Dads with daughters usually mean well when they try to offer their little girls advice on how to be women in the world, but most of the time it ranges from ultra prescriptive to overly protective to ultra-gross, with a lot of misguided machismo in between. Actor Channing Tatum recently penned an open letter to his daughter that does none of those things, somehow conveying that he cares about her growing into a happy young woman who has sex one day, but without ever telling her how she needs to do it to please him.
Writing in Cosmopolitan to promote the Magic Mike Live launch in Vegas, Tatum imagines his daughter reading the letter in her teens or 20s, looking for answers about her sexuality or desire or “finding true love.” Tatum writes:
I tried to imagine the things I’d want her to read that would help her understand men and sex and partnership better, and at that moment, I realized a strange thing. I don’t want her looking to the outside world for answers. My highest hope for her is just that she has the fearlessness to always be her authentic self, no matter what she thinks men want her to be.
The rest of the letter, to be clear, is pretty cheeseball — lotta stuff about “radical authenticity” and “unique roadmaps of the heart.” And Tatum is a celebrity, after all, which doesn’t automatically imbue him with deeper wisdom than the rest of us. But he has a bigger platform, and, notably, he used it here to send a message that his daughter is already enough just as she is, and she shouldn’t be soliciting advice or approval from men on how to be herself.
Compare this with the other dad-daughter commentary out there. You’ve got Donald Trump joking about banging daughter Ivanka. You’ve got Christian father-daughter “purity balls” where girls take a vow of purity, not to themselves, but to their dads—essentially granting boyfriend status to their fathers by vowing not to touch or kiss or date any man but him until they marry.
You’ve got the more secular version of this in the form of daddy-daughter dates, where a man in essence dates his daughter to show her what romance should be like. They often take on a very traditionally gendered notion of dating, too — he picks her up, opens doors, takes her to a candlelit dinner, pulls out chairs and even remarks on her beauty.
“How have you felt during our date tonight?” one father asks his 7th grade daughter after the date. “I don’t want you to expect anything less from a boy you’re dating.”
“You don’t see Mother-Son Dates,” Elizabeth Broadbent writes at Romper of the phenomenon. And that’s because boys don’t need to be socialized into a female-dominated society.”
Yes, sons who take their mothers out to dinner might bring flowers or hold doors, enforcing a gentleman’s code, but the dynamic is key here: It’s not as if these women are leading the night, asking their sons out on dates, arriving on the porch with flowers and instructing them on how a woman should treat them in a romantic setting. The women in both these scenarios are being pursued by fathers or sons, never doing the pursuing.
This is not to suggest fathers can’t take their daughters out to nice dinners — but why use a sexual or romantic framework to do it? Cut to your now-grown daughter on a future date, complaining to her partner that he just isn’t treating her like dear old dad used to. Shudder.
Then there’s the dad-with-a-shotgun trope, lying in wait for any man who so much as attempts to enter his physical (or female) property with the intention of dating his little girl, as evidenced in a viral post called “10 Simple Rules for Dating My Daughter.” It makes light of physical threats toward any guy who thinks he’s getting his hands on daddy’s property:
You do not touch my daughter in front of me. You may glance at her, so long as you do not peer at anything below her neck. If you cannot keep your eyes or hands off of my daughter’s body, I will remove them.
I’m sure you’ve been told that in today’s world, sex without utilizing a “barrier method” of some kind can kill you. Let me elaborate, when it comes to sex, I am the barrier, and I will kill you.
Get it? He’s the barrier — to your boyfriend’s dick! Har-dee-har.
But then some men go the other way, taking an almost creepy enthusiasm towards their daughters’ future fucking, hoping they really, really love it. “Dear Daughter: I Hope You Have Awesome Sex” by Ferrett Steinmetz is one such example.
“Look, I love sex,” Steinmetz writes. “It’s fun. And because I love my daughter, I want her to have all of the same delights in life that I do, and hopefully more.”
Ugh, thanks Dad! Gonna go die now. Of sexually fulfilled embarrassment.
Viewed in this light, Tatum’s advice is pretty great at striking the balance of not being uncomfortably (sexually) specific; remaining vaguely uplifting, non-forbidding; and still respecting the boundaries, and autonomy, of his daughter-woman’s freedom to figure out when, how, with whom or whether — to get her fuck on. Dads: This is how you do it.