Our youngest, age 9, decided it was time to get her first real haircut, and by real I mean having it trimmed several inches shorter than ever before and having it cut by her mother and sisters’ real (and outstanding) beautician at a real beauty shop here in town.
When she came home tonight I was genuinely excited for her. It is beautiful and is the kind of haircut that, if she were a famous actress, would be named after her because it matches perfectly who I know her to be.
At first, she was so proud of the risk that she took to do such a thing (I now realize that this is a risk because I have lived through the experience of such risks with my wife and two older daughters…and, believe me, such events have their risks).
A few hours later, though, all that lion-hearted certainty seemed to melt into a puddle of shadowy uncertainty. It was a kind of “what-have-I-done” look that began to slowly form across her sweet face. An anxious worry began to nip at her heels.
And for some reason, she bypassed every girl in our house on this particular evening to come find me. I was in our bedroom reading a new book when I caught a glimpse of her quietly slip into our closet and peer into the floor length mirror just inside its doorway.
I could sense the tension and waited. She gloomily whispered, “Dad, how do I look? Does it make me look like a boy?”
These are the questions that we fathers and brothers and boyfriends and sons find risky…and if we do not find them risky we will find ourselves making light of things that are not necessarily “light.” Knowing the difference between an important question and a simple question takes three things: answering poorly, learning to answer rightly, and a good woman to teach you the difference.
My answer to our youngest daughter that night was simple to her, and complex to me. I told her I thought it was beautiful and that she clearly still looked like a girl, but to come sit with me and “let me look at it up close.” I pretended to measure and then I described the color and shape and style. We laughed and she remembered several female book and television characters who reveled in their short hair and clearly looked like girls. It was a conversation that lasted no more than 4 or 5 minutes, but it seemed to be what she needed for now.
I know from experience that there will be so many moments among the years ahead when the questions will grow deep and profound and difficult, but I’m not sure they will be any more or less deep or profound or difficult either, just different.
And so it is with that phrase – “Dad, how do I look?” – the question means less than the answers to which it leads.