It’s a tale as old as time that women need men to have a successful life and continue to break down barriers. But a new tale is emerging that has raised several eyebrows for women in sport. Cinderella had Prince Charming, Snow White had another Prince Charming alongside her seven dwarves, Bill Gates had Melinda and so on. It’s a new trend of #GirlDads.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of fathers and what they do, but my dad is starting to feel slightly hard done by because he wasn’t coined woke or a #GirlDad when I was born in 1996. Studies show that your second child is more than likely to be your success story and will carry on your legacy no matter who it is. It’s a bit like the pancake theory, your first flip always goes wrong, but you’re a pro further down the line.
In fact, in Major League Baseball, younger brothers outperform their older brothers. Among pairs of brothers that played Test cricket - the five-day format considered the sport’s pinnacle - younger brothers have had a more successful career twice as often as elder brothers. On average, batters who played Test cricket for England between 2004 and 2019 had 1.2 older siblings, compared with 0.4 for county batters.
So, by those statistics, as I am one of five, I clearly have some outrageous talent for outshining everyone as I had to try that extra bit harder and achieve a little more to get my parents’ attention. Add to that, once I was of age where my parents could bring me around, I was dragged to every sporting event, theatre, concert, as my older siblings were going too.
But, suddenly, your dad having an interest in you because you’re a girl is a cool thing to do. Dads championing women in sport is now a thing of beauty and inspiration, something that should inspire society to do better and be better because their daughter is now their whole world and has opened up their eyes.
This all started when Kobe Bryant admitted he was anxious about his legacy dying out because all he had were daughters. Eventually, Gianna, Kobe’s second eldest daughter, realised she liked basketball and was actually very good at it.
Soon, videos would emerge of Kobe and Gianna chatting tactics courtside, the Bryant family became incredible mentors to some of the top WNBA talents, like New York Liberty’s Sabrina Ionescu. Eventually, Bryant admitted he was proud to be a father to girls and how it’s truly opened his eyes, and he would be an advocate for the women’s game.
Soon, others came on board. Brian O'Driscoll started using his platform to promote women in sport. I sat next to Paul O'Connell, who expressed his love for Ellen Keane on the Late Late Show, primarily because he has a daughter.
The sentiment is lovely, and I’m sure various other #GirlDads don’t notice, but they are unintentionally admitting publicly that they didn’t see women before they had children. Call me crazy, but it feels weird.
I’m sure no woman involved in sport would turn down publicity or say no to sharing a platform with some of these sporting legends, but the support has to come organically, and with that, you have to support the good and roll through the bad times.
When the Connacht women’s rugby team were sharing their outdoor dressing space with rats, the last thing they thought about was the next generation of #GirlDads. Whether they realise it or not, #GirlDads are accidentally reiterating that a father-daughter relationship with meaningful interest is an exception rather than the norm. That essentially means that fathers have to try extra hard to find a connection than if they had a son.
It also raises the question of why men’s eyes are opened after they have a daughter, not watching their mother, sister or other girls in their lives? And even more sinister, does it take a female relative to actually humanise and normalise women’s struggles for a man?
The intention is probably good, but, in truth, it just feels degrading and unsatisfactory. My dad didn’t take extra pride in me because I was a girl. He took extra pride in me because he’s seen how hard I’ve had to work to get to where I am today. Holding me to the same standards as my siblings and being an extra ear for me is what brought us close.
So, a lesson to all #GirlDads. Don’t feel extra proud because you’ve tried harder to be there for them. Acknowledge that it’s your place as a member of society to be better, do better and ask for better. Try to create an equal society in the present for this current crop of women. After all, many women today need your help and can be role models who your children want rather than need.