-by Kate Dugger-
Whether it’s fishing poles in hand or teacups, all tomboys and princesses want to spend time with Dad. Little girls need and want a close relationship with their fathers.
Close father-daughter relationships used to be common place in American homes. Now, that is disappearing, just like having the evening meal as a family. In many families, having a father figure present is considered antiquated. But, it is not. Modern studies show that girls who grow up with attentive, loving fathers in the home are more likely to be confident, to get better grades in school, and to have healthy relationships with men as adults.
According to the 2014 U.S Census, 17 million children live in single-mother homes. That’s about one in four.
Contributing factors to the coming extinction of father-daughter relationships are social, economic, and cultural. Employee shortages and cutbacks are causing fathers (and mothers) to work longer hours to cover the growing workload. Television shows about teen mothers are splashed in the faces of our daughters. The message for girls when I was in school was: “You can do anything you are willing to work for.” Now the message flashing in neon lights is: “You can do anything while holding a baby.” In essence, we are tying one hand behind these girls’ back and telling them they must juggle their lives.
Today, fathers on TV are portrayed as ignorant, there mostly for comic relief. They are, at best, disinterested in what goes on in the lives of their children. At worst, they are self-centered, spoiled, man-babies who compete with their children for attention and affection. In other words, Dads are a joke, considered mere baggage for the mother. Respect for the father is practically non-existent.
Daughters are not unscathed by unrealistic media standards. They are required to be a certain size, wear certain fashions, have a certain set of interests, and, in many cases, have a rocky relationship with one or both of their parents. TV, books, magazines, and music, all bombard kids with images of how their bodies and lives should look. It’s hard to combat these false standards as a little girl. The support and bond of a father can be a very big weapon in the arsenal of self-confidence.
Sometimes all it takes is one outing where father and child can loosen up and reconnect. Providing a place to rebuild and strengthen the father-daughter bond was the goal of Robert Nunley, the After School Program Director at the Martin Housing Authority. “I am one of a team of Martin Housing Authority Staff who put this on. Mrs. Kristy Robinson, who is our Director of Social Services coordinates the event, and Mr. Brian Harris, Martin Housing Authority’s Executive Director agreed to sponsor the event when I presented it to him. He is fully on board with fostering a father-friendly county.”
Lights were set low. The decorations transformed the Shepherds Field Baptist Church fellowship hall into an enchanted under-sea grotto. In the adjoining craft room, father and daughter could be creative together. Upstairs, the Northwest Tennessee Photography Club provided a free portrait to each father daughter duo (or trio) to commemorate the occasion.
Fathers and daughters of all shapes and sizes were present. The youngest daughter to attend was 18 months old. The couple from farthest away traveled from McKenzie. Girls were dressed in tea dresses, pageant dresses, or cocktail dresses. Fathers had also donned their best clothing, and some were matched to their daughters’ outfits. One couple came in cowboy hats. Good for them!
While waiting in line to get portraits taken, the girls got to show off their dresses while dads talked sports, business, and family with other fathers. Many girls were shy about being photographed but the reassuring presence of Dad eased their minds.
In the ballroom, the DJ kept the tunes lively but made sure to throw in an easy slow dance or two. While many dads were bopping and boogying with their girls, a few were scattered about the tables with iPhones, updating Facebook, and ignoring the general goings-on. Fortunately this wasn’t the norm, and even the smartphone dependents got up and danced—eventually.
This was the second annual event, and many couples had attended the year before. One little girl took her father’s hand and said “It’s our new tradition. I can’t wait for next year!” The father just smiled.
“This event served two purposes,” Nunley said. “It gives the girls an extraordinary evening, and it gets the fathers together in one place.” It gives them one voice. They all put up with inconvenience of being here on a Saturday night when they could be home taking a break. This helps combat the bumbling, uninterested dad persona which has become ingrained in American culture.
He also pointed out the diversity of the turnout. “To me that was most encouraging. In a time when people still tend to isolate themselves according to their own kind, it was quite refreshing to have a mix of ethnicity that spoke to the commonalities of just being dads.”
Dancing with Dad is a memory builder. Later in life, these girls will look back and smile, knowing that their daddies thought they were worth their time. With that knowledge, these girls will understand that they are worth so much more than what society, music, and TV try to tell them.