My daughter and I can do “Top Gun” high fives.
For those who don’t remember the 1986 movie about Navy fighter pilots, it including a lot of high-fiving. One memorable version started as a regular high five, but then the two high-fivers stepped past each other and followed through with a reverse low five. If you aren’t old enough to have seen the movie, you’ve probably seen the gif.
I mention that because, in the wake of the death of Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven other people in a helicopter crash last Sunday, the hashtag “Girl Dad” has been trending on social media.
I admittedly was never a Kobe fan. I grew up near Boston, rooting for the Celtics. In sports, we tend to pick out the worst traits in our rivals. The New York Yankees were always public enemy No. 1, and the L.A. Lakers were a close second.
So, I don’t feel the same sense of loss over Kobe the basketball player that many others have expressed. But then I heard a story on the radio with Elle Duncan of ESPN in which she shared a conversation she had with Kobe about being a father to his daughters. He loved being a “girl dad,” she reported.
And as a father with a daughter, I can absolutely identify with that.
When we found out our first child was going to be a boy, my wife and I were a little bit relieved. To paraphrase what my wife said at the time, we weren’t going to have to deal with all that girlie stuff. Billy was all about Tonka trucks and Star Wars and jeans with worn out knees. Old MacDonald had race cars and front-end loaders on his farm.
When our daughter came along two years later, we had an immediate change of heart. Grace liked Tonka trucks, too – they were good strollers for her My Little Ponies. And when she played with her Star Wars toys, she was usually wearing a pink tutu. Princess Leia would have been proud.
As a dad, I’ve bonded differently with each of my kids, which brings me back to the “Top Gun” high fives. While it doesn’t sound too difficult, pulling it off requires a little bit of coordination and cooperation between the two high-fivers. You have to anticipate the other person’s action, and be willing to adjust your own movement accordingly. It’s harder than it looks.
To do one with my son usually takes three or four tries. As a toddler, he enjoyed crashing into things, a trait that stayed with him through high school. One of his favorite family vacation memories is when, around age 9, he inadvertently head-butted my sternum dislocated three of my ribs. He’s a freshman in college now, and seems to be enjoying intellectual collisions just as much as the physical ones.
My daughter, on the other hand, seems to have a stronger sense of empathy for the people around her. Often, she’ll put the needs of others ahead of her own. Sure, there have been times in the past couple of years where I’ve wondered what happened to the sweet little girl with pigtails and the pink tutu, but just about everyone I’ve talked to with a teenaged daughter has gone through the same thing. Even Kobe Bryant, I would guess.
Still, even in the throes of teen angst, my daughter and I have always had the “Top Gun” high five. She might not see it with as much sentimentality as I do, but to me, it’s a connection to her that’s different than the one I have with her brother.
Right now, Grace is in Austria as an exchange student. I think things are going well, and it sounds like she has bonded with her host dad, which makes me happy. He’s a girl dad, too.
When Grace gets home in July, she’s definitely getting a hug. But I really can’t wait for the next time we can high five.
Will Morrow lives in Kenai. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.