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Becoming a Girl Dad

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Editor’s Note: This blog was written from a clinically-informed perspective by guest blogger, Brandon Jensen in collaboration with Dr. Stephanie Trudeau.


It’s hard to believe that it’s only been a month since the world lost Kobe and Gianna Bryant. Many of us have spent the days and weeks following this tragedy reflecting on the impact that Kobe Bryant had on us. Perhaps one of the more powerful legacies that has come out of this tragedy, are the widespread accounts of Kobe being a girl dad. Through many stories, we discovered the immense amount of pride that Kobe had in being a father to four daughters. Through his wife Vanessa’s moving speech at Kobe and Gianna’s memorial, it became apparent that Kobe embodied the joyous journey of being a girl dad. In this post, we explore what it means to be a girl dad, how to develop your girl dad skills, and discuss how impactful these reinforcing messages are to our daughters.

What is a girl dad?

Dr. Meg Meeker writes that “no matter the age of the daughter, she takes the relationship with her father to her grave” (Meeker, 2006). While there isn’t a widely accepted definition of what “Girl Dad” means, I tend to define a girl dad as such: a father/mentor/role model that embraces the responsibility, nuances, sacrifice, and work required to empower and embrace his daughter. A girl dad’s purpose is to see the ways he can serve and love those in his life. A girl dad sees the areas that need to be encouraged and challenged in his daughter. A girl dad isn’t afraid of emotions. A girl dad embraces all that comes with being in the role that he is in.

One of the more valuable models for father involvement focuses on 3 primary areas: a father’s engagement with his children, a father’s availability to his children, and the degree of responsibility a father assumes for his children (Ogara, Zhang, Padilla, Liu, & Wang, 2019). Engagement, availability, and responsibility are the central tenets of what it means to be a girl dad and a father.

  • Engagement: we consistently pursue our children in all aspects of who they are.
  • Availability: we work hard and sacrifice to make sure that we are present to our children for their various needs.
  • Responsibility: we embrace all of the responsibility of raising children, no matter the cost to us, rather than running from it.

What does a girl dad do?

Being a father to my daughters has to be one of my greatest joys and challenges. It has required that I embrace all of my fears and overcome some of my deepest insecurities. It has led me to sit down with journals and write out the main areas that I need to work on in order to be the best father that I can be for them. It has led to discussions with my wife and trusted friends about what they see in me that I need to change or improve on. It has also led to discovering the primary messages that my daughters need to hear from me as their father.

Messages we need to get right:

You are capable.

This message is fairly self-explanatory yet crucial. The dominant culture in which our daughters reside seeks to objectify, diminish value, and ignore their voices. We must not stand idly by as this message is forced upon them. Our daughters need to know that they are powerful and capable. We need to encourage and challenge them to embrace whatever mountain, figurative or literal, they choose to climb. I want my daughters to see their father cheering them on in every adventure, task, challenge, goal, career, sport, etc. that they set their mind too. I want them to know that their father sees them as capable and powerful.

You are loved.

This message seems cliché, however unconditional love and acceptance never go out of style. My daughter’s need to know that my love and acceptance of who they are doesn’t waiver. This steadfast love of a parent functions much like a safe harbor to our little ones as they get tossed to and fro like a ship in the ways. Our love and acceptance facilitates a significant attachment that will help guide and protect them in whatever life may have for them. In fact, parental nurturance has shown significant evidence in positively affecting our children’s social, emotional, cognitive, physical, and behavioral outcomes.

You belong.

This message is perhaps better explained by what it is not. It is not a patriarchal dominance that is meant to diminish or discard. It is not silencing the feminist empowerment of our daughters. It is not self-exalting or selfish in how it is communicated or displayed. It is a simple expression of belonging. I want my daughters to know that they have now and forever my full heart and belonging. When their world and relationships inflict pain, I want them to know that they will always have a safe place with me. When they doubt who they are I want them to find healing in knowing that they belong in my home, in my heart, and in who they have been created to be. This message is one that instills belonging and identity all at the cost and sacrifice of the parent.

Becoming a girl dad requires everything from us as fathers, but in the sacrifice and serving there is joy and life. I have found no greater joy in this life than giving everything I have to see the betterment of those I love and care for. Love and sacrificing for those you love is the greatest gift that one can give.


References

1. Meeker, M. J. (2006). Strong fathers, strong daughters: 10 secrets every father should know. Washington, DC: Regnery Pub.

2. Ogara, J. L., Zhang, A., Padilla, Y., Liu, C., & Wang, K. (2019). Father-youth closeness and adolescent self-rated health: The mediating role of mental health. Children and Youth Services Review, 104, 104386. doi: 10.1016/j.childyouth.2019.104386


About the Author

brandon-jensen

Brandon Jensen

Brandon Jensen, MS, LMFT is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Board Approved Supervisor. He provides therapeutic services to children, adolescents, adults, couples, and families in Central Minnesota. Brandon’s clinical practice specializes in the emotional and relational development of men and fathers. Brandon also serves as adjunct faculty in the Master of Science Marriage and Family Therapy program for Saint Cloud State University in Saint Cloud, MN.

About the Author

Stephanie Trudeau

Stephanie Trudeau

Dr. Stephanie Trudeau is a Postdoctoral Research Associate with the Thrive Center for Human Development where she currently studies the intersection of spirituality and thriving. Trained as a Medical Family Therapist and Integrated Behavioral Health Researcher, her academic expertise utilizes a biopsychosocial-spiritual lens in order to examine illness and recovery across family and social systems. She has dedicated her clinical and scholarly career toward developing a deeper understanding how families cope in the face of adversity, trauma, and grief.

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