The death of Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, has shaken the world and shaken me. I am also very sad for the other families and parts of families who died this past Sunday on that helicopter. Yesterday, Elle Duncan from Sports Center had a moving introduction to her show and talked about Kobe and how much he loved being a girl dad. The internet is honoring their relationship by holding up daddy-daughter duos in honor of Kobe and Gianna Bryant. The hastag #GirlDad is trending and no one in my text circle has a dry eye. The deep gut-wrenching sadness that I feel for Kobe’s daughters who are left without a father inspired me to write this story about my daddy-daughter duo with Carlos. A bit of an ode to my dad. #GirlDad #Mamba
The loss of Kobe also brings up the death of my father. My dad, like Kobe, also died young, at 49. People said that my dad, like Kobe, had so much more to do in his life. He was a cardiologist, but also had a passion for real estate development and started flipping houses and commercial buildings in the 80’s before it was hot. He was doing innovative things in real estate and using his resources to support small minority-owned businesses in Oakland. He wasn’t the GOAT, but everyone always said he was just beginning to live his passions and truly help others.
I was such a daddy’s girl. My dad died when I was 15 and I was his only child. He had a sudden heart attack in his cardiology office and didn’t make it to the hospital. It is such a central part of my life and my existence that I don’t even bat an eye to tell the story when it comes up. I still feel sad when I talk about him, but some days it is not sad, but proud. Or I’m laughing at a story or talking to a friend who tells me a different side of him than I got to see.
I loved spending time with my dad. He was fun, witty, giving, funny and loving. He loved sports and loved supporting all of my sports endeavors. I was a competitive gymnast from eight until my freshman year of high school. My dad brought me to and picked me up from gymnastics class and came to almost every gymnastics meet. He didn’t care how far – he would be there.
He treated me like a princess. He loved people, had a lot of friends and loved to throw parties. He threw a Super Bowl party at his house every year. Chef Frank Fate made his famous gumbo. And every year he crowned me super bowl princess. With a proper crown and all. He always made me feel special. He named his real estate development company, Hilary Development Corporation. Few can make you feel like you are the most important person in the world like your father. #GirlDad
My dad was an avid runner and swimmer. He swam every morning at 5:00 am at the YMCA in downtown Oakland. He actually trained and swam the Alcatraz to land race a few months before he passed – his huge smile at the finish is one of my favorite pictures of him. He ran around Lake Merritt in Oakland, which is a three-mile loop, once or twice daily during lunch.
So, when I started getting into cross-country and track and field in high school, he was elated. My godfather Donald and others share that he was always bragging about me. Sometimes it was my grades, being in a play or doing well at a gymnastics meet. But, when I won the JV girls cross-country race my sophomore year in high school, he raved to everyone everywhere. The nurses at the hospital, his friends and family – “You should have seen Hilary!! She was way way way ahead of the next girl. And she won the race!” He was so proud. That is one of the last memories I have of him being proud of me, while he was present on this earth.
People who know me and my dad well say, and I love to hear it – your dad would be so proud of you. He’d be proud to see you as a lawyer, with three beautiful children, a wonderful husband, with wonderful friends around you. And, I know this is true. But, it doesn’t make any of it easier. That truly is the hardest part – that my husband and kids won’t ever get to meet him, to know him, to learn from him and laugh with him.
But, I also feel proud and close to him when I like things in life that he liked. To this day, sometimes when I exercise, I just close my eyes and think of him. I knew how much he loved it and I know he’d be proud that I love it to. He loved to read – he read every medical journal and crime novel he could get his hands on. I also love to read and started a book club with some friends. It’s the little things.
Losing a parent at a young age causes you to go through life with a unique outlook. As you are developing into the person you will be, you have already had one of the worst tragedies happen to you. There’s a certain sensitivity. And a certain outlook where it is hard to ever forget that tomorrow is not promised. But, instead of hardening me, I think it has made me live with more zeal, give love harder, try to always be there for others.
To Bianca, Kapri and Natalia – Kobe’s three daughters who are alive: You had one of the greatest dad’s and legend’s there were. But, I know that won’t make you feel any better right now. It won’t help you not to cry yourself to sleep or be in a complete haze. But as the years go on, you will get incredible strength from your dad watching down. Incredible love from those around you who loved and cherished your dad or those who he helped along the way. It never is the same, but you truly will carry him with you through talking to him, talking about him and spending time with those who love him.
I am now starting to tell my kids about their grandfather, Dr. Carlos R. Sledge, M.D. PhD (because he was proud of those). It is hard at times, but it also feels really good. #GirlDad