In the days after NBA star Kobe Bryant’s death in January 2020, there was a moment of beauty amid the tragedy.

After a helicopter crash took the lives of Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, ESPN broadcaster Elle Duncan honored them in a moving segment about how much he loved being the father of four girls. Duncan shared that she once asked Bryant how he felt about having another daughter, to which Bryant replies, “Girls are the best. I would have five more girls if I could. I’m a girl dad.”

It hit a nerve, which was evidenced by the hashtag #GirlDad going viral.

The phrase, which is now frequently adorned on T-shirts and coffee mugs, stands out for a reason, as gender stereotypes have long paired fathers and sons together along with mothers and daughters. It brings up the question: What’s so special about being a girl dad?

In honor of Father’s Day, we’re letting some father and daughter pairs in the community answer that question and share the ins and outs of their bonds.

Learning what love means

Adam Combs never wanted to be a dad. He was set on being a bachelor for life.

Then, his girlfriend got pregnant. They later broke up.

For the first six months or so of his daughter’s life, parenthood didn’t come naturally. “Here I was, in my 30s and I had never even looked at a diaper,” Combs said. “You just feel totally out of your element.”

It didn’t take long for his little girl, Isabella, to win him over. And for him to step up to the plate.

“One day, she looks up and says, ‘I love you, daddy,’” Combs said. “And that was it. It changes everything.”

He dove into dad mode. He took parenting classes and read about child development while working to build a bond with Isabella, who is 5 now.

His fatherhood journey led him to, in early 2020, co-found the Circle of Fathers group, a place where Colorado dads and male caretakers can have a space to “share with each other all the ups and downs of parenting.”

“Fathers are often left out of the conversation when it comes to parenting advice,” Combs said. “This is a place where you can feel vulnerable and ask, what can we do as fathers to be better?”

That’s a question Combs often asks himself. One way, he says, is trying to make her life fun and well-rounded. Together, they’re practicing how to play piano and speak Spanish. They go camping and hiking and they spend sunny afternoons playing with water balloons.

“This gives me an opportunity to relive my childhood,” he said. “We’re learning things together.”

He’s already learned the biggest lesson: what it means to love her.

“She’s really the only girl I’ve ever loved,” Combs said. “I didn’t know what love was before her.”

You can hear the love when Combs says he can barely talk about her without crying. You can see it in the smiling photos of them, too, and how excited Combs gets when his daughter gets excited.

“Daddy, I made a rainbow,” she said during a recent afternoon.

“I see,” he replied. “It’s a beautiful rainbow.”

It’s the kind of love that motivates Combs to be a better person and role model for his daughter.

“It opened up my eyes to how I treat women,” he said. “It’s like, I don’t want her dating the kind of guy I was, so I gotta change. I’m the measuring stick of what she thinks love is.”

“The greatest joy of being a girl dad is loving her,” he said. “And I get to see her grow up into a strong, independent woman.”

And now he’s the kind of dad who wants to encourage other dads to be better and fully present.

“The idea of fathers being looked at as secondary parents makes me sick,” he said. “We are equal.”

As an example, when he’s out and about with Isabella, strangers have been known to remark, “Oh, you gave mom a break for the weekend?”

The connotation irks Combs enough to let out a curse word.

Isabella calls him out, saying, “Language, daddy!”

“See,” he said. “She keeps me in check.”

A father and daughter on the job It’s sort of a family joke that Chris Parker always wanted a son and, instead, had two daughters.

Growing up, he bought into the idea that “with a boy, it’s easier to bond because you’re a guy.”

Here comes another joke. “I’ve learned having a bond with a girl isn’t too bad,” Parker says with a laugh.

That seems funny, now that Parker, 42, has happily raised two daughters and runs a business with his oldest, Persephone, whom he considers a best friend.

About four years ago, they started Father Daughter Plumbing and Drain Service together.

The name surprises people, who might not expect a father and daughter to work together or for a 24-year-old woman to work in plumbing.

It’s kind of like how Parker has surprised himself. He went from a scared high school kid, with a baby on the way, to a dad who loved going to cheerleading meets, having long, emotional talks and watching TV shows like “Switched at Birth” or “90210” with his girls.

“I realized I liked watching girls’ sports more,” Parker said. “You can just see that girls put more of their heart into it.”

He learned other things, like how to have compassion when a teenage girl cries all of the time and how to deal with your feelings. He learned what he grew up hearing about girls being weaker than boys just isn’t true.

“You learn that girls can do anything boys can do and a lot of things they can do better,” he said. “You learn that girls really can be tougher.”

And he’s taught his daughter lessons along the way.

One of those, Persephone Parker says, goes like this: “If you’re going to do something, do it 100%. And that means you do the things that you love.”

Here’s another: “Just be yourself. You don’t have to be perfect.”

And another: “Always do what you can to help others.”

There are other things that stick out to her: how he consoled her through breakups and many tears. How he showed up to fix flat tires or dropped everything to check on her after her first car accident. On a camping trip to Cripple Creek when she was 11, they roasted hot dogs and hamburgers for breakfast each morning.

“It was just awesome,” she said. “It’s one of my favorite memories.”

Those memories, today, add up to a formidable friendship, one where they see each other every day at work and still want to hang out outside of work.

“He makes me feel comfortable and happy,” she said. “It just feels safe.”

And for Chris Parker?

“Being around her and both of my girls,” he says, with his own tears coming to his eyes. “It feels like rays of sunshine.”

A shared love of art

Preparing for the birth of his first child, Gregg Deal read all the books. So he read about what might happen when they’re born.

“There’s this cliche of a new father holding their kids for the first time and freaking out,” he said. “That wasn’t me. I wasn’t scared at all. I was just like, ‘I love this.’”

After an intense multiday labor, his wife was too exhausted to hold their baby, Sage.

“So for the first several hours of her life, it was just me and her,” Deal said. “We definitely have a very special relationship. And that’s what it goes back to. That’s how it was from the very beginning.”

Deal has special bonds with all of his five kids, ranging from 15-year-old Sage to his 5-year-old girl, Holland. He calls Sage his “partner in crime.”

Part of their bond hinges on art. Over the years, Sage has been the subject of Deal’s art pieces.

The latest example of that is a 60-foot-tall mural of Sage in downtown Colorado Springs. It shows Sage wearing a black T-shirt of her favorite band, The Interrupters, with a large red handprint over her mouth. Deal is quick to say that the mural isn’t about Sage. Instead, “she’s the model for something bigger.”

The “something bigger” is this: “This mural raises questions about the inherent invisibility of Indigenous people, specifically referencing the abnormally high rate at which Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit individuals go missing or are murdered.”

Among Deal’s many memories with his daughter, whether that’s rewatching their favorite movies or going to the record store together, he was proud to see Sage help with the mural and talk to members of the media about its message.

“One of the things that struck me was her willingness to participate in those conversations,” he said. “She literally told me, ‘I have a voice in all of this.’”

It makes him happy, and feel humble, to see her embrace her voice.

“It’s just like, this girl is on a completely different level than I was at her age,” Deal said. “Watching her blossom and figure out her place in the world is really awesome. She’s just a good little mindful human.”

As for Sage, her dad’s work has shown her that she wants to be an artist, too.

“It’s just cool that I get to do a mural and hang out with my dad at the same time,” she said. “And along the way, I get to learn a bunch of things.”

A bond built on honesty

Caleb David always knew wanted to be a dad. He just didn’t always know how to be himself.

Growing up in a conservative Christian family, he always felt different and felt unsafe to be different.

So he followed the path he knew, marrying a woman and pursuing a career in the Christian nonprofit world. That included adopting two kids from Ethiopia.

For most of his life, though, David was painfully hiding his truth. In early 2020, he came out as gay.

He did it for himself, knowing he might not survive much longer keeping the secret. And he did it for his daughter, Sakari. An “ah ha” moment came after reading the book called “Untamed” by Glennon Doyle, who writes about staying in an unhealthy marriage for her kids.

Doyle asked herself, “Is this a marriage I would want for my daughter?”

David asked himself a similar question.

“I had this realization that this was not a good thing to model for my daughter,” David said. “It was a breaking point.”

The next steps, including a divorce after 22 years of marriage, didn’t come without hurt and confusion. Within the last year, David lost his faith community, relationships with friends and family and some of his business.

He also gained his life back. Early on, he told his kids how serious it was, asking them, “Do you want a gay dad? Or do you want an alive dad?”

It made room for growth with both of his kids, including Sakari, who says, “Our relationship is stronger because we talk more honestly about things.”

“We’re way more real now and, guess what, it’s messy,” David added. “But what’s special about it is it’s authentic and that means there’s room for mistakes.”

For him, he wants Sakari to learn life lessons way earlier than he did.

“I want her to know that she’s inherently good and that she’s enough,” David said. “I don’t want her to ever compromise her true self like I did.”

So, they talk about it. Just like they share a love of sarcasm, they share long talks when Sakari gets home from school.

“That’s a bond we share now,” David said “We have conversations I never would’ve had with my parents.”

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