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May 19, 2008
Dancing the Night Away, With a Higher Purpose
By NEELA BANERJEE
COLORADO SPRINGS — In their floor-length gowns, up-dos and tiaras, the 70 or so young women swept past two harpists and into a gilt-and-brocade dining room at the lavish Broadmoor Hotel, on the arms of their much older male companions.
The girls, ages early grade school to college, had come with their fathers, stepfathers and future fathers-in-law last Friday night to the ninth annual Father-Daughter Purity Ball. The first two hours of the gala passed like any somewhat awkward night out with parents, the men doing nearly all the talking and the girls struggling to cut their chicken.
But after dessert, the 63 men stood and read aloud a covenant “before God to cover my daughter as her authority and protection in the area of purity.”
The gesture signaled that the fathers would guard their daughters from what evangelicals consider a profoundly corrosive “hook-up culture.” The evening, which alternated between homemade Christian rituals and giddy dancing, was a joyous public affirmation of the girls’ sexual abstinence until they wed.
Yet the graying men in the shadow of their glittering daughters were the true focus of the night. To ensure their daughters’ purity, they were asked to set an example and to hew to evangelical ideals in a society they say tempts them as much as it does their daughters.
“It’s also good for me,” said Terry Lee, 54, who attended the ball for a second year, this time with his youngest daughter, Rachel, 16. “It inspires me to be spiritual and moral in turn. If I’m holding them to such high standards, you can be sure I won’t be cheating on their mother.”
Relying on word-of-mouth that brought families mostly from the thriving evangelical community in Colorado Springs and from as far as Virginia and California, Randy and Lisa Wilson built their Purity Ball into an annual gala that costs about $10,000, financed by ticket sales. This year, about 150 people attended the dinner, purity ceremony and dance.
The purity pledges for the fathers to sign stood in the middle of the dinner tables. Unlike other purity balls, the daughters here do not make a pledge, said Amanda Robb, a New York-based writer researching a book about the abstinence movement who was at the Broadmoor event.
“Fathers, our daughters are waiting for us,” Mr. Wilson, 49, told the men. “They are desperately waiting for us in a culture that lures them into the murky waters of exploitation. They need to be rescued by you, their dad.”
The Wilsons organized what was considered the country’s first father-daughter purity ball 10 years ago, as their oldest girls entered adolescence. Randy Wilson is the national field director of church ministries for the Family Research Council, a conservative advocacy group, and Lisa Wilson is a stay-at-home mom.
“The culture says you’re free to sleep with as many people as you want to,” said Khrystian Wilson, 20, one of the Wilsons’ seven children, including five girls. “What does that get you but complete chaos?”
For the Wilsons and the growing number of people who have come to their balls, premarital sex is seen as inevitably destructive, especially to girls, who they say suffer more because they are more emotional than boys. Fathers, they say, play a crucial role in helping them stay pure.
“Something I need from dad is affirmation, being told I’m beautiful,” said Jordyn Wilson, 19, another daughter of Randy and Lisa. “If we don’t get it from home, we will go out to the culture and get it from them.”
Recent studies have suggested that close relationships between fathers and daughters can reduce the risk of early sexual activity among girls and teenage pregnancy. But studies have also shown that most teenagers who say they will remain abstinent, like those at the ball, end up having sex before marriage, and they are far less likely to use condoms than their peers.
No one knows for certain how many purity balls are held nationwide, because they are grass-roots efforts. The Abstinence Clearinghouse, an advocacy group, says it sells hundreds of purity ball kits annually to interested groups all over the country and abroad.
Abstinence is never mentioned at the Colorado Springs Purity Ball, but a litany of fathers’ duties is — mainly, making time to get involved in their daughters’ lives and setting an example.
In a ballroom after dinner, bare but for a seven-foot wooden cross at one end, the fathers and daughters gathered along the walls. Kevin Moore, there with his three girls, told the men they were taking a stand for their families and their nation. Then he and Mr. Wilson walked to the cross with two large swords, which they held up before it to make an arch.
Each father and his daughter walked under the arch and knelt before the cross. Synthesized hymns played. The fathers sometimes held their daughters and whispered a short prayer, and then the girls each placed a white rose, representing purity, at the foot of the cross. Mr. Lee and Rachel walked away holding hands.
The girls, many wearing purity rings, made silent vows. “I promise to God and myself and my family that I will stay pure in my thoughts and actions until I marry,” said Katie Swindler, 16.
Her father, Jim, said he brought her to show her how much he cherished her after almost losing her in a car accident two years ago.
Loss tinged many at the ball. Stephen Clark, 64, came to the ball for the first time with Ashley Avery, 17, who is “promised” to his son, Zane, 16. Mr. Clark brought Ashley, in her white satin gown, to show her that he loved her like a daughter, he said, something he felt he needed to underscore after Ashley’s father left her family a year ago.
Mrs. Wilson, the organizer, said that her father abandoned her family when she was 2, and that Mr. Wilson’s father was distant. One father said he had terminal cancer and came with his two daughters. Others were trying to do better in their second marriages.
“I’ve heard from fathers that this challenged them, to guard their own eyes, for example,” Mr. Wilson said. “It is a call to covenant which basically says I as my daughter’s father will be a man of integrity and purity.”
If most teenage girls would not be caught dead dancing with their dads, the girls at the ball twirled for hours with their game but stiff fathers. Every half-hour, Mr. Wilson stopped the dancing so that fathers could bless their daughters before everyone.
The dancing continued past the ball’s official end at midnight. Mr. Wilson had to tell people to go home. The fathers took their flushed and sometimes sleepy girls toward the exit. But one father took his two young daughters for a walk around the hotel’s dark, glassy lake.
Dads, Daughters Celebrate Bond
'Purity Ball' in Colorado Springs focuses on healthy relationships and abstinence
By Erin Emery/Denver Post, Southern Colorado Bureau
Thursday, March 07, 2002, COLORADO SPRINGS
Kevin Moore was a little worried about the ball at the Broadmoor. Moore had not been in a tuxedo since his wedding day, and ballroom dancing definitely falls outside his comfort zone. Nevertheless, it didn't take him long to realize that the ball was not about how graceful he was on the dance floor; it was about spending time with someone he loves, setting an example and making a memory. All for his 10-year-old daughter, Rachel.
"It's about spending time with her," said Moore, a minister at New Life Church, one of the largest churches in Colorado Springs. "It's about showing her how a man treats a woman. It's about opening the door, shopping with her and fussing over her dress and fussing over her. I would want her husband to do the same, to be that dedicated." The Moores were among more than 200 fathers and daughters at the Father-Daughter Purity Ball held recently in Colorado Springs.
The ball is the brainchild of Randy and Lisa Wilson, a Colorado Springs couple who founded Generations of Light Ministry, which focuses on building healthy father-daughter relationships. The ball is a celebration of love between fathers and daughters and a chance for the girls to commit to abstinence. "What we wanted to do was create an event where they could walk into everything that their femininity is about, their beauty, their dress, their makeup and give them a place to dwell on all of that," said Randy Wilson, who works in the policy department at Focus on the Family. "We want to create a place in this culture where purity is exalted and valued." Randy Wilson said he believes healthy father-daughter relationships can help stem some of society's troubles: teen pregnancy, divorce and domestic violence. "We believe that the identity of our daughters is tied to the father's heart. If the father isn't involved, our daughters are left to navigate through relationship and culture by themselves," Wilson said. "They're going to get their identity, but if fathers aren't around, they're going to go outside the home to get that identity."
Dee Thomas, associate director of Pikes Peak Family Connections, a Colorado Springs nonprofit group that teaches nurturing and parenting skills, said she thinks the ball is a good idea. "Having been a single mom and also having been a person who was really without a good father figure, it's important for people to understand that girls need good, good daddies - it's not just for boys," Thomas said. "If you've got a dad who is nurturing, loving and supportive, it empowers the daughter. If he's a father who allows his daughter to speak up for herself but also teaches her when to compromise, I think those are exactly the sort of things that a lot of girls don't get."
The Purity Ball, in its fourth year, is capturing interest outside Colorado. Visitors from Texas, Kansas and North Carolina have attended to glean ideas for balls of their own. "You don't seem to see these kinds of things," Thomas said. "You see advocating for dads and sons, moms and daughters, and moms and sons to some degree, but not dads and daughters. If kids grow up with a dad who was beating Mom, they end up choosing the same type of mate. They get into the same kind of relationships - Mom accepted it, so I can, too."
At The Broadmoor, the ball began with eight ballerinas carrying a cross to the front of the dance floor. Later, each of the girls placed a white rose at the foot of the cross. Fathers vowed to protect their daughters and to honor their wives. Lauren Wilson, 17, whose parents founded the ball, said the ball is the highlight of the year for her and her sisters. "It's amazing," said Lauren Wilson, who is home-schooled. "You feel like a princess getting to dress up and knowing the person you're dancing with loves you so much. I want to feel beautiful to him more than anyone else in my life. "It's encouraging to know my dad is going to guide and protect me. It helps me feel very confident in life because my dad is totally there for me," said Lauren. Her friend, Sarah Tullis, 15, danced with her father, Wesley Tullis, a minister at New Life. "It teaches our values; our standards - what we're going to be looking for and how we should be treated," said Tullis, also a home-schooled student.
Step by Step
Broadmoor formal aims to reinforce importance of father-daughter bond
By Ovetta Sampson/The Gazette; Colorado Springs, CO
2001, COLORADO SPRINGS
Lisa Wilson is a 41-year-old mother of six. The Colorado Springs woman has been happily married for 18 years. But sometimes, in that part of her soul that houses the little girl all women have, is sadness. Wilson has daddy issues. "I'm from a broken home," she says matter of factly. "My father left my mother when I was 2. I grew up without knowing that I had the love of a father's heart. I felt unprotected. I felt unloved. I had no identity." Wilson is determined that her four daughters, who range in age from 4 to 16, and the daughters of strangers won't have that same empty feeling. Three years ago, she and her husband, Randy, created a way for fathers to strengthen their relationships with their daughters. It's called a Father-Daughter Purity Ball. On the surface, it looks like just an elegant evening. About 70 fathers don formal attire, twirl their daughters to the rhythms of the waltz and other ballroom dances, and eat at the upscale Broadmoor hotel. The sold-out event is Saturday. But the real purpose of the evening will be the pledge each father will read and sign at the event.
The purity covenant, as written by the Wilsons, expects fathers to model integrity as a positive influence for their daughters. The pledge, in fact, expects fathers to "be pure in my own life." The event's name - the Father-Daughter Purity Ball connects it to the popular Christian phenomenon that has teens all over the country abstaining from sex, drugs and other so-called immoralities. Such events have been criticized by secular scholars as sexist, because they equate a woman's humanity with her sexuality. But organizers say the ball is a symbolic salve for what they call a crippling reality for teen girls - the failure of the father-daughter relationship. It's a relationship that family experts and even feminist scholars agree can affect the way teen-age girls view themselves and their potential mates. "The whole point of the covenant is about the purpose from a father's heart," Lisa Wilson said. "It's about is responsibility as a father in his heart and mind to model a righteous standard to his daughter, a standard of integrity, honesty, wisdom and discretion."
The case for purity
While the concept of a dance to highlight the father-daughter relationship isn't eye-opening, the use of the word "purity" gives pause. Tomi-Ann Roberts, an associate professor of psychology at Colorado College and a specialist on gender roles and sexual objectification, said the concept behind the ball is good. Some girls like to dress up and be beautiful, and who better than their dads to set the standard for them? But the purity part seems a bit sexist, she said. "Purity as a word - that has to do with whether your water is contaminated or not," Roberts said. "I don't like it being described for a human being. Why is it called a purity ball? Why isn't it called the respect-my-daughter ball? We never talk about men's purity. Girls and women have suffered enough in terms of negative perceptions of their sexuality." Lisa Wilson said the use of the word is deliberate. Purity doesn't just mean in a sexual sense, she said. "Of course, we want to do everything we can to help them enter marriage as pure, as whole persons," she said. "But it's not just physical. It's moral and emotional purity." And the pledge is about the daughters as much as the fathers, Lisa and Randy Wilson said. "It actually calls the father to a task," said Randy Wilson. "I know that when I am walking through the mall, my daughters watch my eyes and they're noticing if I'm looking up and down another woman coming my way and it bothers them."
Randy Wilson said the pledge calls on the fathers to model purity in their own lives - in how they treat their spouses, other women and daughters - to give a good example to their children, especially their daughters.
"The purity of the daughters rests on the shoulders of the fathers," he said.
The case for fathers
What's so special about fathers? Recent research suggests their relationship with their daughters is unique. A Vanderbilt University study released last year found that fathers affect their daughter's attitudes toward sex. The study followed nearly 200 girls from kindergarten through seventh grade and found that girls who lived with a father who was highly involved in their lives delayed sex and dating and had a later onset of puberty. On the flip side, girls with absent fathers experienced puberty early. This research has led some scholars to believe that fathers can play key roles in their daughters' choice of mates as well. "There's quite a bit of theorizing among scholars that fathers are important in how their daughters learn to see men," said Alan Hawkins, a Brigham Young University assistant professor of Family Sciences. Hawkins is co-creator of fatherwork.byu.edu, an educational Web site for fathers. He also was a visiting scholar with The National Fatherhood Initiative. "Is there absolute direct proof? Maybe not. There certainly does seem to be evidence that fathers can play an important role in teaching their daughters to have great respect for themselves and to have great self-esteem."
Lisa and Randy Wilson, who attend New Life Church, didn't need studies to prove that fathers are necessary. They saw it every day in the stories of their past and in the broken hearts of the children and families who came to the Christian couple for guidance. The couple struggled trying to answer why so any families had heartache stories about their daughters. And the two zeroed in on the father-daughter relationship.
Having four daughters, the couple wanted to invent a freeze-frame moment for them and their father. But they also wanted to help other families stave off the hurt that Lisa Wilson and other women felt over the loss of their fathers. So the pledge was born. The Wilsons came to the idea of a Purity Ball from a Christian perspective. In fact, they wrote Celebrations of Faith: Tying Your Children's Heartstrings with God's Truth," ($10.99 Cook Communications). The Purity Ball has been well-received in Christian circles. The Wilsons have received requests from churches all over the nation to replicate it. More than 14 churches in Colorado have given the ball their support. Fathers and daughters as far away as Pennsylvania and Texas will be at the ball this weekend. But Lisa Wilson said the ball doesn't have to be limited to Christians - all fathers and daughters are welcome to use it.
Daddy's little girl
Scott Statton awkwardly raises his arms into a stilted "C" and stands at attention. He's among 26 dads who are holed up in a gym at New Life Church on a Saturday morning to dance with their daughters. Right now, Scott and his daughter Katelyn are practicing the curtsey. For Katelyn, the ball is a chance to spend a little uninterrupted time with her dad. It's her one chance at going to a formal ball, dressing up in a Jessica McClintock dress and being the princess many girls about. She's homeschooled, so she hasn't been to a homecoming dance or a prom. "It's really a blast, especially to go with my dad," she said. "I really like my dad. We have a good relationship with each other. He's the man in my life right now and it's going to be a real fun experience." For her father, the ball is a way to reinforce that relationship. As Statton watches his 14-year-old daughter spin toward his waiting arms, he knows he's racing against the clock of life. With each twirl, Katelyn dances into maturity. "I've got four years left with her, and it all goes by so fast," Statton says of Katelyn, the oldest of his four children. "You want to try to maximize every opportunity with them." Statton hopes that with his pledge, Katelyn will become closer to him. And that biology will not force them to abandon the trusting relationship they've shared until now. "With daughters and even sons, it's natural for there be a relationship with mothers," said Statton, a local software developer.
"But fathers have to try a little harder with their daughters. It's just easier for a father-daughter relationship to slip away."