‘It's the Little Things': Military Dads and Daughters Bond at Armed Services YMCA Dance in San Diego

“Something that’s close in bonding like this is beneficial for both of us – it helps us build a father-daughter relationship,” said U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Sergio Torres, hugging on his 3-year-old, Sophia Torres

Dressed in uniform and accompanied by the most darling dates, U.S. service members filed into a ballroom at a San Diego hotel Friday for a father-daughter dance that means everything for families who can’t always be together for the big or little things.

The Armed Services YMCA San Diego hosted its 13th annual Father-Daughter Dance at the Town and Country Resort in Mission Valley, an event designed to support family bonding among active-duty dads and their daughters.

The ballroom boasted tables covered in fancy linens, a dancefloor with colorful lights, and a photo station, but, most of all, the room was filled with smiles.

A couple of those smiles belonged to U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Sergio Torres and his 3-year-old daughter, Sophia Torres. This was their first time going to the Father-Daughter Dance.

“We don’t have a lot of time together – just us – so this is an opportunity to be with my daughter,” Torres told NBC 7. “I love this; you don’t really get moments like this, so it’s the little things that matter. Going out with her like this is what keeps me going.”

Torres is stationed in San Diego, aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt. The ship’s homeport is NAS North Island, and this is the first time Torres has been docked at the same time as the Father-Daughter Dance.

Thus, his Friday night plans were set in stone: take Sophia out for a night on the town.

His little one wore a fuchsia-colored dress perfect for twirling. She tested it out quite a few times as she showed her dad her dance moves. She finished with a ladylike curtsy.

Torres said being deployed and away from his wife and two young daughters takes a toll on his family emotionally. He often wishes he could be home to enjoy the day-to-day things that come with being a parent.

“It’s difficult. You have to miss birthdays and holidays and special occasions with them,” he told NBC 7. “It gets tough sometimes – it gets a little depressing – but you have to remember you’re out there, doing something better for them.”

For Torres, the dance was a chance to do just that.

“Something that’s close in bonding like this is beneficial for both of us – it helps us build a father-daughter relationship,” he added.

SERE West Officer in Charge U.S. Navy Commander Nate Anderson was one lucky man at the dance. He had two dates – one on each arm – daughters Caitlyn Anderson, 12, and Morgan Anderson, 9.

Anderson has been in the Navy for 22 years and said he brings his daughters to this dance whenever he’s not deployed. This was their third time there.

“It’s an outstanding experience to spend time with my daughters,” Anderson told NBC 7.

Caitlyn and Morgan agreed.

“It’s really great, this is a chance to come together and bond,” said Caitlyn.

Morgan said the best part was getting to go out with both her big sister and her dad.

“I love them so much,” she said. “We can just talk together and spend time with each other.”

Caitlyn told NBC 7 the days at home without her dad can be tough but the second he returns, her family feels whole again.

“Sometimes, it can get really sad, but when he’s back, it’s like the best experience ever,” she said. “It makes me really happy.”

Armed Services YMCA Executive Director Tim Ney said the Father-Daughter Dance is open to all branches of the service. He hopes the event is unforgettable for military families.

“It’s a way for fathers to create memories with their daughters,” Ney explained.

The Armed Services YMCA said more than 200 fathers and daughters would attend this year’s dance.

The non-profit organization is dedicated to giving military members and their families support and resources to be resilient, connected and secure. The San Diego group serves more than 66,000 military and family members each year. Learn more about the organization’s work here.

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