughter relationships, there are a number of ways to do this that I believe would be far more healthy and that would not encourage a precocious concern about sexuality in little girls or imply that the father-daughter relationship should be focused on the daughter's sexuality. Here are a few suggestions, some of them more appropriate for some ages than others:
  • Father-daughter tea parties. Lest you think this would only interest the pre-school set, I need to clarify that I am not talking about sitting around drinking pretend tea out of plastic cups. I'm talking about a fancy, elegant, memorable event such as a friend of mine threw for her mother on a milestone birthday: each table was set with beautiful china; we all dressed in our most beautiful dresses; the food was delicious and a sight to behold, etc. The tea party could be preceded by etiquette lessons, so no one would feel awkward or afraid of doing the wrong thing. Some groups are already holding similar events for middle school age youth; I think this would be a wonderful thing for fathers and daughters to do together --- and it would avoid the romantic prom date atmosphere. (Note: little girls could enjoy themselves and feel like princesses; older girls could enjoy being able to be both nostalgic and "grown up" at the same time; the important thing would be not to ruin the atmosphere by bringing up the topic of sex!)
  • Take your daughter to work day. Yes, I know some fathers are reluctant to participate in what they view as some sort of feminist scheme. If so, just avoid taking your daughter to work on that particular day, and take her to work --- and out to lunch --- on another day. Obviously, not all fathers have the sort of jobs that lend themselves to this. However, a lot of little girls would really love to be included in their father's lives in this way.
  • Let your daughter take you to ______ day. Ask (don't force!) your daughter to include you in some activity she enjoys and would like to share with you. I've known some fathers who do this, and who have bravely and cheerfully gone along with shopping trips to the mall, getting pedicures ("Daddy, no one will ever know you got your toenails buffed, trust me!"), playing dress-up, swinging on the swings at the park, going horseback riding, going ice skating, taking part in a "parents day" at a martial arts school, hang gliding, etc., etc.
  • Introduce your daughter to your hobby. It's amazing to me how many fathers never think of doing this with their daughters. Take your daughter golfing; she doesn't have to be able to play at your level! Show her, and explain to her, why you love puttering around in the garage so much. Teach her how to play basketball. Do crossword puzzles together. Include her in your "fun" side.
  • Camping. One church that I know has a father-daughter campout each year. It doesn't have any sort of sexually charged agenda; it is just a time for fathers and daughters to "rough it" together out in the beauty of nature. They include some creatively competitive games, pitting father-daughter teams against each other. The highlight is a rather strenuous hike that only the strongest can actually finish. Fathers and daughters encourage and help each other to endure and persevere; there are milestones along the way that are celebrated as achievements. It's a big deal to finally be able to complete the entire hike together --- and those who do so are given a special memento. (Some father-daughter duos actually train for this hike beforehand!)
  • Father-daughter service projects. This could be done as a group, or just as individual fathers encouraging and teaching their daughters how to serve others. I've heard some really nice testimonies of fathers and daughters, for example, visiting nursing homes together.
Anyone with a bit of creativity could probably come up with far more ideas that just those. Some lend themselves more to being group events than others. I think that the important thing in father-daughter relationships is that the daughter knows how precious she is to her father. The rest of the world may tell her that her primary value is her sexuality --- that, in the words of one teenage girl, "If you're not hot, you're just not!" She may, as she gets older, grow weary in the seemingly endless number of men whose primary interest in her is sexual. She may wonder if she has anything else to offer of interest or of value to men. It is her father's role to be that man who loves and values her for who she is, in all her complexity, who models sacrificial love, who enjoys her companionship, who respects her for her personhood, who refuses to reduce her to just her sexual function, and who gives her the hope that someday she will find a loving husband who will able able to love and respect her in a similar way. Unfortunately, that is not achieved if wonderful memory-making events between fathers and daughters turn out to be...all about sex.


  1. A most insightful series. Especially what you offer as alternatives. I appreciate that...and you. A very wise voice, indeed.

  2. To be honest, I'm the kind of person who looks at things like this but doesn't analyze them very deeply. I probably wouldn't have noticed the disconnect of girls who are young enough to enjoy going to a fancy dance with their dads don't need to hear the message, but girls who might need to hear the message don't want to go to a 'prom' with their dad. I did, however, notice that many of the dresses those girls were wearing showed a basic conflict with the underlying message!

    So I appreciate reading this. You offer very thoughtful insights, and reminded me once again that I need to go deeper in my own reactions to this kind of thing. And I also appreciate you going beyond the critique and suggesting alternatives. Given the popularity of tea parties at the American Girl store(or so I've read, I don't have any daughters to experience this for myself!), your first one seems like an obvious hit. And an addition: coach your daughter's sports team! (or be assistant coach, if they already have one)

  3. Excellent post, Rebecca. I have had a problem with all this "father-daughter" dating stuff for quite some time. In many circumstances it borders, imho, on being very inappropriate and I believe it poses the danger of producing bad fruit. I love the ideas you gave and they are much more healthy and in line with what a father/daughter relationship is all about. Purity is a great concept but it is a private thing between a girl and her God. I know my girls would just HATE for us to make it some big public spectacle. I think your focus is right on and that these ideas are just the beginning of fostering a healthy father/daughter relationship.

  4. Tricia, you're right about the disconnect between some of the dresses and the stated purpose of the balls --- it seemed ironic to me. I also like the team coach idea, and I know some fathers who really enjoy doing this.

    Corrie, I so agree with you about purity being a personal and private thing. I've been thinking a lot on the whole subject of what purity means; if I get my thoughts somewhat together, I'll try to post something.

  5. REbecca,

    I can't agree with you more on the weirdness of this whole thing. The father-daughter purity ball is a big deal in our area and one year they brought in a Miss America to speak to teh audience. I have the same concerns....the absence of mom in the process, the early age they talk about sexuality with the girls, the emphasis on physical beauty, etc.

    Someone mentioned Doug Phillips...he promotes and sells the Elsie Dinsmore books and, in my opinion, there is teh same sort of weirdness. When Elsie cried because she had to leave her father on her wedding day, I thought that was crossing a line.

    Where is this all coming from and how do you address it without being a naysayer about just one more thing?

  6. As a woman who had one of the most wonderful fathers around (I married my husband because he was the first person I respected more than my father), I think that if you have to purposefully plan activities based around outside organizations, you're already losing the battle.

    What my dad did:
    1) read to me and prayed with me each night before bed
    2) took me with him to work on Saturdays - and gave me jobs to do
    3) helped me with my math homework and challenged me to really like it
    4) took me on "dates" when I was
    5) took me on bike rides
    6) took us camping

    There are so many more things - but they were things that were natural, not imposed by some strange outside organization.

    However, I do think starting early is important - if a child is big enough to be held, that child is big enough to be actively loved by her father and that love with translate to purity later. So I don't agree with the argument that father-daughter dances at a young age are totally useless.