photo source A Father’s Labor…
OFTEN, the women let out a little gasp. I look up, a hair twisty dangling from my mouth, a clump of my 5-year-old daughter’s hair clenched in one fist, a comb in the other, ready for attack. She squirms on the bench in the family locker room at the local Y, freshly showered after a swim class and bracing for her hair appointment with me, her father, hellbent on taming those tresses.
“Wow, you are really good,” one approving mother says one morning as my fingers weave three strands into a tight braid. I nod thanks and press on, fussing with another braid as I demand again and again, “Lyla, keep still for heaven’s sake.”
As Lyla and I depart, the receptionist at the counter coos.
“Who did your hair, sweetie,” she asks, knowing the answer.
“Daddy,” Lyla says matter-of-factly.
“Nice job, Dad,” says the receptionist. In another context, the look she gives me might land us in trouble with my wife.
The gushing, I have noticed, is particularly heavy from black women like the Y receptionist, as well as from family and friends, who no doubt appreciate the challenge of combing, brushing and braiding hair like Lyla’s. Hers is a glorious mix of kinks, knots, semicurls and straight strands.
I can’t imagine my wife garnering these compliments, and when I boast to her of my female fans, she confirms the suspicion. Nobody compliments her braiding when she takes Lyla into the girls’ or women’s locker room.
I’ve been doing Lyla’s hair since she has had enough hair to do, receiving my first lessons from my wife and subjecting Lyla to my continued training by my sister, mother-in-law and other female relatives. Combing and brushing and, most important, braiding her hair seemed another way to help out and participate in the joys of having a daughter.
But Lyla’s locks have given me a closer glimpse into the angst, not to mention politics, that is black women’s hair. Sure, I have ridden the highs and lows of my wife’s hair-care odyssey. Go natural? Braids? Relaxer? A weave? Cut it all off? She has tried almost everything and been stressed about it all along the way. Does having a relaxer to straighten natural kinks bow to white society’s notion of good hair? Do free-form ’fros and braids with fake hair extensions look “professional” enough?
CONTINUE READING: Randal C. Archibald of NYTimes