With the recent death of Kobe Bryant and his daughter in a tragic helicopter accident, many have been reflecting on what it means to be a #GirlDad, and thinking about it, I realized that I wanted to pay tribute to my own dad who did a great job of raising his girl in a time that really wasn’t enlightened in many ways.
My formative years were in the ’80s. If you want to experience something ‘funny-not-funny’, try watching a few episodes of Magnum PI – this should dispel any illusions you may harbour about the ’80s… The casually patronizing attitude to women is stunning – and yet this was one of our favourite TV shows growing up! We either failed to notice the sexist attitudes or somehow found them ‘normal’ for the time. I remember hearing about the feminist movement as a thing that happened in the past (when women burned their bras people would say ominously or scathingly!), but that the need for it was pretty much over now… It was a time when a woman having a career (like my mom) was still viewed with some scepticism (often not overtly articulated but nonetheless clearly felt). And of course, in South Africa, we lived under the apartheid regime which denied most of its citizens the vote, advancement prospects, and a plethora of other basic human rights. One way and another the ’80s was not a time when it was natural for a girl to feel empowered.
Enter my dad…!
From as far back as I remember, he would speak to me about anything and everything from engineering to Greek mythology, from music to politics. He didn’t filter out stuff because I was a girl, but neither did he over-compensate because I was a girl. And this last I value a lot in retrospect: he left me with a fundamental feeling of just being equal.
He would drill me on my times tables on the drive to school each morning, he’d make sure I understood my math homework, he introduced me to the joys of Mozart and Bach, he had me reading The Iliad and The Odyssey at 13. When I wanted to play cowboys and Indians, he showed me how to make a home-made bow. When we went to find a Christmas tree, I was given a go at wielding the saw to cut it down. When plugs broke, I was shown how to repair them. When I was 13, he gave me a treasured Swiss Army knife that I still use regularly. When I left home he cautioned me to always keep my financial independence. Nothing was out of bounds or inappropriate just because I was a girl.
This was the man who boasted about my mother’s research at dinner parties (and still does in fact!), who really glowed with enjoyment at her achievements, and frequently takes me aside to tell me how proud he is of her.
Just last week we had lunch out at a restaurant, and as I walked past the buffet table, I heard him telling the chef “You know, my daughter is a data scientist…”. I didn’t catch the rest, but I could clearly hear the pride in his voice, and it made me realize how incredibly lucky I am to be his daughter: he has always made being a girl, being a woman, and following your dreams, whatever they are, just seem normal and right.
Thanks Dad ♡!