Billy Coffey

writer, observer, learner

Father, daughter, Barbie and Ken

image courtesy of

image courtesy of

I received an invitation over the weekend to participate in a writing project for my friend Marcus Goodyear as a sort of celebration for his new book of poetry (to take a peek yourself, click here ). The subject matter I was asked to write about?


Now you might think it would be quite a stretch for a guy like me to write about something like that, what with the cowboy hat and all. But you’d be wrong. I’ve been wanting to write about Barbies for quite a while.

I have a lot of experience with Barbies. Blame my daughter.

At eight, she’s closing in on that age when boys become interesting instead of gross. There has already been a few notes passed to her behind the teacher’s back. Last February, several Valentines with her name on them found their way into her school books. There’s even been one attempted phone call from a boy.

(A sad case, that. Poor boy was scared to death and promised to never call again. That’s what happens when you call a girl and her father happens to answer the phone instead.)

Handling this sort of situation is a tricky affair. On the one hand, laying down the law would be great for me. Not so much for her. And on the other hand, letting things be would be contrary to every impulse in my fatherly bones.

I had to find a way to get my point across without alienating her. I had to reach, not preach.

Enter the Barbies.

She’d been asking me to play Barbies with her for years, but I’d always managed to slip away. Chores to do, things to write, that sort of thing. As a boy, rule number one was that men do not play with dolls. But then the passed notes happened, then the Valentines, then the phone call, and, well…

So now I’m Ken. Preppy surfer who’s likely always gotten his way through good looks and rich parents. Drives a corvette and always has that come-hither smile plastered on his face. And, of course, infatuated with a very beautiful but physically disproportioned certain someone.

In the privacy of the living room floor, my daughter and I play. There are equal parts tension and reverie. Barbie and Ken fight, then make up, then fight again. They go on dates and pass notes to each other and plan an elaborate wedding. Between you and me, I still don’t get much out of it. I’m a guy. Dolls scare me. My daughter, though? She’s in heaven. And I’m hoping she’s paying attention as much as she’s playing.

Because preppy rich-boy Ken isn’t so much. Not when he’s in my hands. He’s kind and considerate to the woman he loves (or, as I put it to my daughter, “Crushin’ on”). He holds the door to the corvette open for her. He holds her hand and nothing else. He’s patient and waits while she gets ready because he knows she’s worth waiting for. They fight, yes. But it’s never bad and never for long and things are always better afterwards.

Ken sees Barbie as an equal in most things and as someone a little better in others. He protects her and keeps her safe from the toy soldiers my son often ambushes us with. And he is the epitome of self-restraint.

“How come Ken never kisses Barbie?” she’s asked me.

“Because they aren’t married yet,” I say. “That’s the rules. You always have to mind the rules.”

Playtime with a subtle warning thrown in.

How much good this will do is something I suppose I’ll have to wait to see. Life is all about choices, and it doesn’t matter if you’re eight or eighty. At some point, she’ll have to make her own.

But I’m hoping that on some faraway day when a real-life someone takes her on a date, she’ll remember playing with her father on the living room floor. And she’ll start thinking of herself as Barbie and her date as Ken, and she’ll remember the rules and the fact that they have to mind them.

And maybe she’ll measure the person she’s with against the person who taught her the rules in the first place.

I hope so. The bar’s high, no doubt.

As it should be.

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  1. The bar’s indeed high. She’ll know that, too.

  2. Do you think that will work on my 10-yr-old this weekend? I’m off to dig out the barbies right now! Loved it, Billy!

  3. OK, this completely made me LOL! I’m going to pass it on to my husband. Our daughter is only a toddler, but he is already freaked out about boys. Great ideas here… 😉

  4. Sweet
    Billy- When I was young, my Ken doll was named Alan (Big AL), who I had a crush on while I was in the third grade. I married him.

  5. What a wonderful gift you are giving your giving your daughter …

  6. Hey Billy-

    As long as the boys that come around remember that her father is packing a Nerf gun, things should be all right. . .

  7. What a great and subtle way to teach your daughter how she’s supposed to be treated. I have a feeling though she’ll measure all those boys in her future against her daddy and will know how she’s supposed to be treated. I’m on the opposite end being a mom of a boy. Thankfully for the moment even at 10 years old he still thinks girls are icky, but I see tiny signs that it will be changing soon. Trying to prepare myself while showing him how he should treat them.

  8. Wonderful.

    I played Legos with my sons for hours — we made up story after story with them. It was their absolute favorite thing to do with me. I made voices and characters. A lot happened on those Lego sets…

  9. Exactly! Your daughter is lucky she has a dad that cares enough to set high standards for her. It does make a big difference. In the kind of society we live in, kids need all the support they can get to stay on the right track. Awesome story!

  10. It is amazing how much of relationships we teach through Ken and Barbie. Petra is 4 and she has learned that Ken and Barbie must be friends first, THEN ‘go on dates’, THEN they can get married, in that order. Granted that process lasts about 15 minutes, but at least the concept is there. 😉

    On another interesting note, after Ken and Barbie are married they usually adopt some wayward Polly Pocket to be their daughter. Only occasionally does Barbie “have a baby in her tummy” that is born to the happy plastic couple. My daughter apparently has a real heart for orphans even at this age. :-)

  11. While my own Dad never really played the fear card with my dates, my friend Amy’s Dad, Glenn, did.

    Glenn was in the Army and was a pretty scary guy and when Amy’s first date showed up, Glenn met him at the door and said, “Come on in, son, I’ve got something to show you.” And he proceeded to make the boy watch him clean his gun. Then, holding the gun, he said, “Son, my daughter has a quarter in her pocket. If she has to use it to call me, WE (he strokes the gun) are going to come find you. Now, you have a good time and you have her back in my house by 10.”

    Amy didn’t have to use the quarter.

  12. I love the (maybe not so) subtle message you threw in there with the no-kissing-til-you’re-married. My husband is still going with the “no dating til you’re 50,” and our daughter bargained him down to 30. She was more concerned that she would have to wait another 20 years to drive. Ah, I love seven-year-olds. :)

  13. Barbie wisdom. Solomon would be impressed with you.

  14. Forgot to say: One of my favorite tips about this very thing is for Dads to date their daughters. Make it a big deal. Treat them extravagantly. Open their door. Pull their chair out. And when it comes time for them to date, every boy will be held to a high standard. “He was nice, but my Dad treats me better.” It’s a beautiful and subtle way to teach girls how special and valuable they should be in the eyes of the opposite sex.

  15. Good stuff! I’ve talked about how Josh has been preparing our daughter since birth with dating/boys/etc. He keeps reminding her how beautiful (and smart, strong, creative, funny, etc) every day. Not to blow up her ego……but so when the first clown comes around and tries to woo her over with the “you’re beautiful” line,…….she won’t bat an eye lash and just say “yeah, I know that… that all you’ve got?”

    Then he also has his gun collection displayed along with a shovel on the side. (he plans to remind any prospective date of how much land there is out back to bury him if need be) HA!

    You’re a great dad, Billy……

  16. I think play is probably one of the most powerful things for a child. (I wonder if when you leave, Barbie kisses Ken… : )

  17. I think one of the biggest clues a girl can get from a guy is this.

    Does the guy make suggestive comments?

    Does the guy respect her boundaries?

    Does the guy respect her parents?

    True love will show these things. A genuine care for the girl. I’ve had my share of moments I wasn’t proud of, but there is an age where a guy grows up and realizes…

    a few things. A lot of things. And it becomes about Barbie, and not himself.

  18. Yes, another great reinforcement tool. We’ve got to use everything we’ve got! This is important!

    Just as an aside, at least from the picture you have here, Ken doesn’t look like he’f be all that interested in Barbie (or any girl for that matter)… just an observation :)

  19. The approach works with mothers and their sons, too.

    Great post, Billy.

  20. Such wisdom in this post, and in the comments.

    When my now 12 year-old son Morgan was 4 or 5, we went on a “date” to McDonald’s, a movie and finished with dessert at Applebee’s (all his choice). We sat at a table instead of booth at McDonald’s. As we sat down, I instructed him that “a gentleman pulls out the chair for a lady,” which he did. I reminded him about opening/closing doors, etc.

    At the end of the night, he held the car door open for me, closed it once I was safely in, then opened the back door, crawled into his booster seat, buckled up, and away we went.

    Great memories!

  21. Fathers play a huge role in the dating game-for better or worse. I loved this post…we have ‘real life Ken’s’ hanging around our daughters these days. Its not easy for a dad : )

  22. Love this, Billy. And the comments are good, too. A loving, attentive, respectful father is the best defense against a daughter craving inappropriate attention from boys.

    Your “not married yet” remark reminded me of when our son Luke was two and he kissed his “girlfriend” on the church playground. After we got home, I took him aside and said, “Luke, you should save your lips for the girl you’re going to marry.”

    “I AM going to marry her,” he piped in his squeaky, toddler voice.

    Great. If he was that confident about his passions at two, how would we manage his romantic tendencies once hormones magnified them a million fold? As it turned out, by the time he was old enough to really be attracted to girls, he knew Christ and believed that His plan is best. Also, we always told our kids, “The person you date is most likely someone’s future spouse. Treat him/her like you want your future spouse to be treated.” That made sense to them and helped them maintain a big-picture view. It also turned the focus from their own desires to the other person’s highest good.

    Blessings on you, your sweet daughter, and your investment in her view of romance. It’s well worth it.

  23. This put me in mind of my stepdaughter, who just turned 10 and is leaving Barbies behind. *sniffle* I wish she was more a part of our lives. We miss so much.

  24. “And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house…You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” ~ Deuteronomy 6:6-9

    Sounds like you got it covered…


  25. Two things here.
    My husband played many games of Pretty Pretty Princess.

    My brother in law had the right idea… ” Shoot the first one, and the word gets around “

  26. I think that’s perfect! My dad actually walked out to a boys car (when I was in high school) that had come to see me. He had a gun in his hand. The boy wouldn’t even look at me after that. Your way is much better!

  27. I love this post; what a great way to redeem a cultural icon who isn’t often associated with purity and chastity. And this takes fatherhood to a whole new level! Well done!

  28. I’m just glad you’re teaching your daughter to only date/kiss/marry men that drive Chevys.

  29. The world needs more fathers like you.

  30. My girls never really did much with Barbies. They preferred tiny, flat-chested, squared-off, perpetually grinning plastic Playmobil people. But I grew up with Barbies. Mine rode Breyer horses around the yard and didn’t interact a lot with Ken. He was around, but didn’t court much because the Barbies were galloping off on adventures with their friends.

  31. And imagining my dad on the floor playing Ken?

    Impossible on so many levels.

  32. I can’t help but ask: That country song–“y’all go have fun, I’ll just be here cleaning this gun”–did you write that? 😀

    You’re a good dad.

  33. Yeah… I can see you as teh hick version of Ken!

  34. Oh yes! I LOVE this. And as always, that last line is perfect. Thanks, Billy – glad I took the time to stop by.

  35. I imagine that she will remember…

    You’re a good father to give her such moments. I remember many of them with my own daddy. Memories like that don’t fade; they linger, especially when they’re needed the most. Even at 44.


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