Even a few weeks after the helicopter crash in Los Angeles that killed basketball great Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others, the shock remains. As a parent of two teenagers, what reverberates most is the multi-generational losses of three different families. Based on the supportive messages that continue to flit across social media, fellow parents agree.
The most viral hashtags, however, have celebrated the father-daughter relationship: #GirlDad and #GirlsDad. They resulted from Elle Duncan’s tearful ESPN report in which she recounted Bryant’s pride as a “Girl Dad.” When I first heard the phrase, I confess it struck me as a bit sentimental. I understood how poignant it was given the context, and I endorse the notion of valuing girls in a still-often-sexist culture.
But it also felt over-the-top. Isn’t every parent-child relationship special?
The more I thought about it, though, I had to admit there are many amazing aspects of being a “Girl Dad.” For nearly two decades I have been the father of two daughters and no sons. While I’m a working dad now, for many years I was lucky enough to be a stay-at-home father virtually surrounded by “girls” — my daughters, my working wife and many fellow stay-at-home mothers.
So you could say I was a #GirlSAHD. And when that’s your identity, it can sometimes feel like even you have become a girl. This happened once when my youngest daughter, Lindsay, was age 7 and we were at a restaurant with no family bathroom. After ensuring the tiny women’s room was empty, I planned to wait outside the door for her. For some reason, however, Lindsay felt uncertain and wanted me to join her. I looked around and agreed, but she “had to be quick.”
Sadly, Lindsay’s idea of “being quick” was dissimilar to mine. Then, a knock on the door. Cue beads of perspiration on my neck. As Lindsay finished washing her hands, I made her exit first, a nonverbal introduction to my blushing apology for my gender. Luckily, the woman waiting forgave me (I think) and flashed a smile. By this point, however, Lindsay was tired of rushing and yelled: “What’s the big deal?! We’re all girls here.”
Being a Girl Dad can illuminate future parenting issues
As a stay-at-home father, I was also in the extreme gender minority of my peers, which is sometimes a problem for at-home dads. But I was welcomed into many majority-mom groups. Still, every once in a while, the gender discrepancy struck. For example, at one meeting of my local early childhood PTA, the female guest speaker couldn’t believe a lone male was there. Before beginning her presentation, she said for all to hear: “I’m so impressed you’re here. You must be so attentive to your wife’s needs!” After an uncomfortable pause, I replied: “Not really. I’m still a guy.” We laughed and moved on.
In hindsight, her statement has multiple meanings. Yes, being an at-home dad tends to awaken a man to many duties traditionally performed by moms — e.g. all that “invisible domestic labor” beyond childcare like keeping the family schedule, filling out school and medical forms, buying birthday presents, etc.
But a deeper, more satisfying realization has been that my years as a stay-at-home Girl Dad will definitely make me more attentive to my daughters’ needs if they ever become mothers, whether stay-at-home or working. Granted, our culture is making progress with egalitarian parenting, and most dads are much more engaged than in the past. But it’s likely that mothers of the near future will continue to bear more of the parenting burden than fathers. In other words, no one will be impressed if my daughters are at a PTA meeting one day.
As for being a Girl Dad, let’s face it: Before having children, most men and women have fleeting thoughts about whether they want a girl or a boy. But once a parent holds that living, breathing baby, gender issues dissolve. It all becomes about the amazing journey of discovery called parenthood. Beyond the desire to commemorate the victims of a terrible crash, that awareness is a big part of the energy around the #GirlDad hashtag.