GLENBURN, Maine — Controversy erupted in Glenburn after a 13-year-old girl and her older sister were turned away from the “Butterfly Kisses” father-daughter dance on Friday night.
The squabble has both sides questioning whether the concept of the father-daughter or mother-son dance is exclusionary and outdated in a time when fewer and fewer families have a structure considered “traditional.”
The dance was organized and held by the Glenburn PTF, a parent-teacher organization with about six active members who fundraise and set up dances, movie nights, breakfasts and a fall festival for Glenburn School’s K-8 students and their families.
Leading up to the father-daughter dance, which was held at the school, the Glenburn PTF sent out fliers to the families of all female students with details about the dance and how to get tickets. The organization welcomed girls and their fathers or a male relative if the father wasn’t able to attend.
That prompted Lisa Dunton-Roy, 46, to call Jody O’Connor, treasurer of the Glenburn PTF, early in the week of the dance. Dunton-Roy, who asked to keep her 7th-grade daughter’s name out of this story, said she is a single parent and that her daughter’s father had no involvement in the girl’s life for years.
Dunton-Roy said she was told “no moms allowed,” and that the Glenburn PTF wanted to keep the dance “traditional.”
“I just explained that this was a father-daughter dance, but that a father figure could take the girl as well,” O’Connor said.
In the past, the girl’s grandfather had taken her to these dances, but he couldn’t go this year because he is recovering from a recent heart attack, according to Dunton-Roy.
O’Connor claims the grandfather and his illness were never mentioned to her. If it had been mentioned, she said, she might have come to some type of concession with the family. If none of her own male relatives were able to attend, O’Connor said, perhaps, the girl could have gone with a friend who had a father there at the dance.
Dunton-Roy argued that she is both father and mother to her daughters. She said she has taught her daughters basic home and car maintenance. She also took her 13-year-old to hunter-safety courses last year.
“Why should I be eliminated altogether just because I’m not a traditional mom?” Dunton-Roy said.
On the night of the dance, the 13-year-old girl was upset and crying because she wanted to attend and see her friends, her mother said. That’s when the girl’s 25-year-old half-sister, Tia Dunton, came home.
“I felt bad for her,” Dunton said. “We didn’t have anyone to take her, but we decided to go anyway.”
Dunton took her little sister to her home, and the two got dressed up before going to their grandparents’ house for pictures.
When they arrived at the dance and tried to buy tickets, the volunteer manning the booth went to get O’Connor, knowing she had been the one to talk to this family earlier.
Details about exactly how the conversation transpired are disputed, but both sides agree it was heated and didn’t go well.
Dunton and her sister ended up leaving the dance with the little girl in tears.
“I was outraged,” Dunton said. “I took her to Texas Roadhouse and told her to get whatever she wanted to try to cheer her up.”
“This is a dance that’s been going on for 29 or 30 years now,” said Heather Merrill, president of the Glenburn PTF. “We do have other events that involve entire families. We weren’t trying to exclude anybody, but it is a father-daughter dance.”
“I think there were plenty of other opportunities there for this student,” Merrill said.
In the past, the Glenburn PTF has allowed students whose fathers were on military deployment or were otherwise unable to attend, but it has always been with another male family member or with a friend who has a father there. Those options always have worked, according to O’Connor.
Dunton-Roy questions how the organization would have handled a situation involving a child with same-sex parents wanting to attend with their daughter.
“The dynamics of a family have changed significantly, which I completely embrace and support 100 percent,” O’Connor said. “I don’t like the idea that someone would be excluded to be honest with you.”
O’Connor said the Glenburn PTF would be talking about how to handle these situations in the future. She also said she questions whether father-daughter or mother-son dances are inherently exclusionary for families whose dynamics have changed.
Merrill said the group has been thinking about holding a “family dance” in place of one of its other events.
Bob Milardo, a professor of family relations at the University of Maine in Orono, said father-daughter and mother-son dances are “wonderful ideas in principle” because they recognize the important roles parents play in children’s lives.
But the reality is that many children don’t have those relationships, with nearly one-third of U.S. children being raised without a father and about 5 million others raised without a mother, according to census data.
“The demographic reality of families today is that they are more diverse than they were in the past,” he said. It can be “hurtful” to children in nontraditional family situations.
Milardo said that schools and groups hosting these type of events should carefully communicate alternatives for children who might not have an active father or father-figure in their lives. Organizers could even provide “surrogate dads” to attend the dances with students who have no other options.
“She is upset, she knows this is wrong,” Dunton-Roy said of her younger daughter. “It still hurts her because she wanted to go. For an adult to stand there and say to a child, ‘No, you can’t come in,’ is just wrong.”