A wise man once said that fatherhood is a cavalcade of things you don't know how to do, fix, make or control. I figure he must have watched me trying to deal with my daughter's hair.
As Emily Levey approaches her third birthday, her hair has approached her waist. As her father approaches a much larger-numbered birthday, he has approached the end of his rope.
Nothing works. Nothing stays. Nothing helps. We can send a man to the moon, but we apparently can't teach this Dad to use a brush and a barrette.
I have a daughter who is blind half the time because the pony tails I carefully gather come loose the second she takes two steps.
I have a daughter who comes home from pre-school with remnants of lunch on the ends of her curls -- because the pigtails I made came apart, again.
I have a daughter who learned to say the word "tangles" at 18 months. She had them then. She has them now. Three guesses who still can't comb them out without causing bloodcurdling screams.
Things are so bad that Emily has started a campaign of revenge.
I carry a hairbrush in my briefcase. One morning, it wasn't there. I looked everywhere. Vanished.
Then I walked into the kitchen and found Emily and the brush sitting together in the middle of the floor. She was methodically trying to pull its bristles out, one by one. Her theory must have been: immobilize the clod's weapon and you immobilize the clod.
Emily's greatest pleasure used to be going for a ride while perched on Dad's shoulders. Now it's going for a ride while perched on Dad's shoulders -- and messing up his hair while she's up there.
Meanwhile, the bathtub has become a battleground. Emily won't let me wet her hair. She won't let me shampoo her hair. She won't let me rinse her hair. And in case I haven't gotten the message yet, she won't let me dry her hair.
The post-bath Emily is a study in punk. Her head is a sea of damp, limp clumps. Thirty seconds with a comb, and she'd be a latter-day Shirley Temple. Instead, she looks as if she got caught in the rain.
And now she has taken her case to the public.
We were having dinner last month, just we two, at a restaurant (Mom was at a meeting). A man at the next table leaned over and said to Emily, "You have lovely hair."
"My Daddy can't make a pony tail," she replied.
Which is not quite true. I can make a fine pony tail. What I can't do is preserve it.
As soon as I try to slip the rubber holder around it and push the pony tail through the loop, I run out of hands. The pony tail proceeds to disintegrate, as I plead: "Just hold still! Please, Em! Almost got it, honey! Just one more second! . . . . Nuts!"
There would seem to be two remedies for the Hair Hassles: Calling in Mom, or finding a pair of scissors. To take them in order:
Mom and I decided long ago that we'd be as interchangeable as possible. No "Mom jobs" and no "Dad jobs." If a diaper needed changing, either of us could, and either of us would. If a voice shouted "Mommy!" in the middle of the night, a certain lumbering figure could just as easily get up, walk into a certain room and say: "Will you accept a Dad instead, on a free 30-day trial?"
Ditto with hair. I remember blithely vowing to comb and brush whenever necessary. I never expected it to be a problem. But now that it is, my deal with Mom is: Dad sinks or swims on his own. I only wish some other Dad of a Daughter had warned me not to promise what I couldn't deliver.
As for a haircut, we almost achieved that by default a few months ago. A piece of semi-chewed gum got caught in Emily's light brown locks while I was in charge for the evening.
I wasn't responsible, your honor. Honest. Still, it looked as if scissor surgery was the only solution.
Then Mom came home. "Let me just try," she said. Twenty minutes later, after meticulously separating the hair from the gum, strand by strand, Emily's tresses were still unsnipped.
I'm going to beat this problem eventually, of course -- thanks to the passage of time. It won't be long before Emily fixes her own hair -- and before she'll want to.
You think she'd consider tomorrow morning?