A few nights ago, I was working in my home office when I heard my seven-year-old daughter scream bloody murder from the kitchen. As you might imagine, nothing propels a father from his chair as quickly as his child’s scream. My daughters’ screams have alerted me to fingers pinched in doors, fingers crushed by toilet seats, fingers stung by bees, heads banged against granite counters, heads banged against wooden bookcases, heads banged against other heads, heads stuck in railings, knees scraped by sidewalks, knees punctured by wooden splinters, and toes injured by butter knives, mixing bowls, pantry doors, kitchen chairs, and a Lazy-Boy rocker-recliner.
When I bounded into the kitchen, my daughter Sara was sitting in a chair, crying. My wife was standing behind her, holding a pair scissors and looking stunned. Sara can be quite be a handful, but my wife isn’t the type to resort to stabbing as a form of discipline, so I concluded that both the scissors and the screams probably had something to do with the piles of hair settling beneath Sara’s chair.
As it turned out, Sara had announced she was tired of her long, beautiful hair and asked my wife to cut it short, like her little sister’s. Then, partway into the operation, she had a change of heart – which she explained by screaming. It may be a woman’s prerogative to change her mind, but not halfway through a haircut. So there she sat, sobbing violently, still wearing long hair all around except for a newly-mowed row in the back. That row was roughly two feet shorter.
When we decided to start a family, I wanted daughters. I love having daughters. But as a man, I’m not equipped to handle hair disasters and other female emotional traumas. I literally have no idea what to say. If my daughter was being harassed by a bully or just lost the big game, I could probably offer sage advice, or at least some comforting words. But a hair-disaster meltdown freezes my male brain.
It’s not that I’m clueless about the importance of fine-looking hair. As a balding man, I’ve had an unbroken string of bad hair days dating back to the early 1990s. I don’t like it much, but I’ve never cried about it … even though I didn’t ask anyone to give me the balding look and can’t get my hair back simply by avoiding scissors for a few months.
Even as a kid, I never had a meltdown over a hair disaster. One Saturday when I was 8 or 9 years old, my dad took me to a old barber near his office for the sake of convenience. Dad had work to do, I’d tagged along, and I needed a haircut. The old barber asked what kind of style I wanted, so I described in great detail how long to leave the bangs, how high to trim around the ears, and how to shape the back. The old man nodded, then pressed his electric clippers against my head and gave me a buzz cut — apparently the only style in his repertoire, and not a popular style during the era of The Beatles.
Did I scream? Have a meltdown? Stay indoors for a month? Nope. I just went home and held my head under a running faucet. Then my older brother informed me that watering your hair doesn’t make it grow any faster, so I put on a baseball cap and got on with my life.
Sara’s hair-disaster meltdown wasn’t even the first I’ve experienced. Several months ago my wife took Alana, our five-year-old, to a stylist for a trim. Alana seemed quite happy with it. We all thought the short hair looked cute on her. Three days later, as we were driving to Chicago, she suddenly burst out crying.
“Honey, what’s wrong?! Are you okay? Alana, what happened?!”
“I …(sob) … I … (sob) … I HATE MY HAAAAAAIR!!”
Just like that, out of nowhere. Times like these, I realize as much as I adore my daughters, I’ll never fully comprehend their little female minds. I tried to imagine what Alana was thinking just before the meltdown.
I’m tired of sitting in this car seat. Mommy says when I’m older I won’t need the car seat. That will be nice. Geez, look at all that corn. There sure is a lot of corn in Indiana. I’ve been staring at corn for hours now. It must’ve been a thousand-hundred minutes since we stopped. I hope we stop soon, because I think I might have to pee-pee. Maybe if we stop soon, Dad will let us have ice cream. We almost never get ice cream. Grandma gives us ice cream, though. I love Grandma. She’s going to be so happy to see us. She’ll probably hug me and say, “Alana, what happened to your hair? It’s so short!” You know, Grandma’s right. My hair is short. It’s too short. It’s way, way, way, too short. It looks awful … I HATE MY HAAAAAAIR!!”
Now it was Sara’s turn to hate her hair. When the sobs subsided enough to allow for coherent speech, she insisted my wife should just back away and leave the disaster as it was. My wife explained that long hair in the front and short hair in the back isn’t a flattering style. So they negotiated and settled for short in the back and somewhat longer in the front. I’ve seen women choose that style on purpose and could never figure out why. It ends up looking like some kind of hair-helmet. I sneaked back to my office to avoid being asked an opinion.
Unfortunately, my wife decided Sara needed reassurance that disaster had been avoided and brought her back for a visit.
“Daddy, look at Sara’s new hair style. Doesn’t she look cute?”
Uh … uh …
The thing is, I’m a terrible liar. The upside is that if I pay you a compliment, you can be sure I mean it. The downside is that people sometimes regret asking for my opinion. It’s not that I’m incapable of lying, but I really hate doing it. It’s a pride thing; my word matters to me.
Years ago, a girlfriend tried a new hairstyle best described as “experimental” — at least three inches longer on one side than on the other (among other horrors), so she appeared to be on the verge of tipping over. I literally said nothing about it, because I couldn’t think of anything nice to say. I simply pretended I hadn’t noticed. But of course, being a woman, she was required by law to drag an opinion out of me soon after I picked her up.
“You didn’t say anything about my hair.”
“Oh. Sorry. So, you in the mood for Thai food, or maybe Mexican, or -”
“Do you like my new haircut or not?”
“Uh … you know … I’d have to say … I like pretty much everything about you. And of course, on top of it all is your hair.”
When my daughter reaches her teens, it’s a given that I’ll become the stupidest man on earth for a few years, and during that time my opinion probably won’t matter much. But for now, I’m still the smartest man on earth and also the man she most loves and admires. And there she was, standing in front of my desk, her eyes pleading for a compliment.
“Daddy, look at Sara’s new hair style. Doesn’t she look cute?”
Uh … uh … oh, just get over it. It’s her pride that matters, not yours.
“Yes, she does. That’s really cute, Sara.”
“Do you like it, Daddy?”
“Yes, I do. It’s very cute.”
I’m a middle-aged man with two young daughters. Over the years, there will be hair disasters, makeup disasters, clothing disasters, and other disasters I can’t even anticipate, some of which may involve piercings. I don’t like saying nice words I don’t actually mean. But for them, I will.