WATERLOO — Dixon Stuelky’s face held 10 measures of concentration on the three locks of hair in his hands.
“Which way does this one go?” he asked.
It was his third try at braiding his daughter’s hair, and he was determined to get it right and tight.
“You’re going to wind it up over into the middle of the ones in your left hand,” instructed A.J. Johnson, demonstrating on his daughter, Kenzie, 9.
Securing the braid with a rubber band, Stuelky stepped back, snapped a photo of his work and showed it to 9-year-old Naomi.
“I like that one,” she said.
Stuelky was one of six dads who participated in a free Daddy Daughter Hair Factory class Saturday in downtown Waterloo.
Daddy Daughter Hair Factory is a global network of fathers who offer free classes to other dads on how to manage, style and care for their daughters’ hair while encouraging a healthy father-daughter bond.
Johnson, of Waterloo, joined the DDHF team a little more than a month ago. Saturday was the first class he’s taught.
“I do my girls’ hair on daily basis. It’s something I’ve always enjoyed doing with my girls. It’s a great bonding experience,” he said.
Johnson and wife Tiffanie have three daughters, ages 9, 6 and 3. Johnson is a quality review specialist with Principal Financial in Cedar Falls and his wife is a day-care provider. In many families, hair duties are left to moms. Necessity put the job in dad’s hands in the Johnson household.
“We are basically outnumbered, and getting them ready in the morning is chaos,” Johnson said. “My wife and I were butting heads. I said, ‘You do lunches, I’ll do hair.’”
During Saturday’s two-hour class, Johnson showed other dads the basics — high and low ponytails, braids and buns.
“What do you do if it’s not in the center?” asked Tyler Rasmussen, eyeballing the off-kilter ponytail he’d just secured on 5-year-old Kendall’s head.
“Luckily, ’ 80s styles are coming back, so if it’s off I move it even more to the side,” Johnson joked.
For Tim Conley, styling his youngest daughter’s hair is a new adventure. His oldest daughters are 26 and 25.
“I never had to do this for them,” he said, running a brush through 6-year-old Caragin’s golden locks.
Some of the dads in Johnson’s class struggled. Others, like Ben Burens of Waterloo, moved deftly through each style, to the delight of his 7-year-old daughter Nyla Kelly.
“You did good!” she said, reviewing his work via cell phone picture.
Johnson was quick to note perfection isn’t the goal. Even if the ponytails are bumpy, the work they put in will help the relationships stay smooth.
“It’s not just about hair,” he said. “You open up lines of communication with your daughter. You can talk about school and other things while you’re doing her hair. It’s about the bond and spending the time with your daughter and showing her you are involved in her day-to-day life.”
Another Daddy Daughter Hair Factory class is set for 1 to 3 p.m. May 20 at the Cedar Falls Recreation Center. Interested dads can register by emailing Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org.