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.

22 Responses to “The Hair Disaster”
  1. Bruce says:

    You missed your chance!! You could have colored the long half green, run her singing through Autotune, and made a gajillion dollars!

    Rats, another opportunity lost.

  2. So much drama! Many, many years ago, my three-year-old daughter had the same reaction to getting her hair cut. Increasing the drama was the fact that her five-year-old brother was her stylist that morning, right around dawn. Emily’s new “do” was quite striking – very short in back, long on the sides, and cut to the scalp in front.

    When I demanded to know why he did such a thing, Barry’s answer was, “It had toothpaste on it.”

    What goes around comes around, and a few years later, the adapter fell off of the hair clippers while my husband was trimming 13-year-old Barry’s hair, and left a 2×2 inch bald spot on the back of his head. This time, there was no toothpaste involved, but there was plenty of drama!

    I guess the moral of the story is that if your hair is important to you, it should be handled by a professional. My hair no longer has the growth potential to be important, so I clip it myself.

  3. Jesrad says:

    “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.”

    Sure you do. Dealing with LOSS is universal and knows no gender. Every child as to face it at some point, and every parent has to handle that phase in their child.

  4. Brian says:

    As the father of two daughters a wife in the house (and a female dog), I feel your pain. The oldest is 11 and it’s already starting. Is there an emergency brake?

    Nope, we’re in for the full ride.

  5. Amy Dungan says:

    Aww Tom. You are such a great dad. You do what it takes to make your daughters happy and help them through their crisis. And for the record, we ladies don’t expect you men to understand the workings of our minds. Shoot, half the time we don’t understand it ourselves.

    That’s weird; I’ve had girlfriends who were convinced they knew exactly what I was thinking. One even got angry over what she believed I was thinking, even though I wasn’t actually thinking it. I had the wisdom not to marry that one.

  6. Jan says:

    *smiles gently*

    We have three daughters who range in age from 24 to 19, which pretty much means that 7 years ago they ranged in from age 17 to 12. I could tell you some pretty, um, interesting stories but that means I’d have to go through the trauma of relating it all and I can’t drink, much less drink heavily, while I’m recuperating from this damn tonsillectomy.

    Let me just say that while having a son first in no way, shape, form or fashion prepared me for the Hell that is an adolescent daughter (to say nothing of three of them), it certainly has allowed me to appreciate (and be sobbingly grateful) that the lone chick in the nest also has testicles.

    You probably shouldn’t tell me those stories anyway; I might develop high blood pressure just thinking about what’s coming.

  7. Jennifer says:

    Reminds me of when I was a young girl (as opposed to the Ole’ girl I am now *sigh*) my first baking endeavor was brownies and, not understanding that the temperature and time guides are only recommendations, I undercooked them. My dad was not fond of brownies but he had the first one and told me how good they were and that they were so moist… That day I understood how much my dad loved me.

    Ahh, yes. I’ve choked down a couple of recipe disasters already. On the other hand, the five-year-old has surprised us with her ability to concoct some pretty tasty soups.

  8. Jeanmarie says:

    Clearly, you’re a wonderful daddy. You did the right thing.

    Thank you.

  9. Chad Wallace says:

    Spot on Tom!

    As you know, I, too have 2 daughters in the house, and a wife. I tell everyone that I live in the ‘house of women’. At least I have a male dog (I really feel for you, Brian) but he never backs me up in an argument.

    So I really feel your pain, Tom. At least one of mine is off to college, so some of the drama has been removed.

    But I have a question – you say “I sneaked back to my office to avoid being asked an opinion”. Come on now, Tom that can’t be true. Be honest, when the women want your opinion, don’t they tell you what that opinion is supposed to be?

    That’s been known to happen.

  10. Am I really female? I love shoes and purses and makeup, not to mention men. I have a sizable rack. But while I’ve had a few bad haircuts in my day, I just have not been terribly emotional about my hair. I’ve gone from long to short to long to short over the years, and just not gotten terribly worked up about it.

    On the other hand, my brother, who grew up to be a musician, desperately wanted really long hair as a kid, and once ran away when my mom made him get it cut to collar length.

    I have no idea what any of this means. But you’re a fine daddy. I’m not sure my father ever even noticed my hair.

    I just can’t picture you having a meltdown over a haircut.

  11. Lori says:

    Tom Naughton–at a loss for words? I don’t believe it. Next time, put your hand on the distressed one’s shoulder and say, “I’m sorry, honey. I know how it feels to lose your hair.”

    The slightly-longer-in-front style is au courant and looks good on certain face shapes and hair types. (It just made the ends of my very straight hair frizzy.)

    Makeup disasters wash off. Clothing disasters are easily avoided once you know your colors, stick to simple styles and know how things should fit.

    Your wife and daughters (when they’re a little older) might like the Beauty forum at the Fedora Lounge, a vintage web site I belong to. Every now and then, we help parents through crises like these.


    When she was 3, I told her she has my hair — same color and texture. She looked at me for a bit and said, “Daddy, do you want some of your hair back?”

  12. Elenor says:

    Well done, daddy! Speaking as a once-upon-a-time girl who (or I guess that should be “long long ago, in a galaxy far far away, I ,..) gave the butchering haircut, (to my older sister) rather than suffered it: you did a GREAT job reassuring your dear daughter. It’s not lying when you’re reassuring your daughter. (Besides, isn’t she ALWAYS beautiful to you? Try to focus on that and let the loving lie slip over your tongue… {wink})

    She’d be beautiful to me if she had no hair and three eyes.

  13. Katy says:

    Both my daughter and granddaughter had the inclination to cut their own hair, right off in most cases. Coming unexpectedly onto a pile of hair can be hair-raising indeed.

    I always admired my grandmother’s way of getting around the truth. Asked how she liked somebody’s newborn, who happened to be covered in hair, she replied, “Now that’s a baby!” This works for many situations: “Now that’s a dress!” “Now that’s a hairdo!” “Now that’s some boyfriend!”

    Re: teenage girls: pick your battles.

    Now THAT’S a brilliant way of handling it. I’m adopting your grandmother’s technique.

  14. Mark Green (GHS 77) says:

    Another great story! I remember my oldest daughter taking scissors to her hair- quite the traumatic experience. If all of lifes problems were that easy!

    Oh- in advance- Happy Birthday!!!

    Take care.

    Thank you, Mark.

  15. Victoria says:

    My brother once had a hair disaster. He didn’t think it was a disaster actually. My mother, however…

    My brother was a huge fan of Ghostbusters, particularly Bill Murray’s character, and he wanted Bill’s haircut. You know… the receding hairline? Of course my mother refused, telling him that he couldn’t cut the hair above his temple really short and leave the rest. My brother decided to take matters into his own hands, and one night did the job himself, with a pair of kids Crayola scissors.

    If your brother ever develops a naturally-receding hairline, he may not think it’s so cool.

  16. D says:

    I have to share my hair story. My son was about 4 and my older daughter was 2, they woke me up one morning, and there was Beth all sticky with her hair matted down. I very groggily got up and went into the dining room, where Matthew very proudly piped up, “We had jelly sandwiches for breakfast!) Ok, no problem, except that I saw hair all in the jelly, stuck to the jar, etc. Then he even more proudly announced, “I gave Beth a haircut!” I didn’t notice it due to her hair being plastered down with jelly. But, sure enough, her hair was shorter, and there was a bald patch on her scalp. It took some creative trimming to make it look ok. She was blonde then, so it wasn’t quite as noticeable as it would have been had it been Matthew’s dark brown hair. After it was all over, I had a nice chuckle over it.

    When someone shows you a baby who isn’t exactly cute, or even somewhat ugly, just proclaim, “Oh, how precious!” All babies are precious, you aren’t lying, and the parents will be overjoyed.

    I remember seeing a beauty shop named It’ll Grow Back. It’s a good thing to say when your daughter doesn’t like her haircut.

    She has since announced she’s going to grow it long again, but seems to have recovered from the trauma.

  17. I explained to my wife when we were still dating that I had a rule for new hairdos: I won’t express an opinion for at least three days.

    First off, when she does it herself after taking a shower it’s going to look nothing like it did right out of the stylist’s chair.

    Second, I’ve gotten used to how she looks. If she makes a drastic change, she won’t look like herself for a while.

    Third, she won’t have decided yet what she thinks of it. (For the first two reasons.) I’ll be damned if I’ll tell her what I think, only to have her make up her mind later. And once she has made up her mind, of course she won’t be able to keep it to herself, so I can just agree with her.

    You’re a smart husband.

  18. Amy Dungan says:

    Okay, I have to share a hair story here too. 🙂
    My kids were both born almost completely bald. My daughter had lighter colored hair so even at a year old she looked like Uncle Fester. So one day I walk into the bedroom that my kids shared (Matt age 3, Rachel age 1) and Matt says, “Mommy! Look! I gave her pretty hair!” To my horror, my son had drawn hair all over Rachel’s head, with a blue ink pen. We laugh now… but back then, not so much. It took several days to wear off, while we gently scrubbed her head at bath time every night. Man… wish I’d owned a camera back then!

    LOL. That would have been a priceless picture.

  19. Lori says:

    This is what can happen when hair-related meltdowns aren’t controlled from a young age: running away from home, a life of crime, and a lot of loose talk about your son and his best friend.


    We must nip this in the bud.

  20. Be says:

    LMAO. A Bad Hair day? A BAD HAIR DAY? You are worried about THAT with two daughters? BRAHAHAHAHA – you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!

    My favorite way to avoid the lie (though with two daughters you better get used to it) is, “That’s Unbelievable!”, You usually don’t have to say whether it is unbelievably good or unbelievably bad.

    LOL. That should cover it.

  21. Lucy says:

    I’m in the category of ‘Women who don’t understand hair trauma’. I constantly struggle to get the stylists at the hairdressers to cut it short enough. They always seem to want to err on the side of ‘we can go shorter’, instead of ‘it’ll grow back’.

    And then there was the time my DH shaved his mustache (had it since I’d known him, some 13 years) and I didn’t notice for three days. Fortunately he’s a guy, and didn’t care. I did feel bad though, I could just envision somebody calling, asking for identifying marks and me saying, Yes, he has a full mustache… Oops!

    I hope it’s genetic.

    Seriously though, we probably overuse the phrase “No crying over spilt milk” both literally and figuratively for our two girls (oldest 6). Little kids will listen to logic, and they still listen to daddy and mommy. Better to train them in reasonable responses and reactions now, than later.

    Now that is unusual, a woman not noticing a missing moustache.

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