I probably know more about Black Women’s hair than the typical guy.
Growing up, I was often enlisted by my mother to help her with the upkeep of (or switch over from) the many styles she wore during the 80s and 90s: braids of all stripes (basket weave, box, micro), finger waves, the Salt ‘n’ Pepa asymmetrical bob, the Wave Nouveau curly perm, and, even, the trusty wig.
Add to this a former girlfriend who marketed hair products for L’Oreal and I ended up as a man who can speak somewhat intelligently about the many ways Black Women strive to keep their “butters whipped.” Should you ever find yourself on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire faced with a question about the follicular formations of Black hair, feel free to use your phone-a-friend option to reach me. I’ll pick up. (Hint: the answer will likely be Madam C.J. Walker or Luster’s Pink Oil Moisturizer. You’re welcome).
But surprisingly, when it came time to do my daughter’s hair, I didn’t have a clue.
I was intimidated. What moisturizer should I use? What type of brush or comb would I need? Would I have to do ponytails (because I never learned to braid)? And there were SO MANY accessories – a multitude of bands, barrettes, clips, scrunchies. Which ones do you use on a two-year-old?
My wife knew I was daddy deficient in this area. So she did what moms do: she left instructions. In this case, it was a one-pager titled “Johnathon’s Guide to Doing Emmy’s Hair.” It included nine steps, including “do one section at a time”; “take a fingertip or two of the curling cream and massage into hair thoroughly”; “use the comb to detangle and the brush to smooth hair into a ponytail”; and last, but not least: “use the aloe vera gel to smooth down Emmy’s baby hairs along her hairline.” Edge control is a must.
And so began my #DaddyDoesHair journey.
Officially, it started in February when my wife returned to work full time. Every morning after getting my daughter fed and dressed, I spend 15 minutes doing her hair as she sits in her high chair clinging her blanket and singing along to Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. Then we head out the door to daycare.
Here are three things I’ve learned over the past four months in the role of Daddy the Hair Groomer:
1. DOING MY DAUGHTER’S HAIR MAKES ME FEEL LIKE A BETTER DAD.
I didn’t feel complete as a father until I learned how to tackle my daughter’s tangles. I wanted to know how to care for her, completely: feed her, bathe her, clothe her, and yes, do her hair. I was mortified by the idea that Emmy might skip out the house looking like Bushwick Bill if I couldn’t style her locks like mommy. (And what’s worse, it would have been a completely preventable tragedy).
The aesthetics of my daughter’s hair are not as important to me as the pride I feel knowing that I helped her show up in the world looking like she’s being cared for by people who love her.
2. #BLACKGIRLMAGIC CAN’T HAPPEN WITHOUT MOISTURE.
As a guy with short, cropped hair, I simply brush and go. I put on a dab of pomade here and there, of course, but concern about moisture is not part of my hair routine. It’s different with my daughter.
She has, according to my wife (and Google), hair type 4A: tightly coiled, very fragile, defined curly pattern. Before I even think about putting a comb through her hair, I have to spray her locks with a mix of water and Kinky-Curly Knot Today, comb, massage in some Cantu coconut curling cream, comb again until her hair darkens and curls, and then brush and pull into two Afro puffs that defy gravity. #BlackGirlMagic.
Once, in a hurry, I tried to rush the moisturizing process, only to get the comb snagged in Emmy’s hair. She winced. #DadFail. This forced me to take my time and, in doing so, I took notice of the curve of her ears, the line of her jaw, the health of her scalp. Doing my daughter’s hair allows me to be present with her and see the small ways she’s growing and changing.
3. “IT’S NOT ABOUT THE BRAID, IT’S ABOUT THE BOND.”
So says Phil Morgese, a single dad, who with his daughter, Emma, started the Daddy Daughter Hair Factory in Daytona Beach, Florida. Its mission: “To give fathers and father figures the tools they need to handle hair properly, to encourage stronger bonds between them and their daughters, realizing that the most important aspect of doing hair is the bond behind it.” This rang true to me.
After all, I may never be able to do my daughter’s hair with the beauty salon technique of my wife, but that’s OK.
My satisfaction comes when Emmy leans in close, gives me a big hug and declares, “You’re the best!”
This piece originally appeared on HuffPost.