Bad Dads With Daughters May Be A Woman’s Worst Enemy

The Kobe Bryant hashtag “Girl Dad” highlighted the harm bad fathers can bring to a girl’s transition to woman

Last January, Elle Duncan’s reflection of Kobe Bryant sparkled everywhere. The ESPN anchor used 90 seconds to remember Kobe not as a five-time NBA champion or the closest incarnation of Michael Jordan. Instead, Duncan reminded those who personally knew Bryant, while informing the rest of the world, that he considered himself a “Girl Dad.” The tag immediately went viral, inspiring men of both fame and obscurity to post pictures of themselves with their daughters on social media.

While the best in men lives at the core of the hashtag, the social commodity accrued from #GirlDad also birthed a black market of inauthenticity. Single mothers across the country bared fangs at fathers for their fraudulence. Many seethed quietly. Some threw sarcastic shade. “Simply having a daughter doesn’t make you a Girl Dad,” tweeted one. My friend and one of my favorite mothers posted on her Instagram story: “You actually have to see your daughter to be a Girl Dad.”

Fathering one or more daughters isn’t enough to qualify someone as a Girl Dad. A true Girl Dad is present in his child’s life, physically and communicatively. He lives to protect and educate mind, body and spirit as she climbs towards womanhood. Perpetuating ownership of the title is a far deeper offense than being lame. Bad dads are dangerous. Their actions and inaction run the risk of planting young ladies in the path of irrevocable harm. Mainly because this is a man’s world. Men hurt psychologically and physically. When present, they can injure women. When absent they can handicap girls.

If love is unidentifiable during your daughter’s initial years, her vision may be impaired when the time comes to detect its absence.

Some of our greatest women became so by overcoming rocky terrain left behind by their father’s tracks. When Tina Turner was 11, she was abandoned by a mother who fled from a pugilistic husband. By age 18, Tina was a single parent and two years away from landing in Ike Turner’s bed after escaping assault by another bandmate. Once Angelina Jolie’s parents divorced, her father, actor Jon Voight, went AWOL. By age 22, she’d already experienced an eating disorder, every drug within reach (including heroin) and contemplated hiring a hitman to exact her suicide. Janet Jackson’s father demanded that she call him Joe. At age 18, she eloped with singer James DeBarge, who shared a cocaine habit with his brothers, including the most popular, El DeBarge. The marriage ended within a year. Aretha Franklin had her second child at age 15. She gave birth to her first at 12, which is the same age as the girl Aretha’s father impregnated while her mother carried Aretha’s older brother.

What do these women have in common? All were transformative queens of their respective eras. Before each donned a crown, they wore a weighted vest of shame, fought depression and contemplated an early death. Today, they beam as global royalty. Not one had a Girl Dad.

Bad fathers come in a few profiles. The most popular is the absentee: the dude who abandons or avoids his children. While despicable, he may not be the worst version. The present yet absent dad could be more hazardous. They live in the same household with their child, yet are inattentive. Cohabiting can confuse youth into thinking presence is parenting. They may feel a sense of security in the home. Internally, they might horde an unidentifiable emotional gape. The older the child grows, the harder it will be to heal that wound. Some non-Girl Dads pour more attention into their sons because they find them easier to raise. Not because daughters are more difficult; it’s simply about familiarity — Big Poppas were once little boys. Many times, daughters require fathers to perform a feat men spend lifetimes avoiding: getting in touch with their femininity. So the non-Girl Dad at home is often non-verbal, disinterested or both. The crime is that any father not in continuous conversation with their daughter is making her inevitably challenging navigation into womanhood even more turbulent.

It is natural law for a little girl to be loved first by her father. Bad Dads rarely inform or remind daughters of their value. This can leave a young lady susceptible to learning love outside of the home. This puts her at risk of discovering her role as female counterpart from an equally uneducated lass or worse: a miseducated boy looking for answers via trial and error. If love is unidentifiable during your daughter’s initial years, her vision may be impaired when the time comes to detect its absence. That offers the opportunity for a girl to lose her virginity to peer pressure or worse; to devalue herself for affection, a ride in a fancy car, or simply to post on social media that she is desired. It is how a woman with aspirations of matrimony can become a repeat fling. It’s how she can end up making excuses for a lover while wearing black eyes; justifying verbal, psychological and/or physical abuse because they occur less than the romance.

I am not a father, relationship expert nor psychologist. I’m also not a big believer in coincidence. Who I am is a son, nephew and grandson of educators who spent decades watching unhealthy parents stress the lives of their young children and my elders. I’m also a journalist with an observant eye for connective tissue. Some years ago, I noticed a thread with the women in my present and past. Specifically those who, regardless of how old, attractive, religious, educated or professionally successful, made a habit of bedding and tolerating men incongruent with their best interests. The glaring common denominator is their father. Most didn’t come from Father of the Year recipients. If dad had been in their life at all, their presence was usually infrequent or the relationship was dysfunctional or deficient of dialogue. I’m not making the case that a nonexistent or bad father is the sole contributor to my friends or any one woman’s challenges, for that matter. I just see how a Girl Dad could have lessened their volume of challenges.

Bonsu Thompson is a writer, producer, Brooklynite and 2019 Sundance Screenwriters Lab fellow.

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