Daddy-Daughter Dance

[Trigger warning.]

So, I'm chatting with my friend E on the phone this morning, and he's tells me how he and his wife and kids were recently visiting his mother's house, when he spied a picture on her mantel of his 40-something brother with his (the brother's) 12-year-old daughter. They were dressed semi-formally—he in a nice suit; she in a gown—and posed like a couple. He asked his mother what the hell was up with the picture, and she told him it had been taken at the daughter's Catholic Junior High School Father-Daughter Dance.

My friend E was, as you can imagine, deeply disturbed by the whole thing: "It was a just like they were a couple at the prom!" he exclaimed, as I felt the skeeves running up and down my spine. He described how his niece was all dressed up, with her hair done and make-up on and jewelry and new shoes. "It was exactly like a prom photo, with flowers on a little pedestal next to them. You know the same photographer is going to come back for the junior prom with the same set and lighting!"

"That's horrifying," I said.

"I know!" he replied.

"It sounds like a purity ball," I told him.

"It wasn't a purity ball," he said, "but only just."

In other words, there was no exchange of purity vows or gifts of locked jewelry the key to which dads promise to give their daughters' future husbands. (*squick!*) But it was nonetheless a date with daddy.

"Okay," I said, "so, setting aside that this is alienating for girls without fathers, and setting aside the discussion about whether girls should—or could—be kept nonsexual until marriage, which they shouldn't and can't be—"


"—where is the logic behind turning the—ostensibly—nonsexual relationship between a father and a daughter into a vaguely sexual one with the purpose of delaying sexual maturity? Not only is it unhealthy as all fuck to sexualize a parent-child relationship, but there's nothing even remotely sensible about the strategy even it weren't completely gross."

"Yes!" E then went on to wonder how it came to be that his brother attended the dance with his 12-year-old daughter, given that E's brother is a fairly antisocial chap and not particularly inclined to prevent his daughter from growing up. He suspected that his brother attended at the request of his daughter, rather than the other way around. "But why would tween girls want to go to a dance with their fathers anyway?!"

"I don't know that they did," I said. "When I was that age, I might have been excited enough just by the consumerism and adultness of it—the chance to buy a pretty dress, new shoes, get all fancy and feel grown-up. That would have been very intriguing."

We chatted a bit more about the whole sordid affair, our conversation frequently injected with one or both of us making gagging sounds or screeching with horror. E wondered just who the hell it was that came up with the idea in the first place. Which is when we started to get to the real source of our faux-vomiting and uncomfortable laughter, the ugliness we were carefully avoiding.

"Perverts and/or conservative patriarchs," I said. "Which is why the whole thing is so unsettling. You know that there was at least one guy in that room, and probably more than one, who was doing something with his daughter, or other daughters—" I sucked in air sharply.

He agreed. "I know. It's horrible. You trace the idea of this dance back to its source, and there's a guy, or guys, who have terrible motives."

"Controlling girls' bodies or abusing them. Possibly both. Buried beneath an irresistible opportunity for girls to play dress-up."

"And I'm sure there's social pressure from the other adults for dads to attend, too."

"It's so upsetting to think about familial relationships, especially fathers' relationships with their daughters, being dictated by pervs and patriarchs—just because of peer pressure to participate in this creepy shit."

We talked again about how disturbing the picture is, about how E saw something flicker across his mom's face as she explained to him what it was—some recognition that she knew something wasn't totally right about it, suspicions about the event that she didn't want to pursue too thoroughly. E predicted his niece will be very discomfited by that picture in a few years.

I'm sure he's right. I hope the picture is the least of her worries, and theirs is not one of the many father-daughter relationships that succumb even to the mere insinuations of daddy being a sexual stand-in until husband arrives.

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