Something had to give. Every morning before work my husband and I stood side by side in front of the bathroom mirror. I took less than ten minutes to brush my teeth and put on my makeup, but Shinji took forever on his hair. It wasn’t even super long: what he had was basically a mashup between the undercut and the Bieber flip. Some days he would wear it combed down and ironed straight like a Korean boy band member, other days he would curl it up off his face with a curling iron, and still other days he would slick it all back, puff it up into a quiff, or put in a side part with the front flipped up and back.
Shinji was much more vain about his hair than I was about mine. As a biracial Eurasian woman I have long, loose curls that I usually leave down, although it takes less than a minute to secure them with a butterfly clip if I need my hair out of the way. Curly hair care routines can be labor-intensive and time-consuming, but only on wash day. Since my waves are natural, I don’t spend hours with a curling iron.
As long as it was just the two of us I didn’t mind too much. When I had my darling baby and was on maternity leave, Shinji’s hair vanity was merely a mild annoyance. I would have preferred that he spend that forty-five minutes doing something useful, like burping the baby or making his own breakfast.
When I went back to work, however, I really started to resent the time and effort Shinji spent on his hair every morning. It’s not easy to get two adults ready for work and out the door even without the complication of a baby who needs to be prepared for day care, but it’s almost impossible when one of the adults has to do all of the prepping for all three people.
“Shinji, can you change the baby? I’m running late.” Ever since I went back to work I had pared down my makeup routine to less than five minutes, and it doesn’t take me long to get dressed. Not eating breakfast wasn’t really an option, since I was still expressing milk and needed to continue eating for two. There was nothing left to economize on time.
“Sorry, Sayaka, my hands are sticky with pomade.” I shot my husband a glance. He was taking his time, just playing with his hair as if it were modeling clay.
“Wash them then. I need some help here.”
“Aw, Sayaka.” Shinji begrudgingly washed the pomade off his hands and set to work on changing the baby. I shouldn’t have to ask him to look after his own child. He’s the father, it’s his responsibility, too.
By the time Shinji was done changing the baby, there wasn’t enough time left for him to waste on playing with his hair, so he was in a foul mood when we left the house. I try to have us all leave the house together, since we’re going in the same direction. I drop off the baby on my way to work and pick her up on my way home. If I’m going to be working late, I text Shinji so that he can pick our daughter up.
Shinji was still irritable in the evening when I got home. I put the baby in her crib and set about making dinner. Shinji was sitting near the crib, so I assumed he was going to watch her. Instead he pulled out a large mirror from his pocket and began playing with his hair again. At that moment something snapped inside of me.
“Shinji, when are you going to realise that you’re not a boy band member, but a husband and father? Why don’t you put your family first, instead of your looks? Who are you preening for, anyway? If you’re trying to please me, the way to do that is to help. I’d appreciate that more than if you spent all your time and energy on trying to look pretty.”
It wasn’t until I had asked the question that I began to wonder if Shinji were actually preening for someone else. Another woman? It certainly wasn’t to impress the baby. She would always have a special spot in her heart for Daddy, as the first man in her life. That is, if Shinji could tear himself away from his mirror long enough to actually bond with her.
On the other hand, perhaps he was doing this for himself. As a woman I had hormones raging that had turned me into a mama bear, but Shinji had not been pregnant, given birth, or nursed. Perhaps he was having trouble adjusting to his new role as daddy. After all, he was still very young, only twenty-seven, while I’m thirty-three. When he did play with our daughter, he seemed to enjoy it. He was gentle yet efficient at changing her, and better at burping her than I was. I was sure he didn’t hate the baby or fatherhood.
I sat down at the table across from him. “I’m sorry if I was a little too harsh on you just now. It’s just that, I thought I had a partner. You seem distant when you’re focused on your hair.”
Shinji was looking at me, bewildered. “But I don’t feel distant. I’m just the same as I always was, the dapper dandy that got your attention.” He was refraining from saying that he was trying recapture my attention, because it sounds silly for a grown man to be competing with his own baby for the mother’s affection.
“Our lives aren’t the same as they always were. The baby changed all that. I don’t mind you being dapper, but can you shift from dandy to daddy? Spend less time on your hair and more time on the baby. We’re a team. That’s all I ask.”
“My hair will drive me crazy if it isn’t styled and under control. I won’t be able to concentrate.”
“Maybe you need a look that can be controlled with less styling. I agree that hair in your face would be annoying. Besides, I think you look good with your hair off your face, anyway.”
Shinji began to stroke the rock-hard surface of his pomaded hair. “I still want to look good, but you’re right. My priorities.”
“I don’t mind looking through magazines with you to choose something stylish and flattering but low-maintenance.” Even before I met Shinji, I always liked men’s magazines better than women’s. There was considerably less silliness and the male models were pleasing to look at from a woman’s perspective.
“How about if I surprise you, and possibly myself as well? Let’s give the barber carte blanche.” I wasn’t expecting to hear this from Shinji.
“Sounds good! That’s the kind of spontaneous adventure I like.”
When Saturday came, all three of us set off to find a different barber from usual. I remembered a mysterious shop in a back alley not far from our house; the door was opaque and there were no windows. The only clue that it was a barbershop was the pole outside.
I opened the door and ushered Shinji inside. There was only one chair, and the barberette was standing next to it. “Yes, we’re open.”
“Good. My husband needs a restyle. As you can see he’s quite a dandy, but he’s a daddy now as well. We need low-maintenance, but flattering.”
“I see your point. I’m a woman myself, I have an eye for making men look attractive. This heavy bowl-cut thing has to go. It’s good that the neckline is fairly clean and the ears are mostly out, but there’s way too much on top. This cut needs a lot of product and styling jiggery-pokery to look good.”
“I’m glad we’re on the same wavelength. I can trust you to surprise us with something that looks great on him and is easy for a busy dad to manage.”
Shinji sat in the chair, motionless, as the barberette caped him up and put in a neck guard. She began to run her hands through his hair to assess texture and growth patterns, then smiled. Evidently his hair would cooperate with whatever style she had in mind. She grinned as she took down a pair of red clippers from a hook and began rummaging through a box for attachments. I liked this already. Finally she settled on a rather small-looking attachment and snapped it on.
The barberette pushed Shinji’s chin down onto his chest and turned on the clippers. They purred as they plunged into his nape hair and climbed their way upwards. She kept going all the way up to the crown. Wow, the back and sides were going to be very short.
She pulled his ears out of the way, first left and then right, as she buzzed around them. There was no more than a centimeter, probably less, of hair covering the back and sides of his head when she changed the guard and began the taper. I watched her blend with the help of a comb, and edge around his ears and neckline. The back and sides were not exactly long to begin with, but the hair on the floor was still longer than the hair left on his head.
Now for the top. The barberette grabbed Shinji’s crown hair between two fingers and sliced it off with a pair of long shears. This part was now probably a centimeter long, since she was going to build length toward the front. She worked systematically through the hair on the top of his head until she reached the front. I watched her pull the fringe up and back and shape the cut so as to encourage it to stand up.
So far so good. I remembered this style from when it was popular in my youth. The short fauxhawk was handsome-guy hair around the turn of the century, when I was discovering boys. How did the barberette know that I had a weakness for this look? I could see Shinji’s face in the mirror, and it was clear that he didn’t mind this cut. It made him look mature but still youthful—perfect for a young dad.
When the barberette finished and I paid, I stroked Shinji’s new crop. “I love this style, especially on you. You’re a dapper daddy!”
The new haircut took no more than five minutes for Shinji to style in the morning, giving him an extra forty minutes to be useful and hands-on. He discovered that a happy, less frazzled wife means more fun for him in the bedroom, too.