Sunday, February 10, 2008

My daughter saunters into the kitchen, her head wrapped in a wet towel, her body swaddled in an oversized fleece bathrobe. “What are you thinking?” I say. “Your date for the dance is going to be here any minute.”

Looking at the clock, she bolts upstairs to brush her teeth while I plug in the iron to press her best outfit. Before long, we’re standing in front of the mirror in my bathroom, where I fire up the blow dryer to dry and style her hair.

“Remember to be ladylike,” I say over the hum of the hair dryer. “And use your best manners at dinner.” I tell her to let her date open the car door and take her arm on the icy parking lot. “Some girls aren’t patient and don’t let their dates do the things a gentleman should,” I say.

She assures me she’ll make a good impression. “It’s not like this is my first dance,” she says.

We chat about the plans for the evening, and she wonders what kind of music they’ll play at the dance. When I finish fixing her hair, she puts on some clear lip gloss, smiles at herself and dashes upstairs for her shoes and a pair of earrings.

Moments later, the door opens, and my husband walks into house shouting, “Hey! Where’s my date? Is she ready?”

Amy descends from upstairs smiling broadly. She does a twirl for her dad, the way 10-year-olds do. He gushes about her appearance, places a small corsage on her wrist, and together they pose for their annual Daddy/ Daughter Dance photo.

Then, in a rush, he helps her into her coat, and with a wave and smile, they’re out the door and off for a special night — just the two of them.

Jealous? Who, me? Not even a little bit.

In fact, it was I who sent in the reservation form and check for the dance, hosted by our children’s school, and I who stopped at the grocery store’s floral department for the corsage. I do whatever is needed to facilitate this annual outing because I believe it’s one of the most important traditions between my husband and our girls as they grow up.

Fortunately, my husband thinks so, too.

Of course, a special night on the town with dad is fun, but it stands for something much more significant and lasting. Researchers tell us that fathers — more than mothers — influence their daughters in areas such as academic and career success, relationships with men, dealing with authority, developing self-confidence and building solid self-esteem and self-respect. It’s dads, not moms, who can best help girls stave off emotional problems such as eating disorders. It’s dads who can best make girls feel secure enough to avoid the merry-go-round of destructive relationships.

A generation of feminism to the contrary, when it comes to the special roles of mothers and fathers, none of us can be what we are not. Even when I approach motherhood with my best effort and a heart full of good intentions, I could never replicate the role my children’s father plays in their lives.

Yet even in this, a dad sometimes needs some direction. Early on, I’m not sure Jim appreciated the significance of his role or the potential outcome for our daughters if he didn’t learn just how crucial his relationships with them can be. As they’ve grown, our older daughters now exhibit many of the traits that reflect Jim’s interest in them, his respect for them and his desire to show them what to expect in a man.

I watch the taillights on Jim’s car disappear down the street as he and Amy head out into the cold night. For the next few hours, she’ll be the total focus of his attention, the one girl he cherishes and works hard to impress. Before the night is over — perhaps somewhere between the macarena and the cha-cha shuffle — Amy will learn a little more about what it means to be a confident young lady and what to look for in a true gentleman.

Columnist Marybeth Hicks, a wife of 20 years and mother of four children, lives in the Midwest. She is the author of “The Perfect World Inside My Minivan One Mom’s Journey Through the Streets of Suburbia,” a compilation of her columns. She uses her column to share her perspective on issues and experiences that shape families nationwide. Visit her Web site (www.marybeth or send e-mail to marybeth.hicks@

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