One of my fondest recent memories is of a trip home to my native Chicago. A friend from high school planned a hang-out: dinner at a Mexican restaurant at Navy Pier with views of Downtown Chicago’s skyline, followed by a boat ride on Lake Michigan, complete with a fireworks show launched from the water.
I dressed up a pair of jeans with one of my favorite shirts. I didn’t have to considering I was heading to a tourist destination, but I wanted to. I was out on the town and I was bringing my baby girl with me.
Dinner with my old friend and his daughter was a blast. We caught up and cracked jokes about the good old days in high school and our girls chatted it up about the things five-year-olds discuss. A couple hours later, midway through the boat ride and prior to the fireworks show, my daughter was curled up in a ball on my lap, siphoning off as much heat as she could from me. It was freezing and I too, in my favorite, but useless, shirt did my best to absorb the little amount of heat she was generating.
After an evening of holding open doors, paying for food, holding hands, fireworks and having great conversations, I realized my daughter and I were on a date. Not “playtime,” someplace where kids go, but legitimately out on the town where I would normally take my wife. I leaned over into my little one’s ear and whispered, “You know we’re on a date, right?”
“I know, Dad,” she answered, calmly. "I'm cold."
My night was made. My daughter's matter-of-fact answer spoke to the reality that this hadn't been her first time out with me like this. And it definitely wouldn't be the last. Before and since then we've had tea times at home, been to museums, her favorite Thai restaurant, my favorite burger joint, a popular fast food chain's daddy-daughter date night, and even the symphony.
But why make the effort and take the time to "date" my daughter rather than simply take her to the obligatory kid-friendly events around town?
When my daughter was born I expected to see some blobby piece of flesh that I would love no matter what. But neither family nor I was prepared for what arrived: a stunningly beautiful baby with a full head of wavy hair parted right down the middle like Betty Boop's. That's when the nonsense began.
"Oh Eric, you better have your shot gun ready for the guys that are going to come for her," or even worse, "When she gets older she is going to be completely out of control."
I didn't understand why people were placing curses on my less than one-month old child. Putting on her the mistakes and failures of their own lives. Finally a coworker gave me words to live by: "Eric, hold her close now and she will always know she can come to you and know what real love is."
This last statement settled it for me. From that point forward I decided that once she was old enough I was going to date my daughter. Here's why:
Spending Time With Your Daughter Allows You To Teach Her About Love
I'd like my daughter to know that love is an action that maintains and drives the intermittent feeling so many people casually refer to as love. Love is working through hard times together. Love is having that other person's interests at heart and first. Love is loving yourself and making sure (or striving to do your best) that you are living the best life you possibly can so you can be a blessing, rather than a curse to someone else.
Spending Time With Your Daughter Gives You The Chance To Show Her How It's Done
As Dad, I have the luxury and privilege of being the first man my daughter will ever know. I am able to arm her with the knowledge of what a real man is and show her how she should be treated by that man. I hold doors open for her, carry her book bag when she is tired, hold her hand when we walk together, wrap her in my coat and give her my hat if it suddenly begins raining and I talk to her about her, her hopes, dreams and goals --- genuinely interested and concerned about what she has to say.
Spending Time With Your Daughter Helps Make Marriage Make Sense
I've made an extra effort to make sure that while dating my daughter I don't forget that I have a wife who needs to be dated also. When I take her mother out or buy her things, I make sure to explain to my daughter why I am doing it --- because I love her. Sometimes I even include her in my plans. I don't want my daughter growing up, as I did, believing marriage is an arranged partnership that revolves solely around parenting. Many times this is the case, but it doesn't have to be.
Ultimately you can't control what your daughter will do once she's grown. But it's much easier to educate your daughter in advance in your home than trying after the fact to get her to unlearn what she may or may not pick up outside your home. Don't take that risk with your daughter. Date your daughter.