Alyssa is back with Ask Team Practical Fridays, and today we’re tackling the father-daughter dance. This was an interesting subject to tackle. Alyssa had a father-daughter-dance and it meant a lot to her. I didn’t even consider having a father-daughter-dance (though we had a family dance, more on that to come), because like a lot of complicated gender issues, it made me super uncomfortable. So, I can tell you that, hands down, this has been the most debated and most talked over Ask Team Practical column ever. And I’m happy with what we came up with. So lets dive in.
Today we have the following question from Amanda:
I am planning my wedding for next October, and have started thinking about which traditions I wanted to incorporate into our ceremony and reception. One thing I am really struggling with is the Father-Daughter dance. On the one hand, I can see how that tradition could be very important to my dad. On the other hand, I find the tradition to be a little creepy, and I can think of about a million other things I would rather do with those 3 minutes. It seems like a vestige of the system of fathers’ ownership of their daughters, with the dance being the last exercise of dominance (I am also leaning towards having both my parents walking me down the aisle instead of just my dad for the same reason). I was wondering if anyone over at Team Practical knew anything about the history of the father-daughter dance? Do you have any recommendations on how to have this conversation with my dad?
Well, Amanda, I did some preliminary searching for you, but I couldn’t find any concrete evidence that the father-daughter dance has any real basis as an exercise in dominance. I could search further, but I’ll let you do that if you’re truly interested in its roots. (Plus, ten bucks says some savvy reader will give us an answer, possibly with links.) But let’s discuss tradition for a second.
In the end, does the history of a tradition matter? Walking a bride down the aisle definitely has its root in ownership and dominance, but sometimes a tradition is a tradition because a lot of people started doing it all the time. Even if there are sinister roots, there comes a point when something doesn’t hold its original meaning anymore, when that’s not what people think of when it occurs. There comes a point when we can grab a hold of a tradition and say, “F*ck it, this is OURS and it means whatever the hell I say it means.” For example, if you pay attention to what a tradition originally meant and assume that it still holds that meaning, wouldn’t both your parents walking you down the aisle mean that you’re contributing to the notion that they both own you and are handing you over? Maybe, but that’s clearly not what’s happening at your wedding. You are asking your parents to take you on a final walk before you head into the next part of your journey as an adult, right?
So it’s possible for the father-daughter dance be just that: a tradition that may or may not have roots in sexism, but is now a chance for you to have a brief public moment with your father. I can guarantee that none of your guests would think, “Ah. He doesn’t own her anymore, now her husband does,” as you dance with your father to “Wind Beneath My Wings.” (And anyone who does has deeper issues and should be ignored.)
But the problem is that YOU may well think of that as you dance with your father, or heck, you might just not be comfortable with that (Meg wasn’t, she requests that you don’t get her started on the subject.) You’re already having both your parents walk you down the aisle, so there is no reason for you to force the issue with a father-daughter dance. That makes it seem simple, which it isn’t always. And you know that, so that’s why you’re writing to Team Practical.
At the end of the day, you don’t want to have the father-daughter dance. And you don’t have to. As you said, “I can think of about a million other things I would rather do with those 3 minutes.” Those of us who had a father-daughter dance did it because we wanted those three minutes. However, you don’t, and you will serve yourself best by being honest about that with your dad. Tell him that you’re not comfortable with doing the dance. Maybe he’s not comfortable either. This might not be a moment that he’s been looking forward to, or even cares about. He might be shy, or he might just be doing it because he thinks you want to. Chances are, if you talked about both parents walking you down the aisle, and he’s okay with that, he probably knows you and will be okay with your wishes to omit or modify the father-daughter dance.
Meg had a family dance, which is a great option to let everyone dance together in honor of your union. They had both families join them on the floor after the first dance, and everyone danced with everyone else. Meg danced with, in no particular order: her dad, her mom, her sister, David’s dad, and David’s brother. And David. And quite possibly some other family members, but she can’t exactly remember. But everyone danced with everyone else, and it was excellent. A family dance gives the same expression, but incorporates ALL of your family, no longer highlighting a father-daughter relationship but all the important relationships in your life. Which is really beautiful.
I did want a father-daughter dance with my dad, but because it was something that meant a lot to him. My father had a quintuple bypass when I was in college, and when discussing his recovery with his doctor, he said that he was going to do everything the doctor said because he wanted to be able to walk his daughter down the aisle at her wedding and dance with her at her reception. Knowing that, there was no way I could take the experience away from him, regardless of my feelings on it. The song we picked ended up being a little long, so I set it up with a few family members beforehand that when I gave them the nod, they would join us on the floor with their own fathers. It lessened the strangeness of people staring at us for 4 minutes, and it gave them their own nice moments. (Plus, it gave me the chance to give someone The Nod. That’s always fun.)
And if he’s not okay with eliminating or changing the father-daughter dance? Well, that’s where it gets harder. But if you don’t have that kind of relationship with your father, you shouldn’t fake it at your wedding. If you two aren’t the type to have a father-daughter dance, that doesn’t mean anything is wrong with you. You don’t want to have a father-daughter dance.
So don’t do it.
There should not be recriminations if you don’t do the father-daughter dance, just as there shouldn’t be any shame in your not doing any of the other dozens of traditions that society says we must. But, if you do get flak, you’re just going to have to decide if placating your father is easier than standing your ground for what you believe in and know is real. It’s part of that journey to adulthood and creating your baby family.
Part of the reason that fathers like the father-daughter dance is that it’s a moment to have with their little girl. (Editor’s Note: And before anyone starts, yeah, I called the reader her father’s little girl. Y’all, you will always be, in a small way, your parents’ little girl/boy. Doesn’t mean you’re not an adult. Deal with it.) It’s a way for your father to go, “Hey. Look at her. She’s all grown-up, gorgeous and smart. I was given this precious person to raise and I didn’t kill her. Yay for me and her mother.” Weddings aren’t just for you, they are for your families also. A father-daughter dance for some men can be a later in life rite of passage that they look forward to. If this is something that your father really and truly wants, but something that you really and truly DON’T want to do, you should not do it. But respect his feelings on the subject and work together to find something that you both could do in order to fill that moment he thinks he might be missing.
Maybe you and your father can brainstorm together on another way he can be a part of the ceremony/reception. You find something else you can do together to celebrate the moment, and it doesn’t have to be public. Take a small walk together, find an alcove to hide in and drink scotch together, have him write a letter to you explaining what your wedding means to him. Make sure that he understands that there are other ways that the sentiment he feels can be expressed. It might be hard, but it’s one of those talks you’ll just have to have.
So, what say you Team Practical? How did you handle dancing with your family? How did you handle other tricky gender roles at your wedding?