It's an idealized image that'll get you every time: a dad and a daughter sitting on the stoop of a brownstone -- daughter on the lower step, dad on the higher -- a tilted, tender head below and big clumsy hands above trying in earnest to master the fine art of tending to a black girl's hair. Not many fathers take on the task, but for those who do attempt to plait and braid and twist and tame, it very often doesn't go so well.
Eric Payne is the author of "DAD: As Easy As A, B, C: 26 Dos & Don'ts For Fathers" and runs his own blog called MakesMeWannaHoller.com. He started doing his daughter's hair out of necessity when his wife was out of town on business, and he admits it took a fair bit of time before he felt confident letting his daughter out of the house after he'd done her hair. "In the beginning I had my daughter looking like she had been in a cat fight," Payne said in a story for the black mom-blog Manual Mocha, Daddy Talk: Doing My Daughter's Hair. And even once he got better at it, Payne said he was often met with a skeptical eye at the fact that he'd been the one to do his daughter's hair in the first place, and that it actually looked okay.
"More times these people are women who are surprised that I would do my daughter's hair," said Payne. "But she's my daughter. If there's anything I'm not going to allow, it's for my daughter to go outside looking like 'Who did it and ran?'"
In the same story for Manual Mocha, Fred J. Goodall likened his experience of managing his daughter's hair to "bathing a cat." Goodall, who also runs his own blog, MochaDad.com, said he has since discovered the secret to avoiding daughter-with-hot-mess-hair-by-dad: "The ponytail is the key to success."
There are, though, a precious few dads out there who get it right. Filmmaker Emir Lewis has been the go-to hair-guy for his two daughters, ages 9 and 12, since day one. "Braids, fancy parts -- straight and zig zag -- twists and buns," Lewis said. "The only ones I can't do are French braids and cornrow, but once I get that, it's on, playa!"
For Jimmie Briggs, who happily learned how to manage his 10-year-old daughter's hair "by recalling the countless weekend nights sitting on the living room floor at home while my mother combed out and braided the heads of my brother and I," the issue of hair is a bit more complicated. He shares custody of his daughter with his ex-wife, who is Latina and unused to dealing with black hair.
"When our daughter is with her mother, it's blown out, straightened and pulled back," said Briggs, the Executive Director of The Man Up Campaign. "With me, it's an unrelenting back-and-forth over her hair being worn out, curls free flowing and unapologetic."
And then there are those dads who are not even trying to get involved in the business of doing hair at all, even when there's a need for it. "My wife doesn't braid hair very well," said Darrin Love, an executive chef in New Jersey who has a 21-month-old daughter. "She said, 'Maybe you should learn to braid,' and, you know, I don't think that's something that a man should be doing." Love added that he would happily take his daughter to a salon if it comes down to a matter of him doing her hair or letting her go out looking a fright.
Whatever the case may be, the general consensus is that dads kind of stink at doing their daughters' hair. So what's the problem, fellas?
One theory is the age-old truism that hair is a subject that is super-fraught for black girls and women, and throwing men, perhaps especially dads, into the mix just makes it more so. "Like too many girls of color with kinky or curly hair, my daughter has been brainwashed by society and Nickolodeon to believe straight hair is neat, while hair worn curly or natural, is messy," Briggs said. We're sure his 10-year-old is really feeling that theory.
Or, as Lewis suggests, it may be a matter of getting easy with one's girly side. "Either I'm secretly gay or just way in touch with my dominant-recessive feminine side."