For the tenth time that morning, I checked the clock.
“We’re going to be late for the bus, and for school, if you don’t get up and get moving!” I said.
Our daughter let out a grumble and finally made her way out of bed. I herded her into the bathroom for the first step of her morning routine, then back out to get dressed and brush her hair. As I worked to detangle her golden locks, Olivia turned, looked me straight in the eyes and said: “Pop quiz, hot shot. You’ve been practicing how to braid hair lately and I think I want one. If I don’t get that, things blow up. What do you do? WHAT DO YOU DO?!?!”
For a split second, I froze. My mind became filled with a thousand questions: Was I ready to take on what seemed like an impossible task? Had I watched enough YouTube videos to pull this off? What would Keanu do in this situation? Did I turn the oven off?
As I began my first attempt at a braid, I thought back to what had brought me here in the first place. Over a year ago I had read some articles about dads learning to braid their daughter’s hair and I wanted to do the same. I hoped to use it as something to help me bond with Olivia and perhaps change her opinions on things like:
1) the re-telling of origin stories every time a new actor plays a beloved superhero in a movie (unnecessary);
2) whether it’s too early for her to compete in the X Games (only if the event involves extreme rock collecting and leaving them in her pockets); and
3) her belief that I’m a tyrant bent on world domination and the complete removal of all fun in her life (not true in the slightest).
So, what did I do to make this dream a reality? Instead of taking a class with other eager dads, or seeking training with a local stylist, I did what anyone in our age and time would do: I bought a mannequin head online and watched YouTube videos.
To make things less creepy, and give it some dignity, I decided to give the head a name: Hannah Quinn. I figured she didn’t want to be known as “the mannequin.” Plus, since she’s just a head, was she 100 percent mannequin American? Don’t you need a full torso, arms and legs to get your mannequin work permit in this country? Or is knowing Meshach Taylor enough to get you in the door?
I have to admit, my relationship with Hannah started off kind of rocky. People on YouTube seemed to be able to do this one-handed while blindfolded. I tried a few times then gave up out of frustration. No amount of bobby pins, hair ties or duct tape could save what I was doing to this poor thing.
Plus, Hannah gave me no amount of feedback or advice to try and fix the issues I was having. She was stone faced, cold and acted like she didn’t want to be there. So, in the spirit of getting to know each other better, I decided it would be best to do something fun together. We tried doubles tennis, synchronized swimming and tandem rock climbing, but nothing clicked.
In the end, we settled for an activity that was easier and way more fun: scaring the crap out of my wife.
We now return you to our regularly scheduled broadcast, already in progress, where I’ve been thrown into the gauntlet by our 4-year old.
“Will this help motivate you to braid my hair?” Olivia asked with a menacing grimace. She presented a pressure sensitive trigger in the palm of her hand with wires running down to a band placed on Hannah’s head. The band was rigged with enough C-4 to blow up us and all the stuffed animals within a 3-mile radius.
I looked Hannah right in the eyes, and she just looked right back at me with a calm assurance that said, “You’ve got this partner. Take the shot.”
So, I did. And let me tell you, I braided the SHIT out of some hair that morning.
Olivia relented and made it into school on time, satisfied with a job well done. The world was unaware that the lives of countless stuffed animals (and one mannequin head) had been saved that day. I’m looking forward to practicing braiding more, learning different techniques, and spending more quality time with my daughter. I want her to know that I’ll always be there to listen to her and that she shouldn’t be afraid to come to me when she has something on her mind. Whether it takes braiding her hair, going for a walk outdoors together or any other countless activities we can bond over, I want her to know that I’ll be there for her no matter what.
That is, unless she wants to bond while visiting the Caribbean on a cruise ship. Then I’m totally unavailable.
A version of this first appeared on Our Little Mixtape. All photos contributed by Chris McKee.