Tails of love

Mattie, will you be my Valentine?” On Feb. 1, I’ll pose this question to my wife of almost 30 years. She’ll be noncommittal. Over the 14 days that follow, I’ll continue to romance Mattie with poems, small gifts, and various acts of service in an effort to convince her that I’m the Valentine for her. Finally, late in the evening on Valentine’s Day, Mattie will say, “Yes, I’ll be your Valentine this year.”

We started playing this game before we were married. It’s not easy to come up with fresh rhymes 14 times each February, even for a writer. A wiser man would have quit years ago. I thought things would get easier when my 10-year-old daughter, Jessie, was younger. She joined in the efforts to convince her mom to select me. Unfortunately, my proponent turned into my opponent during the last few years, as Jessie started lobbying for Mattie to choose her. Could Valentine’s Day get any more challenging? Surprisingly, yes.

Jessie is now also campaigning on behalf of our dog, Sadie, who joined in the competition to be Mattie’s Valentine. Jessie sends e-mails and hand-written notes, some stamped with an inked dog paw, and often with drawings or cut-out hearts, signed by the dog. One example read, “Dear Woofy Mom, I love you! Be my Woofitine.” How can I compete with dog love?

Recently, though, I witnessed a beautiful display of love that didn’t involve poetry, flowers, chocolate — or removing ink from a dog’s paw. The love came from Jessie’s head as she had nine inches of hair cut off and donated it to an organization that makes wigs for women fighting cancer. Of course, I had my camera and camcorder to capture Jessie’s haircut. Mattie pulled away from work. Even Jessie’s grandmother, who happened to be in town, came to watch. The beauty salon should have sold tickets.

As the hairdresser formed two tight ponytails to prepare Jessie’s hair for the scissors, I observed a mother holding her 1-year-old son in the chair next to Jessie’s. The little guy did pretty well until the hairdresser broke out her noisy shaver, which resulted in a few tears. My eyes moved back and forth between the two young customers. The one received a slight trim, while the other lost a lot of hair.

My mind wandered back to the scene in our kitchen years ago, when Mattie gave Jessie her first haircut. At the time, I highly questioned her decision to do it herself, as I remembered Mattie’s only haircutting experience, the “trim” she gave our first dog. The long strands on the sheltie’s hindquarters touched the ground and dragged leaves into the house. That didn’t happen after Mattie made some lopsided cuts and then had to even them out. The remaining fur barely covered the poor dog’s behind. Thank goodness dogs can’t talk — oh that’s right, mine is competing to be my wife’s Valentine.

The hairdresser cut off Jessie’s two ponytails and carefully placed them in a plastic bag, then posed with our pretty, short-haired girl for some pictures. At home, we addressed a padded envelope and slid in the bag containing Jessie’s hair, along with her name and address. Many times, I’ve left the post office feeling happy that in a few days, a card, letter, or photo I had mailed would make someone’s day. I won’t soon forget the feeling I had when I mailed my daughter’s hair. Love can be expressed in many ways.

I’m confident that in the days ahead, I’ll overcome my daughter’s rivalry, as well as my dog’s, and win Mattie’s heart for another Valentine’s Day. And when I hug my Valentine this year, I’ll think about other husbands who are thankful they can hug their wives, regardless of how much hair either spouse has.

Until next month, remember to cherish the moments.

If you’d like to learn more about Pantene Beautiful Lengths and Locks of Love hair donation opportunities, please check out their websites at pante‌ne.com/‌en-us/‌exper‌ience‌-main‌-sect‌ion2/‌beaut‌iful-‌lengt‌hs and www.locksoflove.org/.

Patrick Hempfing had a 20-year professional career in banking, accounting, and auditing before he became a father at age 44. He is now a full-time husband, stay-at-home dad, and writer. Follow him at www.faceb‌ook.com/‌patri‌cklhe‌mpfin‌g and on Twitter @PatrickHempfing.