Daddy-daughter moments can be among the most memorable and poignant in a young woman’s life. If your dad was particularly hands-on when you were a little girl, you may still remember him picking out your outfits, overseeing bath time, or struggling to style your hair. Because each of these activities is still overwhelmingly considered to be “mother’s work” as it relates to daughters, any story that involves a dad taking a vested interest in little-girl fashions and hair seems novel.
Consider the photograph of Oakland, California, news anchor Frank Somerville taking out his adopted daughter’s braids. The snapshot went viral online late last week, with thousands of shares and comments, after Somerville posted it to his Facebook page. The news anchor, whose adopted daughter is black, was overwhelmed by the positive response the picture garnered and stated:
To me the picture shows a dad doing what a dad SHOULD do, and loving every minute of it. The birth of my first daughter, and adopting my youngest daughter, are the two best moments of my life, and I feel like the luckiest dad in the world that my family is interracial. I can’t thank all of you enough. And remember CHANGE HAPPENS ONE PERSON AT A TIME!”
Somerville’s comment speaks not only to race, but also to the idea of gender roles and parenting. His comment asserts that fathers “should” share in the same aspects of parenting that mothers undertake. Many accounts of fathers doing their daughters’ hair end in a punchline: Dads are clueless or inept as it relates to styling their little girls. Earlier this year, President Obama told an anecdote along these lines about a failed attempt to do his eldest daughter Malia’s hair for a dance recital:
… Malia, when she was 4, she had a little dance thing. Well, Michelle was gone that weekend so I’m taking her to ballet. And I get her in her little leotard and her little stuff. I did her hair, put it in a little bun. We get to the dance studio and one of the mothers there right away comes up to Malia – she thinks she’s out of earshot of me – and she says, ‘Sweetie, do you want me to redo your hair?’ And Malia, who she’s 4, says, ‘Yes, please, this is a disaster.’ You know, she didn’t want to hurt daddy’s feelings.
With fathers, the mere attempt to do hair is considered commendable to many, and among those, a father’s inability to do hair well is expected. But Somerville isn’t playing his hair styling situation for laughs. He’s all business in that photo, face stoic, rat-tail comb in play. I know other dads-of-daughters like him, some single custodial parents and others married, in-home parents. They aren’t content to shrug and pawn the hair and clothes tasks off to a mother or other female relative. They want to get in on the gig themselves.
Did your dad do your hair? Do you know any other dads who are hands-on with hair? Is the idea of “gendered parenting roles” something to which you and/or the men in your life subscribe?