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Are there rules for dating your daughter?

(Not So) Common Sense

Are there rules for dating your daughter?
By Carole Townsend

We remember with tenderness and pure love the day that our babies are born, don’t we? Little girls, little boys…it really doesn’t matter. They were our sweet, precious, innocent little miracles. Their entire lives stretched out before them, all promise and perfection.

Carole Townsend

At the time, when they’re just tiny, perfect babies, we only see them as they are right there, swaddled and sleepy. They are totally, completely dependent on us, the avowed perfect parents. And that will never change.

Fast forward sixteen or so years. Our baby boys have grown into young men – maybe reckless and daring, maybe studious and introverted. No matter. We are proud of them. They have very likely developed a healthy, if perhaps robust, interest in girls, and secretly, we grin and feel pride. “That’s my boy,” I’ve heard many a dad say as his son embarks upon the relentless pursuit of the fairer sex.  “Chip off the old block.”

Now, fast forward sixteen or so years in the life of a baby girl. When young men begin to call (do they still do that, or do they just text or SnapChat or something?), Mom and Dad’s reactions are likely a bit different with their daughter. If the young man calling on the girl seems to have respectable motives, comes from a “good family” and acts respectfully, Mom – with some reservations at first – smiles and allows her daughter to go to a movie, or to have dinner, then come right back home. If the boy has her daughter home at the specified time (before is even better – big brownie points), then a second date is allowed. The pattern continues until a) one of the young couple gets tired of the other (usually pretty messy), or b) someone steps outside the rules (not as messy, but everyone ends up unhappy). If either of those two occurrences happens, it’s game over.

Oh, I know everyone’s household doesn’t operate this way. As with most topics about which I choose to write, I am drawing from my own experiences. In fact, in this instance, I am sugarcoating them. My mother died when I was very young, and my father had his own manner of laying down the rules for dating; he made them up as he went along, they could and did change at random, and there was no arguing with him in either instance. My brother came and went as he pleased, sometimes staying out all night, and questions were rarely if ever asked.

I was two years older than my brother and away at college in Nashville, but when I came home to Atlanta, I had a midnight curfew. I’d protest the injustice, of course, but Dad’s answer was always the same: “The double standard is alive and well in this house.” When your opponent makes your argument for you, there’s not much left to say, is there?

Once, before I had left for college, I came home late from a date. When I say late, I  mean that the boy brought me home 5, maybe 10, minutes after my curfew. I can see it now as if it just happened yesterday; when  we pulled into the driveway of my house in Doraville, Dad was sitting on a stool in that driveway “cleaning” a 12-gauge shotgun.  No sooner had the poor young man slipped the transmission into PARK, when my dad motioned for him to roll down his window. When the window was down far enough for my dad to stick his head in the car, he walked over, did just that, and asked, “What do you mean bringing my daughter home late, boy?”

“Boy” was terrified. I don’t even remember his name, because that was the last time I ever saw him. I was mortified, both angry and embarrassed. When I registered my complaint, strongly and with impassioned conviction, my dad said that I should choose the boys that I date more carefully, or at least make sure they had a watch that worked. In other words, Dad didn’t care how upset or embarrassed I was by his behavior. The boy(s) who dated his daughter were given simple rules to follow. If they couldn’t follow them, or worse, if they refused to follow them, then they would not be keeping company with Dave Adams’ daughter. Period.

I’m happy to say that my husband and I were not quite so drastic when it came to our daughters’ dating years. The older two lived mostly with their mother, so she set the bar for them with respect to dating. Our son and youngest daughter, however, lived with us. We had rules, of course, but none of them was enforced with threats or firearms. We required that the boys come to the door, then inside the house to meet us. We required this every time our daughter went on a date, whether we knew the boy or not. If a young man had the poor taste to pull into our driveway and honk his horn, that’s exactly the way he spent his evening. Our daughter, we explained, was not a farm animal trained to react to a horn or a bell for feeding time.

We required that every kid that spent time with our daughter had enough sense to introduce himself, shake my husband’s hand and make eye contact with each of us. There’s a problem when someone can’t extend those most basic of courtesies, especially when he is (or should be) trying to make an impression. 

As our daughter got older, we of course expected that any young man with whom she spent time would treat her well and keep her safe.  We still expect that.

At the risk of sounding as though “the double standard is alive and well in our house,” let me be clear. There are rules for dating our son, also. Actually, there’s just one rule. It keeps things simple. If a young woman in his life takes advantage of him or treats him poorly, or if there is the slightest hint of the appearance of such treatment, I make sure she sees me take time to select just the right shotgun, and then I painstakingly take the time to shine it up to perfection while I explain to her what happened to the last young woman who mistook my son for an ATM, or for anything other than the perfect young gentleman that he is – a great catch that any young woman worth her salt would know.

I think my dad would be proud.

Carole Townsend is a Gwinnett author and freelance writer. She writes about family, from both a humorous and poignant perspective. Her newest book, MAGNOLIAS, SWEET TEA AND EXHAUST (July 2014, Skyhorse Publishing) takes a look at NASCAR from a Southern suburban mom’s perspective. She is currently writing her fourth book. Carole has appeared on local and national news and talk shows, including CNN, ABC, CBS and NBC affiliates. When not writing, she travels throughout the region, speaking to various civic and literary groups, and advocating for the health and well-being of the family, particularly women and children. For more information, visit