On a hot September day, I met Denis, a 14-year-old migrant from Honduras, and helped him register for school in his new community. He and his mom had only been in the US for a few weeks, and a friend offered the two a room and a chance to begin life fresh.
Denis had gotten a haircut before moving to Fredericksburg, but no one had the time to take him to the barber shop during the three months he was here. But he finally got a haircut on the first day of Christmas vacation, as he prepared for a visit with his dad and a move to a new community and school.
It was important to Denis to make a good impression on his dad, because it was only the second time he had seen him since he was a baby. “It’s hard for my dad to relate to me. He doesn’t know me, and he thinks of me as a little kid,” Denis says. “And he isn’t sure what to talk to me about. Our worlds are so different.”
And now, having just turned 15, his long, shaggy hair made him look much younger. “I’m the oldest — and smallest — person in my [8th grade] class, so I really don’t want to look any younger than I am!” he said.
Denis is the youngest of five children and is being raised by a single mom. His dad left Honduras for the US when Denis was 7 months old, and at the time, he wasn’t interested in responsibility or a long-term commitment. As a young man in his 30s, he scarcely gave thought to moving to the US and leaving behind Denis and his mom, along with another son.
But time has a way of changing people. Denis’ dad has come to realize all that he gave up, and he wants to make things right with his son. And Denis is willing to give him that chance.
The two had not actually met until this past fall when Denis’ dad drove nearly five hours to meet him face to face. They went to lunch together, saw a movie, and did some shopping. They now talk often on the phone, and Denis’ dad sent him a birthday gift. Slowly, carefully, they’re developing a relationship.
At school, Denis was assigned to an 8th grade ESOL class with kids from mostly Central America and the Middle East, and he thrived. He’s learning English at a good pace; he’s intelligent and motivated, polite and kind, makes friends easily and is liked by everyone.
But while school was going well, his home life wasn’t. A difficult relationship with Denis’ mom’s “significant other” was making his life miserable, and Denis and his mom made the decision to leave the area once school was out. A move means living much farther from Denis’ dad, and leaving all of Denis’ new friends behind, but they’ve decided it’s for the best.
Which brings me back to the haircut. I wanted to do something special for Denis before he left, and he’d been begging for someone to take him for a haircut. I called my salon*, shared his story, and they graciously agreed to not only find an appointment for him, but to set him up with the products he needed to maintain his new “look.”
Denis got a first-class salon experience complete with a shampoo (and head massage), haircut and style, and a complimentary beverage (CocaCola) to sip on during the process. It was only the second time a female stylist had cut his hair, and he told me later that he’d been terrified. “The last time a girl cut my hair, it didn’t turn out so well,” he laughed. “I was so nervous!”
Thanks to the staff at the salon, this young man ended his semester and time in our community on a high note. He used his English skills to tell the stylist exactly what he wanted, and she practiced her Spanish with him. Their kindness helped make up for the pain of hurtful words and feelings of rejection. Their respectful treatment of him restored his sense of self-esteem and helped him prepare for his visit with his dad and his move to a new place.
Their kindness helped restore my faith in the power of simple, considerate acts by good people to bring healing and hope to others.
*A special thanks to Julie and the folks at Downtown Salon in Fredericksburg, Virginia for making this happen!