CLEVELAND — At 21, Nia Munford may not be a baby anymore, but she’ll always be daddy’s little girl. She and her father, David, have always been close, a fact that’s clear based on the laughter and love shared between them as they crack jokes and re-live memories in David’s Cleveland home.
“Fatherhood is probably the single most great experience I’ve ever had,” said David.
From ice cream dates and movie outings to family vacations, Nia said throughout her childhood, she and David made time to create special memories together.
“Growing up, me and my dad were really close, we had a lot of similar things we liked,” she said.
When the two heard about a father-daughter dance when Nia was about 14 years old, they saw it as yet another opportunity to have an activity to do together.
“I was really excited because we do stuff like that almost all the time,” she said. “But to do it with other daughters and dads was really cool.”
Dressed to the nines, the duo hit the dance floor at Him & Me, an event in Northeast Ohio designed to foster strong relationships between fathers and daughters, even if the father figure in the daughter’s life isn’t related by blood.
“Being able to attend the dance with biological fathers, stepfathers, uncles, grandfathers, neighborhood – neighbors, whatever it is,” David said. “Fatherhood isn’t necessarily genetic.”
For founder LaToyia Jones, an important purpose of the dance is celebrating dad, whoever he may be, and providing space for him and his daughter to bond.
“Oftentimes, school dances are father-daughter, but this one is created for the fathers who step in,” Jones said.
Jones knows firsthand how important those father figures can be. Jones' uncle stepped into her life when her father wasn’t there. Now, she’s hoping to create a new pattern for the next generation.
“Even me growing up, right, not having a father, that was normal then,” Jones said. “Me being raised by someone else through different crises, that was normal then. I want now, even for my daughter, to have it be normal that her father’s in her life”
But Jones’ mission of fostering father-daughter relationships extends beyond her personal experience. Ten years ago, she started a suicide prevention non-profit, alarmed at just how many suicides were happening in Cleveland. Jones said in looking at the data, she found a significant number of those suicides were happening in fatherless homes.
Those alarming numbers were the impetus for starting Him & Me, the annual dance that encourages dads and daughters to spend time together.
“In these experiences, dad is there,” she said. "Very present, very real.”
A decade later, the dance has grown to include not just dancing but dinner, speakers and performers, and activities like photo booths and caricature artists. About 700 father figures and daughters attend, also facilitating conversations and bonds between the father figures and daughters, beyond their duos.
The Munfords have attended the dance three times, though they said they would have attended more if they hadn’t had other scheduling conflicts through the years. They still treasure the memories created at those dances, David fondly calling “My Girl” by The Temptations one of his favorite songs to dance to.
This year, with the event back after a COVID-induced hiatus, the Munfords plan to attend again, about seven years after they first stepped foot on the dancefloor.
“Making memories is part of it. I think also putting an emphasis on fatherhood is part of it. I think also encouraging folks who haven’t spent that time,” he said. “Turn the corner. Make some new memories. Establish some new patterns. Write some more chapters, because the book isn’t over yet.”
The dance is open to everyone, and this year it will take place on Sunday, Aug. 7th.
For more information, head to Him & Me’s website.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The video above previously aired on Saturday, June 18 on 3News streaming platforms.