On the field, Chris Harris Jr. is a decorated NFL cornerback; off the field, he’s a proud #girldad, raising four daughters with his wife, Leah, here in the Dallas area.
They split their time between Prosper and wherever Harris plays—for nine seasons, he was with the Denver Broncos; now the family is looking for a house in L.A. since Harris signed with the Chargers. For the four-time Pro Bowler and 2016 Super Bowl champ, it wasn’t a straight shot to success: He went undrafted and worked his way to stardom.
Harris pays it forward by mentoring and serving underprivileged kids through his foundation, and he’s hoping to pass his work ethic—and his love for helping people—on to his daughters. “I’ve been blessed to be able to give them anything they want, so [I hope they] do what interests them, as long as they’re doing it for the good. Hopefully, they find something that they love to do and have that drive to be great at it.”
But he admits that he fears for his daughters too, especially knowing the perseverance it takes for black women to succeed. He talked to us about being a girl dad—especially a black girl dad—and how he’s trying to spread love in a turbulent world.
What does being a girl dad mean to you? Just being there, being in their lives. That’s really what they want is me being around and being able to talk to them and be interactive with them. Just being there anytime they need, as a friend too, and being able to guide them in life.
What do you hope they learn from you? Definitely my hard work. And the No. 1 thing is just how a man should treat his wife, so they know how, when they get older and they start dating, how a guy is supposed to treat them. So that’s what I try to do—I try to be an example of what they hopefully will marry when they get older.
Dads often get a bad rap, especially black dads. Do you ever feel judged or misrepresented? I mean, there is a lot of black fathers not involved in the kids’ lives. I’ve had to deal with divorce and things like that in my family, so that’s a curse that has always been a goal for me to break. That’s definitely what’s kept me pushing. It was something that God pretty much told me: that Leah was my wife, and we both had curses in our families that we had to break, and that’s something that He wanted me to do.
Have you talked to your girls about what’s going on right now with the Black Lives Matter protests? I haven’t exposed them to any of that yet. The main thing I told [my oldest daughter] about the riots was that they’re just protesting to bring change. There’s a need for change for our systems and in our governments and organizations, and that’s why they’re protesting. So I didn’t bring her all the way in, but gave her a little bit of what’s going on.
Do you have any fears for your daughters growing up in this environment? Oh yeah, I have great fears for them. The world’s just changing at a rapid pace. And little girls, they’re getting kidnapped every day. [Editor’s note: According to the National Crime Information Center, black children go missing at a higher rate than white children.]
And also for a black woman, just understanding the extra work and perseverance that they have to do to be able to make it in this world. Being a black man, it’s hard for us, but it’s probably double time, triple times harder for a black woman to make it.
What makes you say that? You can just see it, the way the system is built. For me, I had to be perfect to make it here. I grew up in an all-white town. It was one of the last cities to still have segregation. A lot of people in my family couldn’t even go to my school, so we have history right there where I’m from.
It’s something that I know from just living life. Women in general have it tough. They have to balance it all: the marriage, the family, their job. They consistently sacrifice their wellbeing for others and are almost always underappreciated. But then you add being a black woman—it’s just another thing to balance, another obstacle they have to work to overcome.
Do you have any strong women in mind when you say that, women who would be good examples for your daughters? My mom is definitely an example of a strong black woman. She was a single mother, raising two kids on her own, trying to give us the best life she could. I think I turned out OK! My mother, my wife, my sister—they are all amazing examples of what I hope my girls grow up to be.
How does the state of the world right now affect the work you do through your foundation? For me, it’s just spreading love. A lot of these kids are just neglected—they don’t have family, they don’t have a support group to talk to, so that’s what I try to bring to them. And hopefully from there, they see what we’re doing, how involved we are with them, that they want to spread that same love.
What advice would you have for parents trying to teach that love to their own kids? As a father, just be involved. I think little babies, especially girls, they develop that relationship with their dad at an early age. For the girl dads, I would definitely advise them to try to be very involved, especially as they’re young. Just being there, for talk, playing with them—everything, you know? Being present.
Photo courtesy of Chris Harris Jr.