A dad-friend of mine recently told me that the bar for fatherhood is so low that all he has to do is show up at the grocery store with his grade-school-aged daughter, and within 10 seconds some elderly lady will be telling him that he’s the greatest person in the universe. His experience is not unique. I too have reaped the unrequested benefits from being a #GirlDad, a father who loves and cares for his daughter and gets caught doing it in public. Generally speaking, our culture likes to celebrate these fathers, but implicit in this celebration is a backhanded compliment.
Kobe Bryant was a #GirlDad (he had four girls, ages 17, 13, 3, and 7 months) which is why this is a thing right now. #GirlDad has been trending on Twitter, and some publications are celebrating the simple fact that for some parents, chromosomes work out one way rather than another. And, look, I can’t pretend there’s not something extra tender about #GirlDads — in fact, Disney movies are full of single dads with princess daughters — but what this really boils down to is the idea that men become virtuous by their proximity to females. In essence, there’s still a sexist foundation that is the springboard for celebrating #GirlDads. Oh look! This guy has kids and they’re girls and he’s not treating them like shit! Let’s give him all the likes!
There’s a classic Chris Rock stand-up bit that attacks this exact kind of thinking. Rock says he’s sick of it when people want to be applauded for things that are explicit moral obligations, I.E. people saying “I take care of my kids.” Rock’s hilarious response was: “YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO, DUMB M*THERF*CKER!”
In other words, being a #GirlDad boils down to little more than celebrating a father of daughters who is happy to raise them. This is absurd. If you’re unhappy your child is a girl or a boy, well, you’re a monster. So you’re excited about raising your child who happens to be a girl? You’re supposed to, dumb motherfucker. Anything else would be monstrous.
Let’s be real: Kobe Bryant would have been an involved dad to his kids regardless of their gender. But what if he had a fifth child who was a boy? What would we expect of this relationship? Would he hold to his status as #GirlDad and, thanks to his four girls, expect him to be a bit less rough on the boy? This gets to the other side of the coin of #GirlDad: We assume because you have a daughter, you understand how to treat a child in a way that is less cold, rough, performatively aggressive because that’s what masculinity is and how a boy becomes a man — by their grit and by themselves. A #GirlDad gets to skip this and go straight to a more social-first, cuddly, emotional worldview because it’s more acceptable with women. This is unfair to boys and unfair to girls. Kobe’s daughter Natalia is a hardworking, cold, calculating badasses on the volleyball court. She’s masculine in that sense. You’d like to think that if he had a son he could have shared a moment like he did courtside with Gigi or Natalia, talking emotively, laughing, and completing each other’s sentences. But is it really that different because he had daughters? Fist-bumping is fist-bumping. Hugs are hugs.
I’m not saying it’s not cool to talk about the intricacies of being a #GirlDad and how it’s challenging in ways that are different than being a father to only boys. But, there’s a big difference between getting praised for telling jokes on stage like Mike Birbiglia (or Kevin Hart) and being praised in the grocery store just because you happen to have your daughter with you. Being a #GirlDad does not automatically make you a good person or even a good example to other parents.
But, more crucially important: it also doesn’t make you an almost terrible person either. Because the fact of being a parent of a child has nothing to do with gender. And as long as we continue to make blanket statements one way or another about #GirlDads or #BoyMoms, or anything else orbiting these stereotypes, then we’re completely missing the point of what it takes to be a good parent. A good parent cares about their kid, is involved with their kid’s lives, and sees their child as a unique and special human that they are charged with caring for. Taking pride in getting beyond the gendered stereotype is beside the point.
Your kids don’t give a shit if you’re doing better than the historically sexist and embarrassing parenting that came before you. They only care if you see them and are there for them. You’re a #gooddad, a #goodmom, a #goodparent. Why would you want to be anything else?