Kobe Bryant Showed Us Three Ways to Be an Excellent Dad

January 31, 2020 Updated: January 31, 2020


On the court, Kobe Bryant was a basketball legend few could emulate. Off the court, Bryant was a dedicated father we can all admire.

As the nation mourns the loss of legendary NBA basketball star, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, and the seven others who perished in a helicopter last Sunday, I can’t help but notice the theme in all of the published photos, videos, tributes, and social media posts, besides basketball: Fatherhood.

Kobe Bryant clearly loved his family, especially his four daughters. As ESPN sports reporter Elle Duncan remembered fondly, Bryant was proud to be a “girl dad.” It was a role he took as seriously, if not more so, than being a basketball great.

I’m not a dad, but I have a dad who was proud to be a father of a daughter. His mark on me was indelible, as Kobe’s appeared to be on his daughters. Here are a few hallmarks of great fathers I’ve noticed as I’ve watched Kobe’s legacy unfold, from fathers I admire, and my own dad.

Great Dads Are Proud Dads

In the wake of his death, Bryant’s widow, Vanessa, made her Instagram public. A cursory glance of videos and photos posted showed Kobe Bryant took pride in fatherhood. Whether snuggling with his little daughter or taking Gianna, nicknamed Gigi, to see a Lakers game, he didn’t look at it like fatherhood was boring, silly, or a task beneath him.

Once on Jimmy Kimmel’s show, Bryant explained how he handled people who thought he needed a boy to carry on his basketball legacy by showing how proud he was of his daughter’s talent, grit, and confidence.

“This kid, man … I’m telling you,” he said. “The best thing that happens is when we go out, and fans will come up to me, and she’ll be standing next to me, and they will be like, ‘You gotta have a boy, you and V [wife Vanessa] gotta have a boy, man, to have somebody carry on the tradition, the legacy.’ And [Gigi] is like, ‘Oi, I got this!'” Bryant said. “That’s right. Yes, you do. You got this.”

Growing up, I observed a few men who seemed to treat their kids as inferior, who were always annoyed at them, embarrassed by them—or maybe it was just these dads thought they had better things to do than parent.

Thankfully, the caricature that men don’t want to be “hands on” dad’s—as is often portrayed in commercials, mainstream media, and what I experienced with previous generations—doesn’t actually seem to be that accurate anymore.

According to a 2019 Pew Research poll, dads are “just as likely as moms to say that parenting is extremely important to their identity.” There’s a reason dads should take pride in parenting: Over half said parenting is rewarding “all of the time.” This is good news for sons and daughters.

As a grown woman, I can’t say my dad’s never been disappointed in some of my choices, but as a kid, my dad always seemed to be overflowing with pride for me. Whether he actually was or not, I honestly don’t know, but I’m not sure if that matters:

Because of his pride, I tried new things, failed, tried again, and learned what I loved.

Because of his pride, I played sports, music, went away to college, and fostered incredible friendships.

Because of his pride, I felt unconditional love and security, which I carried into adulthood. Pride for a son or daughter can go a long way.

Great Fathers Have Purpose and, With That, Provide

I don’t know if it was basketball, the birth of his daughters, or a different outlook on life following the 2003 sexual assault accusation that provided Bryant with purpose—perhaps it was a mix of all three—but Bryant always seemed highly motivated to become better: A better basketball player. A better man. A better father.

From interviews, it seems as though as the years went on and he had more daughters, he became even more motivated by them.

I believe it’s a father’s natural pride in his family that propels him to find purpose and, with that, become a provider. I don’t mean to start a debate about whether a father should be the sole provider or not; that’s not the point—there are many ways to provide for children, and they don’t just include materialistic or financial ways.

Regardless of whether his children’s mother is an excellent provider, a father should also find a sense of purpose in parenting, which motivates him to provide in some way—whether through parenting at home, being the sole breadwinner, going to school, or providing his children with love, affection, and attention.

A 2017 Pew Research survey reported about three-quarters of adults (76 percent) said “men face a lot of pressure to support their family financially,” and 49 percent said “men face a lot of pressure to be an involved parent.” In contrast, “77 percent said women face a lot of pressure to be an involved parent, and 40 percent said women face a lot of pressure to support their family financially.”

In today’s “woke” world, I could see men and women complaining this is sexist, but it supports my premise that men need purpose to provide—and both are healthy for children and society. I’m sure some fathers might argue this is impossible, given their own unhealthy, toxic, abusive, fragmented, or otherwise awful, childhood. I think psychology demonstrates the opposite.

Author, speaker, and one of my favorite life coaches, Mastin Kipp has created an entire business helping people cope with trauma. He’s found purpose can pull people out of trauma and into a better life. “Everything changes the moment you heal your trauma and find your purpose,” he says. So it is with fathers.

Of course, some fathers take this too far. They become workaholics and provide only financial assistance and no physical or emotional affection to their children. Other men embody the classic “lost boy” or “Peter Pan” syndrome and fail to give much at all to their children in the way of material or emotional provision, preferring only to have fun with their kids and be their buddy. Neither extreme will work for children.

If men find their purpose and let it motivate them to provide for their children physically, financially, spiritually, and emotionally, both they and their children will benefit.

Great Fathers Spend Time With Their Kids

Just a couple weeks ago, a tweet circulated that showed Kobe Bryant sitting on the sidelines with Gigi, teaching her about basketball. If you watch closely, you can see at one point she speaks in unison with him, taking the words right out of his mouth so to speak; he’s pleased, and they both smile.

At the time, I liked the tweet, not because I’m a huge basketball fan, but because it reminded me of countless, similar moments I had with my own dad growing up. Now that Kobe and Gigi are gone, the video has gone viral, reminding all of us of the power of time with the people we love.

Even though children have love languages—preferred ways they give and receive love—just as adults do, I think all children at very young ages need all the love, in any form, they can get. Thus, if you know your child’s “love language” is physical touch, that doesn’t mean you don’t have to spend any quality time with them. In fact, I’ve come to believe this is one of the most important love languages to children.

My dad used to play an old song by Harry Chapin for me when I was growing up, “Cat’s in the Cradle.” It’s about a dad who never has time for his son, and when the son grows up to be a man, he never has time for his aging father.

The song is sad and depressing, but it makes a salient point: If you give your son a baseball mitt but don’t teach him to throw and play catch (as he does in the second verse), you’re not really fostering a bond of love and respect. My dad played the song for me, I think, so he would never become complacent as a father.

Like many probably have since, I wondered why Kobe Bryant was in a helicopter that fateful Sunday. The answer is even more tragic than I’d imagined.

In a 2018 interview, Bryant explained that he began utilizing a helicopter and pilot in order to better organize his day and time so he could be a more hands-on father. With the speed helicopters provide, Bryant could practice, do media, and still be home in time to pick his kids up from school. What an incredible testament to Bryant’s commitment to fatherhood.

The majority of my childhood memories with my father come from pretty average events that I now see, in hindsight, he approached with purpose—just like Bryant was doing on the sidelines with Gigi at that game. My dad not only taught me to ski, shoot a gun, drive, and love music, but while doing those things—spending quality time on a boat, at the cabin, riding a bike, or just driving down the freeway—he would listen to me, tell me his ideas about God and politics, and offer teachable lessons in those stolen moments.

I’m a flawed mother no doubt, but I find myself doing the same thing with my kids and for the same reason. A quick lunch date to Chick fil A turns into listening to my oldest daughter tell me about her friends. An afternoon at the batting cages provides an opportunity for me to talk to my oldest son about issues with which he’s wrestling. And taking a walk to the park with my two little kids is a chance for me to show them I care about the little things they care about—like swings, ice cream, and walking our dog.

Through quality time with their children, fathers pass along their values, their work ethic, faith lessons, ideas, humor, and so much more.

Kobe Bryant said in his retirement speech, specifically to his daughters:

“You guys know that if you do the work, you work hard enough, dreams come true. You know that. We all know that. But hopefully, what you get from tonight, is the understanding that those times when you get up early and you work hard, those times when you stay up late and you work hard, those times when you don’t feel like working, you’re too tired, you don’t want to push yourself, but you do it anyway, that is actually the dream. That’s the dream. It’s not the destination, it’s the journey. If you guys can understand that, then what you’ll see happen is that you won’t accomplish your dreams, your dreams won’t come true, something greater will. If you guys can understand that, then I’m doing my job as a father.”

Nicole Russell is a freelance writer and mother of four. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, The New York Times, Politico, The Daily Beast, and The Federalist. Follow her on Twitter @russell_nm.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.