hair brushes

Braid Secrets

I consider being a father my most important role. (My ponytails could use some work, though.)

Millennials are (finally) having kids. So what kind of parents will they become? These stories from our millennial parenting issue reflect six distinct experiences and reveal that generational divides aren’t always what they seem.

The teachers at my daughters’ daycare can tell when I’m flying solo.

Almost every morning, I wake up the girls, help them get dressed, and make sure they grab breakfast before I load them into the car. But they always want Mom to do their hair—especially Abi, who’s 5 and prefers her curly brown locks stretched back into a long, tight braid. Most days, my wife, who telecommutes from home, has time to oblige. Sometimes, though, it’s just me and the brush. Josie, 3, settles for my sloppy ponytail, but Abi, older and more aware of her father’s inability to distinguish a braid from a knot, flees like I’m packing Mace instead of detangling spray. When we show up at daycare, her coiffure is the same tumbleweed she woke up with. The teachers, mostly older women, chuckle and joke, “Guess Mom’s at work, huh?”

Tony with his daughter, Abi, in their suburban St. Louis home.

It’s a little embarrassing for both Abi and me. But the truth is, I get off easy. Like the sympathetic looks I get from older dads and grandfathers when I’m literally dragging two screaming girls through the aisles at the grocery store. Or the admiring grandmothers at the playground watching me juggle two swings while rummaging through the diaper bag for an extra juice box. Never mind that there’s a woman right next to me doing the same thing with four kids. The parenting bar is low for dads—unless you ask my wife, the only judge who counts.

When she and I first got married, I was the sole breadwinner, the one working a full-time job and two part-time gigs while the missus stayed at home. Within a couple years, she had landed a nice corporate job, giving me the more flexible schedule. When she got pregnant with Abi and then Josie, I was by her side for every OB-GYN appointment except for two—one excused absence for each child. I was there throughout both labors and was squeezing her hand through both C-sections. I was the first one to change both girls’ diapers while Mom recovered. I took two weeks of paternity leave for each and did everything short of breast-feed them. When it came time for the babies’ checkups, I was often lugging around the carrier by myself, soaking in the astonished reverence of doctors and nurses alike.

Of course, I don’t deserve the adulation. Just please remember to afford to the solo moms, like my wife, the same courtesy you would to me when they’re wrangling the calves. Although you probably won’t notice, because she usually has the situation under control.

All I can do is stifle my apprehension and work to uphold my end of the partnership. Soon that will include swimming lessons, weekend soccer games, and parent-teacher conferences. And in my spare hours, perhaps some YouTube tutorials on how to braid hair.

Tony Rehagen is a writer in St. Louis. His stories have appeared in Popular Mechanics, GQ, Men’s Health, and ESPN The Magazine. Email him at

Still life photography by Desiree Espada, portrait by Justin Clemons

Originally Published April 2017