For weeks, my mother was laid up in a hospital bed with a serious back injury, and so it was on my Dad, the quintessential “jack of all trades,” to pick up the mom slack—fix dinner, do laundry, and check homework between all of his “Dad-type” responsibilities, like making sure the car had oil and the lawn was mowed. All of the mom stuff, Daddy did reasonably well, considering. I mean, he tended to lean a little bit too hard on his go-to dish of smothered liver and mashed potatoes—but my brother and I, we weren’t hungry. And he ruined a few loads of laundry by adding bleach to my mom’s good chocolate brown towels and a red shirt or two in the whites—but my brother and I, we weren’t naked, so that was a good thing, too.
Still, when it came to styling my hair, let’s just say my Daddy, bless his heart, was useless. See, my mother and I had a standing Saturday night appointment with a tub of hair grease and a hot comb, and weekdays, it was her duty to make sure I didn’t look like Wild Thang climbing onto the school bus. Daddy? He didn’t know nothin’ ‘bout no hot combs and hair grease or hair baubles and barrettes or natural black girl hair—nothing, that is, except that it should look pretty and be anything but nappy. And so only a few days into his Mr. Mom routine, his reasonably cute 12-year-old daughter was beginning to look embarrassingly unkempt.
For my sake and his sanity, he did what any self-respecting Dad with little money and even less hairstyling skills would do: He slapped a jherri curl in my hair.
One of those generic, style-at-home jherri curls, with the “easy-to-follow” directions on the box—directions that promised low-maintenance and glamour style.
Let’s just say that maintenance wasn’t exactly low (what with all the spraying I had to do to make my style look more “curl” than afro) and glamour was definitely not high (considering that there was never enough of the uber-expensive spray to make my style look more “curl” than afro).
Indeed, I like to refer to this time in my life as the beginning of Hair Wars. It was a dark and scary time in which I spent many a morning dreading going to school, and evenings begging my Dad to just let me cut my hair and start anew. But Daddy wasn’t having it. A southern gentleman to the core, he believed with all his heart that hair is sacred—especially if it brushes the shoulders and blows in the wind. He would never let any girlchild of his cut her “crown and glory”’—even if it was stringy, drippy, afro mess.
His Long Hair By Any Means Necessary edict continued through my high school years—the man would escort me to my hair appointments and literally issue all manner of threat to my stylist if she dared cut my hair—and even into college, when he’d make quick work of giving a disapproving eye if my hair wasn’t “done” or, Heaven forbid, I wore an African wrap around my head. Mostly, I wore my hair like Daddy preferred because, well, he’s my Dad and what daughter doesn’t want the approval of the first man she’s ever loved—the first to ever love her back? Daddy had very few conditions for his love; all he required was that I do my best, try my hardest, stay out of trouble, and wear my hair straight.
It wasn’t until I got pregnant with my second daughter—I was well into my 30s—that I stopped being concerned about my Dad’s approval of my hairstyles and did what I wanted to do for years: Go natural. Maybe because there was more physical distance between us—he lived in New York, a state away from my New Jersey home. Maybe because I’d become the mom of two girls of my own, whose natural, kinky, curly hair was more beautiful to me than anything I could buy in a box.
I needed my babies to know that, too—that the hair that grows out of their hair is spectacular just the way it is. Even if their Papa didn’t agree. So natural, I went.
All these years later, I’m happy to say my Dad doesn’t give me a hard time when I and my girls come bouncing into his house, our hair twisted or loc’d or happily, gloriously kinky and natural (though I do take extra care to make sure that it looks super nice and well-groomed). Maybe we can attribute this to old age—the man is just trying to get through the gates, you know? He’s got more important things to fret over. Plus, he moved back to that same southern town where, as a youngster, he learned that a woman’s “crown and glory” was always straight, only to find that women were now embracing locs and afros as much as they straight hair made so with the use of chemicals.
Whatever his reasoning, I’m just happy that I can walk into his house relaxed and happy to be me—and that my father is, finally, happy with this, too.
Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.