For the first 18 years of my life, I had the privilege of feeling like I had a complete home: a mother, a father, a sister, and a black Labrador mix. It was as conventional as a first-generation Filipino American family could get and was full of love (along with an intense motivation to make our family in the Philippines proud). I grew up with the idea that family is everything, but what happens when a critical part of that structure disappears?
My mom passed away suddenly a few months after my 18th birthday. Like many newly-18-year-olds, I had no idea who I was and thought I’d lost the only person who could help me figure that out. During the time I had with her, my mother guided me toward who I wanted to be through deep conversations (that often turned into us challenging one another). Our conversations were richest when we were immersed in our haircare routines, during a time when we better related to one another. It was a moment for us to pause and look at each other in the mirror, while she imparted her—often blunt but well-intentioned—wisdom.
I was lost without her and didn’t feel like I had anyone who could help me. While my father and I had always had a great relationship, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to lean on him in the same way (I didn’t see us straightening each other’s hair in front of a vanity and talking about boys anytime soon).
As they say, when it rains, it pours, so I wasn’t surprised that, shortly before prom, I got a terrible haircut. To hide it, I went to my local beauty supply store to purchase a set of 18-inch clip-in extensions. My father noticed how much I struggled to secure them into my hair every day before school, so he sat me down in front of our TV and offered to help.
I didn’t want him to think it was “dumb” that I felt compelled to use them every morning, so I nervously gave him a thorough tutorial (even though I know beauty can be a means of survival—both mentally and physically). He patiently listened so he could master the technique. He moved the teasing comb up and down one-inch sections of my hair and gently pressed the tiny clips into the teased bundle by my scalp. With his help, it only took 20 minutes to get my hair ready for school—and we used the time similarly to how my mother and I would. I’d tell him what I was worried about: I was worried about college—especially with our family’s situation—and who I’d disappoint if I didn’t meet my goals. He assured me that no matter what, he’d be there for me.
Sadly, this ritual was short-lived, as I stopped using the extensions once my hair grew to a length I was comfortable with. We don’t speak about our styling sessions often, but they meant so much to me. They allowed me to feel comfortable enough to confide in him as a young woman (and not just as his daughter) and served as a glimmer of hope that I wasn’t alone in my journey toward adulthood.
They also showed me that my perception of what each of my parents had to offer was skewed. My father stepped into my mother’s shoes whenever he knew I needed her and helped me navigate through the times I anticipated feeling the most alone. Whether it be for hairstyling help or navigating life moments—like chasing my dream career or chasing down a boyfriend who hurt me—my father challenged and empowered me to be a strong woman. He assured me my dreams and ambitions were tangible and encouraged me to pursue them. He even escorted me to informational interviews with editors I aspired to be like.
I often look back on those times with my dad—especially as I style my hair now—and think about how much he’s impacted the positive aspects of who I’ve become. Parents always have a major impact on your life, but having a father like mine is a gift, and while my home will always have a missing piece, it’s still filled with immense love.