Katie giggles as she waits for her date to come around and open the car door. The pair enters an ice cream shop. She sits down at the table as her date gently pushes in her chair. He takes her hand from across the table and asks, "What flavor would you like tonight, Sugar?" Katie smiles and says, "I'll have chocolate, Daddy."
More and more fathers are becoming aware of their influence and regularly dating their daughters.
"The research clearly says that daddies make all the difference in the world," says Kevin Leman, national speaker and author of What a Difference Daddy Makes. "I have tremendously more impact on my daughter than my wife does."
Pete, a 38-year-old father from California, has already started taking out 9-year-old Cassie, hoping to get a jump on the dating scene.
"I believe the openness she has at this age is only for a season," Pete explains. "Right now I have an opportunity to love her or reject her. If I ignore her now, she isn't going to come to me later with the tough questions. I'm hoping that doing these special 'nights out' will help her understand that she's valuable and will stop her from even accepting attention from a guy who doesn't treat her with the same respect."
For men mindful of their Day-Timers, Robert Wolgemuth, author of She Calls Me Daddy, warns against multitasking.
"Every once in a while you see a dad at a restaurant with one of his kids, and the child is gazing around the room while the dad reads the newspaper," he says. "No points for that. Conversation is the crown jewel of the relationship."
The bond you develop with your daughter during real times of conversation and connection pays dividends.
"What you are doing as a man is prioritizing your time," Leman explains. "Most kids grow up knowing Dad is a pretty busy guy. Your daughter needs to know the sacrifice you've made in your priority list; making sure she comes up No. 1. The fact that you affirm your daughter's femininity and treat her special says to her, ‘Honey, seek somebody special in life. Seek someone who is going to treat you right.'"
Reluctantly, one dad who had raised his daughter with consistent date nights had to admit that she did a good job of picking a husband, though he noted: "There is no one good enough for my daughter." And all the fathers shout a hearty, "Amen."
Things to Keep in Mind
Father's Day is a perfect time to celebrate Dad — and to remember the important role that men play in their children's lives.
Been awhile since you had some "just us" time with your tween? Whether planned ("Let's see that new movie Tuesday night") or spontaneous ("Come on, let's go workout together"), dates with your kids are a great way to enhance the relationship.
Do something different. Sure, your child likes it when you take him out for pizza. But how about getting a slice at a nearby college town and then surprising him with tickets to a game?
Tie into a current activity. Is your child learning a new instrument? Take her to a live play or concert where she can watch professionals play that same instrument. Is he interested in painting? Grab some art supplies, drive to a local nature center and spend the afternoon putting your creations on canvas. Keep the results — pretty or not — as mementos.
Dress down. She may have loved dressing up for that father-daughter banquet when she was 6. But at 12, she's more comfortable in jeans and a T-shirt. If it's appropriate, keep it casual.
Let your child run the radio. Who knows? You might like the station. Watch the look on your tween's face when you tell him that his favorite tune is actually a remake of one you danced to in the '70s.
Don't embarrass your child. Be sensitive to his reaction to your actions. With tweens, it's easy to cross a line you didn't even know was there.
Set a positive tone. This is a time for fun, not an opportunity to discipline or force a teachable moment.
Turn off the cell phone. This goes for both of you.
Follow the conversational lead. Friends are your tween's No. 1 priority. More than likely, you'll hear numerous tales of stuff going on at school, who got invited to the latest party and who's going out with whom. (Don't worry; at this stage, "going out" means they like somebody, not that they're actually dating.)
Don't interrupt. Be open and listen carefully, especially if your tween starts relating a problem she's having. Let her talk freely, simply adding a word or two to encourage her to keep going. This is a time to resist your proactive problem-solving impulses; tweens will shut down every time you try to fix something before they feel you understand what it is.
Enjoy yourselves. Plan your next outing soon.
Date Night Activities
- See the town. Go for a drive pointing out areas to avoid and fun places to hang out.
- Dine out. Eat at a restaurant that doesn’t serve toys in a bag. Make it a fancy evening.
- Drink mocha. Visit your local coffeehouse or bookstore.
- Get fit. Go bike riding, inline skating or scootering.
- Share a hobby. Collect stamps, paint or build something together.
- Play games. Go bowling, golfing or hit the arcades.
- Shop. This may be the only chance you have at helping her pick out an outfit. It also provides a great opportunity for a healthy talk about modesty.
- Take a risk. Ask her what she wants to do. After all, you’ll expect her potential dates to think of her interests as he plans outings.