Over the last few days, in the aftermath of Kobe Bryant’s tragic death, a touching clip has been making the rounds. It features an ESPN anchor losing her composure while recounting a conversation she had with the NBA legend about his role as a father to three daughters (he hadn’t yet had his fourth).
The popular, and polarizing, player gushed about how much he loved being a “girl dad,” and after her story went viral, dads and daughters everywhere gushed about their own relationships, using the #girldad hashtag. It’s been trending for days.
You know what you don’t see? The term #boydad trending. As if there’s nothing special, or challenging, about the father/son relationship.
But there is.
I want to make it clear that I mean no disrespect to any girl dads – one of my brothers has two daughters of his own – or to Kobe Bryant himself. By all accounts, Kobe was an engaged, involved, and loving dad to his four daughters, and it’s always great to see guys step into the parenting thing with their whole hearts, regardless of the gender of their kids.
I’m actually on the record as having wanted a girl. There’s a lot of value in the daddy/daughter relationship – something I inherently understood before even having kids – and I wanted that too. Now that I have two sons – and no daughters (no, I won’t be trying for one, so save it!) – I understand that the father/son relationship is just as meaningful.
After her “Girl Dad” piece took off, Elle Duncan, the ESPN anchor, followed it up on Twitter, saying (emphasis mine):
“Please if you’re feeling any kind of way, scroll through this feed and look at all these PROUD #girldad ‘s .. this is trending nationwide because there’s no greater or more significant relationship than that of a dad and his daughter(s) .. i hope it eases your blues.”
I could give her the benefit of the doubt and assume she means all parenting relationships are equal and none are “greater or more significant” than the others, but I’m pretty sure that’s not what she means. I ain’t mad about it. I just wonder why the daddy/daughter bond – – and the “boy mom” bond, which was a hashtag of its own long before the Kobe tragedy – is prized more highly. More directly, I wonder why the daddy/son bond isn’t.
Just take a look at your school calendar. I bet there’s a daddy/daughter dance. But where’s the love for the #boydad relationship?
The father/son pairing – and the mother/daughter pairing as well – simply isn’t talked about or elevated the same way as those opposite gender duos are. Does the fact that we have the same chromosomes somehow make our connection less profound?
Do people assume there’s no degree of difficulty to parenting someone who will, in most cases, follow in the same physiological footsteps as you did? Is it somehow more noble, or transformative, for the stereotypical guy who’s spent his life pursuing women to have to learn to raise one of his own, as opposed to that guy having to teach a son to have empathy and respect for the opposite sex?
Maybe people think that raising a mini-me is stress-free, that there’s no inherent conflict when a mom raises a girl, or a dad has a son. Please stop by my place for coffee and allow me to correct that insane assumption because believe you me, there’s plenty of conflict there. (Just ask my wife – once the screaming stops.)
Every gender presents its own parenting challenges, for moms and dads, and every relationship is meaningful, even ones that may seem easier to navigate. Sure, I may be better equipped to inform my sons about their genitals than my wife is, and my sister-in-law will probably have an easier time explaining periods and tampons to my nieces than my brother would, but as harrowing as those discussions may be, it’s small potatoes.
Raising children isn’t merely about the mechanics of physical existence, it’s about learning how to live alongside other people in ways that transcend superficial aspects of anatomy and biology. There are a million ways to be there for your kids, for your sons and your daughters, that aren’t specific to either of your genders.
Again, I’m not throwing shade on the #girldad phenomenon. I long wished I could be a part of it, and I think it’s great to celebrate that relationship. But we should be celebrating all of them, because each parent/child relationship is meaningful in its own way.
The love I feel for my sons isn’t any less than the love my brother has for his daughters. My bond with my sons, while different, is no less special, and raising boys is no less challenging or rewarding than it would be for me to raise a little girl.
I don’t need a hashtag to be reminded of that. But some people might.