When my daughters got to be around three or four years old there were occasions when it was expedient for me to wash their hair in the kitchen sink. For some reason the idea of this simple, well-lit procedure was scarier to them than anything that they might have imagined coming out from under the bed or lurking in the basement. It was scarier even than Lima beans.
I couldn’t believe the tears and chin-quiverings that came about simply at the suggestion, or as I lovingly scooped a little one up in my arms, laid her on the kitchen counter with a towel rolled under her neck and her head in the sink and scrupulously gauged water temperature with the same care with which I had once tested bottles of formula.
Fortunately, in one of the first of these experiences with my oldest daughter I hit upon Mr. Henri, suave hairdresser pour l’enfants. In a cobbled together French accent that was various parts Pepe lePew and Jacques Cousteau I would regale her with an enthusiastic but sophisticated description of the wonderful experience she was about to receive, punctuated with nasal, “hauh, hauh, hauh” chortles.
“Hauh, hauh, my leetle floWEHR, Mr. Henri ees so glad you kept your appointment! Just for you I hav ze wonderful new shempoo, extracted from ze most delicate blossoms and mixed with bleu cheese! Hauh, hauh, hauh!”
As I prattled on like this her apprehension faded and the giggles soon began since, in addition to his obvious charm, Mr. Henri was also meticulous about keeping “ze soap out of ze eyes.” Command performances were repeated for one and then another daughter over the years until Mr. Henri retired by the sea to swap stories with Puff the Magic Dragon.
I thought of Mr. Henri again last night as I settled in a chair in our kitchen, just a few feet from the sink, while my oldest daughter fastened a drape around my neck in preparation for cutting my hair. She’s in beauty school and is at a stage where she is working on real, live people – including “free” (not counting the cost of tuition) hair cuts and stylings for mom and dad. I admit I felt a bit nervous, given the sharp implements and the large surface area to be dealt with, so I tried to think of what comforting thing Mr. Henri would say, and his response came immediately: “Don’t worry, be Daddy!”
I sat back, entrusting myself to her graceful fingers and perfectionism, much as she had made her own leap of faith into my arms so many years ago. I surrendered my head into her hands where it could rejoin my heart.
Ah, Mr. Henri, ze soap, I think it ees in my eyes!