Wake up, eat breakfast, brush teeth, get dressed, comb hair, shoes on, out the door. That’s how the morning should go, but as any parent knows there are always delays, changes of plan, and minor emergencies in-between each step.
We’re an adoptive family, and I’m an at-home dad. As my wife gets ready for work, a fair amount of my time in the morning routine is spent doing my daughter's hair. My daughter is biracial (black and white). In the beginning, despite my best efforts, it often seemed to go something like this:
As a white guy who just crossed into his late thirties, I never expected to spend each morning perfecting puffs and twist outs, but I’m so grateful to find myself here doing this, my hands covered in leave-in conditioner, tiny hair ties around my wrists.
When you’re new at something--like, let’s say for example when you’re a white dude with no experience doing anyone else’s hair, let alone a little girl with a completely different hair type than you--it takes time to learn how to do it right and create a style. Thank God for good friends and YouTube videos because I had a lot to learn (I still do). Essentially though, to get better at your craft, no matter what it is, you’ve got to do three things:
Get the right tools
Keep at it everyday
Hair care is hugely important as a cultural indicator and status symbol. Hair comes in all kinds of textures, and African-American hair care is fundamentally different than white hair care. For me, learning to do my daughter’s hair was a bit like learning to paint in acrylic after working in watercolors all your life. The tools are mostly the same--combs, brushes, barrettes, bows, product--but you’ve got to use the right ones specialized for the medium you’re working in. When I do my hair, I comb it back, part it, throw some pomade in there and I’m done. It takes about 30 seconds. Getting a little girl’s hair right can take a tremendous amount of time and effort. Hair is art, and it should be appreciated as such.
For inspiration, all you have to do is look around. Just search #naturalhair on Instagram and you’ll find so many beautiful black women with amazing ‘dos. As someone who’s still pretty new to this whole thing, I often don’t even know what’s possible. I’m not attempting the looks on these models and posh social media people just yet (my daughter’s only two!), but it’s great to see what’s out there. Keisha Omilana is a good one to follow. She runs the Crown of Curls YouTube channel, which is a great resource. When I’m really dreaming big about hair possibilities, I look to Janelle Monáe, Tracee Ellis Ross, and WWE’s Xavier Woods, especially around Wrestlemania time, but you’ve got to find what works for you. This is art, remember?
When it comes to getting the right tools and products, do your research. In terms of hair care, it’s all going to depend on hair texture. If you’re close enough with them, ask your friends what they use. YouTube, again, is a font of knowledge. Amazon reviews can be very helpful, too, since people share very specific feedback about what works and doesn’t. For my daughter’s hair, my favorites right now are the Cricket Ultra Smooth Coconut Detangling Brush and the Mixed Chicks line of hair products. Settling on these items took some trial and error. Don’t be afraid to try to something new every once in a while.
Finally, keep at it everyday. There’s not much to this one other than that. There’s an expression in the running community I like that says, “There is no secret. Keep going.” So much of life is like that, from exercise to art to faith to hair care. Keep practicing. You’ll get better. Those buns will get tighter. Those curls will be more luxurious. Your hair, like your life, will be full and beautiful. Okay, maybe that’s taking it a step too far, but you get the picture.
I’ve come a long way and my morning routine with my kids is getting faster and faster. They’re also constantly growing up on me. In reality, all the skill and knowledge I’ve tried to develop will only be necessary for so long. In a few years, my daughter will be doing her own hair (much better than I can) and then I don’t know what I’ll do with my mornings. Wistfully watch YouTube videos on the latest hair trends and remember the good old days? I don’t think so. I will carry with me though, a deeper appreciation for the work that women--especially women of color--put into their hair. I hope that as my daughter grows up we’ll find occasion, maybe on her wedding day, to laugh with each other and say, “Remember when I used to do your hair?” I know I’ll always remember. I hope she does, too.
Dan Brady is the author of the poetry collection Strange Children, forthcoming from Publishing Genius in 2018, and two chapbooks, Cabin Fever / Fossil Record (Flying Guillotine Press) and Leroy Sequences (Horse Less Press). He is the poetry editor of Barrelhouse and lives in Arlington, Virginia with his wife and two kids. Learn more at danbrady.org.