How My Father Influenced My Natural Hair Journey


Like many people with kinky, curly, or tightly-coiled hair, I have several vivid memories of getting my hair combed as a child. My parents would take turns manipulating my textured strands into styles that would keep my hair neat and out of my face, but no matter how much they tried to smooth it down with green Dax Pomade and water, my defiant mane would always clap back, quite literally refusing to take the discipline lying down. Hours after my hair was brushed down into a neat and manageable style, the flyaways would start to reemerge, and before you knew it, I was walking around with a halo of kinks.

Both my parents combed my hair — and you could always tell the difference between my mother’s work and my father’s. To my scalp’s delight, my mom tended to have a lighter touch when it came to detangling and styling, but my father, a perfectionist by nature, was the type to make sure every knot was untangled (at all costs) and every single hair stayed in place for as long as possible. His styles were a little neater and more precise and took longer to come undone.

My brother and me, wearing one of the many pulled-back hairstyles my dad did for me

Courtesy Jihan Forbes

Of course, I paid the price for neat hair — the pulling and tugging that came with taming it is something I will never forget. I can still feel the scratch of the hard-bristle brush on my forehead when it went past my hairline. I’m wincing a little right now thinking about it. But even more vivid in my memory is the influence my father had on my attitudes about my hair. While both my parents made an effort to build my pride in my natural texture, my father was more of an enforcer. Other girls my age got relaxers starting in preschool, but I wasn’t allowed to chemically straighten my hair until I was 16 years old. And it wasn’t for lack of begging. My mother frequently straightened her hair, but my dad, who says he prefers the natural look, wasn’t about to have his daughter walking around with damaged, bone-straight hair.

Of course, when I was younger and more susceptible to the pressures society puts on young black girls to conform to Eurocentric beauty standards, I didn’t understand why my father was so against it. After all, it was just a hairstyle. But as often happens with parents, years later, I realized that maybe the guy knew just what he was doing. And looking back, I’m thankful for what he’s instilled in me.

Another hairstyle, courtesy of my dad

Courtesy Jihan Forbes

I sat down with my dad (just in time for Father’s Day) to talk about his influence on my hair journey and what it was like for him to get my mane on point when I was a little girl.

What do you remember most about doing my hair?

“I remember that for the sake of time, I started doing it. We would have to go out, and your mother was always late, so the main reason was so I could get out of the house on time. But to me, your hair wasn’t a very difficult thing to do. As you know, the styles were very simple anyway, but I always wanted them neat — and I always thought I could do a better job than your mom could [he laughs].”

Well, no shade to Mom, but your styles were definitely a bit neater — even though my head would hurt more when you did it. Still, you got that hair to really lie down.

“And you know, I really didn’t slick it down. All I did was use some water and a brush. I just used it very firmly to make sure those hairs stayed down. They were going to come out anyway, but they would stay down longer.”

One style I never really wore as a kid was cornrows, but that’s because you and Mom didn’t know how to do them.

“The thing is, I also tried to do French braids, but that was a little too difficult for me. It was either puffs, pulled back, or parted in the middle with a braid on either side, and I would then cross the braids over at the top.”

You would always put ribbons in, too, which I hated.

“But now you realize they looked wonderful. They weren’t, like, big ones — they were always very tasteful, you see.”

A very ’90s family portrait

They were. Remember I had that little bag full of ribbons? I used to groan every time you guys would make me go get it.

“Oh, yes! I remember that. Those little ribbons, they were nice! They were a nice little touch without being too over-the-top. They were better than putting in all those clips like other girls used to wear. Ugh.”

I used to really want all those clips in my hair, but you were not keen on that look at all. You would say, “You’re gonna look like a Christmas tree!”

“Absolutely! I had to try to drill style into you at that age!”

You preferred a more minimalist look.

“Yes! Absolutely. Less is always more. It wasn’t a problem at all — your hair was really easy to do. I just wish I knew more different styles.”

Two braids crossed over at the top was one of my father’s favorite hairstyles to do.

What was your favorite thing about my hair when I was a kid?

“I did like the fact that, for a long time, your hair wasn’t straight. I just liked the natural hair, especially when it was brushed and you got all those little waves. I thought it was very beautiful. I think it’s a good thing we didn’t relax your hair so early, because now probably you appreciate your natural hair more than you did in the past.”

I definitely do now. I’m never relaxing again! I think when I was a kid, there were a number of issues. I always wanted to wear it loose, and I guess that just wasn’t sustainable for busy parents. I tried to do it on my own, though, and the results were never as nice as when you guys did it. There’s that picture of me at my little cousin’s, where I think I twisted my hair and then took it out. It looked so bad.

“Yes. Well, lesson learned [he laughs]. But you know, when it comes to hair, I think with that there is a bonding that goes on between the parents and the child. As you know, in African countries there is a long tradition of those kinds of things, and it continues today. I think it’s a good thing, especially for a father and daughter to bond doing that.”

Courtesy Jihan Forbes

For so long, you were adamant about me not getting my hair relaxed. What made you finally give in? Because at the time, I thought you wouldn’t, and if you did, I expected you to tell me to pay for it myself!

“I could have done that, but also one has to realize that certain battles are not worth it. I know there are pressures in society, so I said, ‘Whatever, I’ll just let it be.’ That was not a battle I was willing to fight. So I gave up on that one!”

I remember I came home from the salon and you said I looked weird with straight hair.

“Which you did [he laughs]. But it’s all part of growing up, I suppose.”

For real, and now my hair is healthier than ever! You must have been so pleased four years ago when I told you and Mom I was going to stop relaxing my hair.

“I said, ‘It’s about time she came around!’ To me, I much prefer it. I have nothing against straight styles, but I just prefer the natural look. That’s just my thing.”

And look, you wound up winning that battle in the end.

“See? Father knows best.”


Read more natural hair stories here:

  1. “Dear White People” Star Teyonah Parris Shares Her Natural Hair Secrets
  2. This School Asked a Black Student to Get Her Natural Hair Done
  3. How Natural Hair YouTuber Curly Guy Is Changing the Game

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