Vicarious Hair

Lesa Ferguson

Our Media Specialist Lesa Ferguson put together this photo essay on hair to promote Adoption STAR’s Annual Hair and Skin Care Workshop which will be held Thursday, October 17 from 6:00 – 8:00 pm at the main office – 131 John Muir Dr. in Amherst, NY.

My husband, Dave, attempts to style our eldest son Sam’s hair similar to Hemingway’s when he was in Paris or at least how Woody Allen imagined Hemingway’s hair in the movie, "Midnight in Paris". It’s a longer version of the classic businessman or graduation cut. For his mostly bald head, my husband is his own barber. He uses his electric shaver to buzz-cut the fringe. He then lives vicariously through our sons.

I think Sam sports the writer’s look. I imagine Ol’ Hemmy, frustrated in his attempt to find just the right word or punctuation, ran his fingers the length of his forehead into his widow’s peak as he muttered, "think man think". He tugged at and released his forelocks from the confines of pomade.

My husband wields a wooden-handle, boar-bristled brush as he blasts Sam’s sandy brown hair with water from a squirt bottle. Then, Sam shakes his head and runs from his dad and his hair returns to its defacto style – the mop-top. His bangs seem perpetually in need of a trim. I feel like a square parent from the sixties who hankered to cut the Beatles’ hair.

When we adopted a Latino/African American baby, I wondered which retro hairstyle would inspire Dave. Invariably, he attempted a similar style to Sam’s with baby Cal. But Cal’s hair thwarts him – in less than two years his hair, always glorious, has changed three times.

He started out with black, shiny straight hair. As a newborn, he had so much hair, it came down to the middle of his forehead. Because of his shiny black hair and his bronze-colored skin, even our Sri Lankan pediatrician thought he was East Indian.

His second hair incarnation happened when his head grew; his hair thinned and began to wave. I wondered if he would have hair like my dad’s, undulating waves when short and springy curls when long. Maybe Cal would end up with a hippie-do resembling the one my dad sported in the seventies.

At 14 months, his hair changed to what I see today. One day when I picked Sam up from school, two moms – an African American mom and a Caucasian mom with 3 biracial children – said almost at the same time, "He’s a big boy now, he has his curls". Curls can be a right of passage.

Once or twice a week, I wash, condition, massage and then twirl his locks around my fingers. I avoid Dave’s wooden-handled brush or any brush. One afternoon, my dad picked up a plastic-bristled brush. I thought he was about to brush Cal’s hair. I almost lunged for it; the stiff bristles seemed too unforgiving for Cal’s delicate curls. But, for most of his career, my dad worked at a school for teen-agers of all races. He watched as the bi-racial kids would gently pick up the sides of their hair with this type of brush and then lightly fluff. After dad was finished, Cal’s curls suddenly had symmetry.

Cal’s curls are a dream. They are soft and loose and gorgeous. When my mom comes over, she immediately picks him up and buries her face in those dreamy curls.

Will his hair change again? Who knows? It’s a misnomer to think it’s always the "other" culture’s hair that is enigmatic. As a child, my brother’s hair was platinum and mostly straight with some wave. When he turned 13, his hair darkened to brown with finger curls. Now he shaves it down to stubble like Dave. Hair today, gone tomorrow.

When someone becomes family, it’s up to you to get familiar.

I don’t worry so much about the evolution of Cal’s hair. My concern stems from an old episode of Grey’s Anatomy. Miranda Bailey scolds the beautifully coiffed McDreamy for not properly caring for his African baby’s hair.

"Do your baby’s hair,” she reprimands him.

My husband and I do not have McDreamy-like hair but I’m always afraid that I will run into a Miranda Baily who will see fit to set me straight about my baby’s hair.

African American people have a rich tradition of hair and community. Grey’s Anatomy is only one reference. Nobody writes about it more eloquently than Henry Louis Gates in his essay In the Kitchen. Another favorite is the book Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley and the movie in which the young Malcolm X conks his hair More recently, Chris Rock produced an excellent documentary entitled, Good Hair. Good Hair looks at the complex relationship between African-Americans and their hair.

And yes it is my duty as Cal’s mom to make sure his hair looks good. I come from the Samson and Delilah tradition of hair. Unfortunately, I was set adrift in hair’s genetic backwaters. I spent most of the late 70s and early 80s, perming mine. I tried to get what I should have gotten genetically with chemicals. I wanted the flourish and curls that my parents’ enjoyed and still enjoy – my father is 70 years old and has a full head of black hair that he often pulls back into a pony tail; my mom still wears a head of shoulder length grey hair. In my opinion, the bigger and longer the better and the irony of my husband’s bald head and my thin fine lackluster hair are not lost on me. I wonder if someday, Cal will claim a Black Power Afro.

So, we work with Cal’s hair as it is right now. My husband has been testing my patience with a new look. He uses that same soft bristle brush and spray bottle as he does on Sam’s hair. He brushes Cal’s hair back and over; the curls relax into waves along his temples and top of his head. I call it the Billie Dee Williams or the Lando Calrisian.

And it appears really dapper for an hour or so. But then it loosens and poofs. Not enough product, I guess. Cal is decidedly too young for product.

Lately, I’ve taken to looking at other children’s hair to find a kid whose style I like. I ask other STAR moms who have trans-racially adopted, shopkeepers, co-workers, and moms at Sam’s school. I read Adoption STAR Black Hair and Skin booklet. And yes, I will be attending the Hair Care Class at Adoption STAR. Often, people have suggested that I go for the President Obama look. This involves a #2 razor. I’ve had hair dressers suggest the #2 for Sam also. The ease of it is tempting. Maybe, someday, I’ll want to sheer off their locks…

But not in Dave’s lifetime…

Thursday, October 17, 2013, 6:00 pm – 8:00 pm

This popular class will assist and educate you in the special hair and skin care necessary for Black and Biracial children. For families who have adopted transracially or who are considering doing so. Facilitated by hair and skin care professionals. Open to clients and non-clients. No fee. Hands-on demonstrations and products will be available. The class will take place at the Buffalo office (131 John Muir Dr. Amherst, NY 14228). Register today by calling (716) 639-3900 to RSVP or email.

Read More by Lesa Quale Ferguson:

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