One morning, my father faced a daunting, never-before-performed task ... doing his daughters’ hair.
My mother, a homemaker par-excellence, happened to take a rare overnight trip away from home. In her absence, our father was to make certain my sister and I were washed, fed, and presented relatively unscathed upon her return – which, of course, included hair duty.
My father’s calloused, workman’s hands set about their business on my head early that morning. His hands were far more accustomed to wielding a hammer than a comb, yet their tenderness on my three-year-old scalp was as sweet as candy.
When we were presented for inspection upon Mama’s return, it didn’t matter that our braids were uneven, our edges fuzzy and our parts jagged with bows and barrettes decorating odd places. In spite of my haphazard triple-braid-'do, I was delighted to inform my mother that “Daddy did my hair.” My father never had occasion to do my hair again, yet this memory has remained vivid through the years.
Today, as my husband and I travel and lecture, I often hear him encouraging fathers to do their young daughters’ hair, and to do it regularly. Having done this with his own daughter, he is persuaded that it created an indelible bond between them. I affirm my husband’s observation; I would add that the surprises of our tangles, kinks and curls make it easy to compare our hair's inconsistent glories to the mutability of our days.
Fathers, your comb and your care can unravel the complexities of both hair and life with the patience modeled by our heavenly Father; in doing so, you will discover the twists and turns of your daughters’ natural patterns of growth and personality. By sharing in her intimate world, you may glimpse firsthand how the elements of life can cause her hair – and her – to either shrink back in confusion or step forward with courage. You’ll come to know how each individual strand misbehaves on its own, yet with gentle guidance stands in solidarity with the whole of the head; you’ll learn to encourage her new growth, while tending to the health of the old.
The vicissitudes of life can affect both our hair and our outlook. Touching a girl’s heart through her hair touches her in a place where she is vulnerable. Affirm her in that place and you stand on holy ground – this is especially true for us as Black women. There is a comfort in knowing that our earthly father's gentler side waits for us in the priestly tending of this temple, and his sacrifice of time and bravado becomes a fragrant offering. And each time you present her to the world for God’s purposes, you will have celebrated her hair and her identity for what God has uniquely made them both to be.
A father can shape the womanhood of a girl like no one else on earth. For those whose natural fathers abandoned this wonderful privilege, our heavenly Father stands ready to affirm you in ways far beyond your coiffure – ways as unique and personalized as our hairstyles themselves.
Sisters, even the numbered hairs on our heads are fearfully and wonderfully made – our marvelous complexity is indicative of our Father’s love for creativity, and of his love for us as his creatures. Nature’s rains and the storms of life may act as kryptonite that weakens us, but both our heavenly and earthly fathers can strengthen us to face the inclemency.
Few things melted my husband’s heart more than to hear his daughter say, “My daddy did my hair.” I hope that it was the same for my father with me. My life on any given day can still be messy, and far different than I expected it to be – so it is also with my hair. What stands in my memory is not my father's lack of ability, but rather his tender love expressed in an area where he was least skilled, and I was most vulnerable.
Indeed, what I remember best is being enraptured with my imperfect father, and the tangible way in which our perfect Father met us there.
Karen Angela Ellis holds a Master of Fine.Art from the Yale University School of Drama and a Master of Art in Religion from Westminster Theological Seminary. She is both performing artist and educator, happily married to Carl Ellis, Jr. Follow Karen on Twitter @KarAngEllis, where she tweets about theology, life, culture and the arts.