A dance for daddies and their little girls

Joel Austin, CEO of Daddy University Inc., with his daughter, Jacinda Davis, then 15, at the inaugural dance in February 2008.
Joel Austin, CEO of Daddy University Inc., with his daughter, Jacinda Davis, then 15, at the inaugural dance in February 2008.
Posted: February 13, 2012

IT'S A Daddy Daughter Dance.

On Saturday, girls ranging from toddlers to grownups (yes, you're still a girl inside), will get dressed up in ball gowns, pearls and diamond tiaras to spend some magical time with their dads at the Radisson Hotel Valley Forge in King of Prussia.

"Raising boys for us is more comfortable," said Joel Austin, president and CEO of Daddy University Inc. and organizer of the dance. "We've been in their position. But when it comes to girls, we don't really know much at all."

The dance builds an emotional bond between daughter and dad (or other father figure) and can rekindle a relationship, Austin, 44, said in an interview last week at his Center City office. At the dance, dads and daughters fill out a questionnaire and share it with one another. Questions like: What's your favorite color, favorite movie, favorite day ever?

At the first dance in February 2008, Austin found out that his daughter, Jacinda Davis, then 15, no longer preferred pink but liked purple. Now 19 and a sophomore at Montgomery County Community College, her favorite color is black. But beyond colors, he discovered that they both enjoy cooking and writing.

"I also found out that she really likes me," he said.

Jacinda was raised mostly by her mother, but Austin spends quality time with her. He also has three sons - Aamir, 18; Naim, 15; and Hammad, 11. He and the boys' mother are divorced and share custody of their sons.

In 2004, Austin, who was raised in West Philly and now lives in Norristown, founded Daddy University, which provides information and services to help men become better dads. (It previously was known as Daddy UniverseCity.)

Back in 1998, when his eldest son was 5, he was offered a class at Crozer-Chester Medical Center on how to be a better big brother. His then-wife also had her new-mom classes.

"I'm the only one without a class," Austin said. "I felt like the coach of a team, but I didn't have a playbook."

As head of Daddy University, Austin trains at fatherhood workshops, speaks about parenting at schools, businesses and conferences, and runs a free Father's Club from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. every Tuesday at the West Philadelphia YMCA, Chestnut Street near 51st.

The Daddy Daughter Dance is a fundraiser for another Daddy University event - the National Fatherhood Festival - a free, all-day conference with workshops for dads, to be held this year on June 16, Father's Day Eve, at the Convention Center. Another Daddy Daughter Dance will take place that night.

Reuben Jones, 47, of Northwest Philly, went to the dance last June with his daughter, Raegen, then 3, who lives with her mom. "The room was packed. Black, white, Spanish daughters ranged in age from 2 to 3 to grown women," he said. "Everyone was there for the same reason - to celebrate the father-daughter relationship."

The Daddy Daughter Valentine Dance is from 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday. Tickets ($60 a person, which includes dinner) can be bought at www.dancewithmydad.com (click Registration). None at the door. For info on Daddy University, visit www.daddyuniv.com or call 610-579-3237(DADS).

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