In the wake of the helicopter accident in Calabasas that killed nine people, including Kobe and Gianna Bryant, sportswriters and broadcasters across the U.S are taking time to remember the basketball icon by sharing their experiences with him. One story came from Elle Duncan on Sports Center, who recounted a 30-minute interaction with Kobe Bryant that happened when she was eight months pregnant. They talked about parenting, and Bryant shared his excitement about being a father to three girls (his fourth child was not yet born at this time). Duncan wrapped up her segment, saying that Bryant—was transporting his daughter to basketball game when his helicopter crashed—died doing what he loved most, “Being a girl dad.”
Now #girldad is trending, because Twitter refuses to let a #(gender)(parent) movement die. First, there was the rise of the #boymoms, a tag used as a label and a badge of honor for mothers of sons–an especially difficult parenting challenge because they were, you would never guess, boys. Now, with Duncan’s tearful remembrance of a man who was also a parent, the #girldads are coming out for their moment in the sun. As the daughter of both a mother and a father, I am unable to grasp the phenomenon of #girldads.
So what exactly is a #girldad, you might ask? Girl dads are very different from “fathers” because they’re a specific type of cis man—and they are always men, because #girldad is not nuanced enough to include gender-nonconforming parents or children. A girl dad is a man who discovers the significance and abilities of women only after having a daughter. All this despite theoretically having both a mother and a wife and interactions with other human women throughout their lives. When a girl dad finally holds his girl daughter for the first time, he is bathed in the blood of feminists past. Suddenly the most important thing is showing his girl that she is equal to boys: Boys who, like him, won’t give a fuck about equality until passing some genes onto a woman.
This girl is expected to grow up confident and self-assured, specifically, because from the beginning she had, not a father, but a #girldad, to show her what love from a man should look like. Or if we’re talking about an ultra #girldad, he will make considerations for a non-heterosexual daughter. Girl dads are the modern-day versions of saints, held in even higher esteem than mothers because they did the hardest thing any man can volunteer to do—raise a girl.
Another cornerstone of girl dadhood is molding a girl into a lover of sport, extra points if that girl then excels in sport. After all, athletics is the only frontier of feminism wherein men feel comfortable to interact. Moments where girls overcome something, with dad smiling on, are the ones being highlighted in the subtly sexual discourse of #girldads. But what girl dads seem to overlook continually is the fact that the life of a girl is not just about overcoming obstacles or beating the odds or being better than the boys. Girls are not born to make their man parents better people. But any complexity of their daughters’ lives is left out of the #girldad narrative, a celebration of men who mount their baby girls on a pedestal as a show to the world that they are good men.
Kobe Bryant was many things, and these things have been discussed at length. Whether he was a #girldad or merely a loving father, is a question that can only be answered by his children. While his death is a moment to reflect on the fragility of life and our familial relationships, it is not the time to roll out awards and recognition for the #girldads. Instead, let it be a time to come closer, to share feelings of grief and be the one thing every person wants, a stable parent.