Being a son of a mother, a father-daughter dance was not an event type to which I had previous exposure, so I prepared myself for an entirely new experience. What I discovered was an entirely familiar experience.
Not too long ago, my eight-year-old and I went on a date. She wore a fancy dress. I put on a suit and shaved my face. We were going out to our first father-daughter dance.
Being a son of a mother, this was not an event type to which I had previous exposure. Being a father of four- and eight-year-old daughters, most of the events so far have been non-gendered, human events. I was once a tiny human who went on family vacations, or attended Gender Scout meetings, or had a first day of school. I had some sort of context for what was going on.
With the father-daughter dance, I prepared myself for an entirely new experience. I’d follow my daughter’s lead and take things as they came. What I discovered was an entirely familiar experience.
First, we went out to dinner beforehand with other father-daughter pairs from our group. My date immediately declared she wished to sit with her girlfriends, where there was no space for me. I rolled with it and third-wheeled another dad and his daughter, which was lovely and entertaining, but I would’ve enjoyed more interaction with my kid than her asking me if she was allowed to have lemonade.1 I felt a little superfluous, like a high school freshman in his dad’s sport coat whose homecoming date won’t sit next to him at Friendly’s.
Then we carpooled over to the dance, and, once inside, my daughter immediately sought to absorb all that was going on in the raging dance hall neé basketball gym. She wanted to see everything, hitting all corners of the gym, pausing briefly to dance with friends or occassionally me. Eventually, she discovered the group of girls dancing in the bright lights right next to the DJ table. In her element, she just danced, with no hint of self-consciousness, just the joy of moving her body to the music in the company of others. I stood to the side, with the other fathers of extroverts, watching as our girls tried to figure out “The Macarena.”2
After the last song played,3 we went home past our bedtimes, energized and exhausted. I reflected on the things my daughter learned (“What’s a dance like?”, “How do you not kick other people?”, “Where’s the best place to dance like you just don’t care?”) and the things that she would pick up on at subsequent father-daughter dances (“How do you dance with your date to a slow song?”). And I realized why the girls in middle and high school are so much better at dances than the boys. Some of them, have had practice.
Mother-son dances are not a common occurance. A young, cis male heterosexual me went into his first dances completely blind. Sure, I knew vaguely what would happen, but most of my context was television. I knew what a Bayside High dance looked like, but had no clue about a real one. I had no idea that I could just enjoy the dancing part without worrying about concluding the third act of my 22 minute episode in a satisfying way.
This isn’t to say that young women don’t also get wrapped up in the drama of school dances and get confused when things go off-script, but those who go to father-daughter dances at least get a few years of experience before all that pesky context sets in. They’ll have a good sense if they prefer dancing by the speaker, amid a circle of friends, or hanging out by the punch and cookies. It’s unfortunate that gender stereotypes would likely lead to mother-son dances being sparsely attended.
I look forward to taking my daughter to father-daughter dances if she wants to keep going to them, and taking her younger sister too, if that’s her thing. I love seeing how they learn to live life, and I’m grateful that they let me watch.
Photo by: MatthewJMcCullough