A variety of brushes, detangler spray and a basket of hair accessories — the tools of the braiding trade — laid on the couch beside father and daughter.
Josh Wikel worked quickly, his fingers nimbly moving to separate strands of hair, pick up a brush or make a pigtail with a hair tie.
Ella Rose, his 4-year-old daughter, sat patiently while her father worked. She didn’t squirm or complain, focusing instead on her video game, confident she was in good hands with her dad.
In a matter of minutes, Wikel had completed his work — a perfect French braid.
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“It’s having those little moments with your daughter. There’s something special about dad and daughter time,” he said. “It’s not about the braid, it’s about the bond.”
What started as a necessary skill Wikel had to learn to get his daughter ready for school has turned into a valuable bonding time in their family. They not only get to spend time together while the braiding is done, but spend time each night looking through different hair styles to figure out what the next day’s look will be.
The experience has been so rewarding for the Center Grove-area family that Wikel is working to spread the joy to other families, teaching local classes and creating online videos teaching dads how to braid hair.
The point isn’t fashioning the perfect technique, Wikel said. Rather, the goal is to create memories between fathers and their daughters.
“It’s something we can come back to throughout our lives. Even when she gets older, we can work together, and I can teach her to do her hair. My hope is that whenever she needs to talk, we can sit down and have that connection with braiding,” he said.
Ella Rose is the youngest of three children for Wikel and his wife, Kristin. With her older brothers, Noah, 11, and Jackson, 9, Wikel had a good handle on getting them dressed and ready for the day.
But a change of work schedule was the impetus for Wikel to start learning to braid hair. As a nurse at Franciscan St. Francis Health, his shift was changed to working Friday and Sunday nights when Ella Rose was 1½ years old.
Kristin Wikel is the supervisor of the school program at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health, so that meant Josh Wikel was in charge of taking care of Ella Rose.
“As I was exploring the dresses and bows and getting used to little girls, I realized I’d have the responsibility of doing her hair and getting it styled,” he said.
Using YouTube and other internet resources, Josh Wikel started learning as much as he could about the art of braiding. His first accomplishment was mastering a basic ponytail and three-strand braid, the most classic and simple of styles.
From that point, he could adapt the braids into increasingly difficult techniques: the fishtail, the French twist, even a Princess Leia-style braid bun. For Halloween, he used pipe cleaners, barrettes and other accessories to turn a bun in to a spooky spider.
“There’s a lot out there, and we’ve just worked out through it since,” Josh Wikel said.
While her dad works, Ella Rose looks at books, colors pictures or plays on her tablet. The pair are an efficient team now, and braiding doesn’t take that long anymore.
But it’s still important time for the two of them.
“We had those 20 minutes in the morning where we were one-on-one,” Josh Wikel said.
Then at night, they scroll through photos online looking for the next inspiration.
“We decide which one to do at night,” Ella Rose said.
From Ella Rose’s preschool teachers to people who pass them at the grocery store, the braids have been a hit.
“People are always complimenting her. That makes her smile, which as a dad it makes you feel like a million bucks,” he said.
Josh Wikel also connected to other fathers online who were braiding their daughters’ hair. One of the largest communities was the Daddy Daughter Hair Factory, a group that helps organize free classes throughout the country.
What started as a small group of dads in Florida connecting with their daughters has grown into a nationwide network. The group’s Facebook page has nearly 20,000 likes, and its instructional videos have been viewed millions of times.
“Of course we’re learning hair, but it has a lot more to do with getting in-tune with your daughter, understanding what she’s going through and understanding her hair,” said Philippe Morgese, the founder of Daddy Daughter Hair Factory. “Dads get a lot of attention for stuff that should be normal. Our dads need to know that they have value.”
With all of the fun he was having learning hair, and with help from Morgese, Josh Wikel wanted to share that experience with other fathers as well. He started his own Indianapolis area chapter of Daddy Daughter Hair Factory to provide classes locally.
Brian Williams had been his friend for years. Their wives went to high school together, and the two often fished or got together on the weekends. Williams also had two older sons, and was intrigued by the opportunity to do something different with his 5-year-old daughter, Addison.
“I just wanted to do something with her. With two older boys, I’m doing sports and we do baseball all the time. It was nice having something to do with her,” the southside Indianapolis resident said.
Williams and Addison went through one of the Daddy Daughter Hair Factory sessions led by Josh Wikel. They learned the basics of braiding hair, enjoyed some laughs with other fathers and their daughters, and enjoyed snacks provided for the session.
“It was a little tough, but it was fun just spending time with my daughter. She loved it,” Williams said. “I’m not as good as my wife, not even close, but she still liked it.”
He and Addison are planning on attending the next class offered by Wikel, and Williams is trying to bring even more dads that he knows along with him.
“I’m trying to get some of my buddies out there. They gave me a hard time about it, but I didn’t question doing it at all. I was excited, and my daughter was excited too,” he said.
Josh Wikel has seen the effect the class has on participants.
One dad came to class with his 11-year-old daughter, he said. The father shared that she was very hesitant to come, even teasing her dad for suggesting going to the class together.
But after making a braided bun for her hair during class, the girl kept it in for two days afterward, even protecting it with a shower cap.
“With each class, there’s a moment when you step back and watch all of the activity with these dads. They may come in a little leery or sarcastic, but once they see that smile on their daughter’s face, they’re hooked,” Josh Wikel said. “To give back and help someone share in our smiles, it’s a good feeling.”
Josh Wikel has planned for more classes in the future, including one on Tuesday at the Franklin branch of the Johnson County Public Library.
And even as Ella Rose gets older, he plans to keep braiding her hair as long as she’ll let him.
“I dream about doing her hair for prom, or that wedding day,” he said.
Daddy Daughter Hair Factory
What: A class teaching fathers how to braid and work with their daughters’ hair.
When: 6:30 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Community Room, Franklin branch of the Johnson County Public Library, 401 State St.
Cost: Free, though registration is appreciated
Information: Contact Josh Wikel at firstname.lastname@example.org
Daddy Daughter Hair Factory
What: A community of fathers and their daughters bonding together over braiding hair. The group posts informational videos and instructions on how to braid hair. They also help support free classes on hair braiding around the country.
Where: Founded in Daytona Beach, Florida, and now has groups working in nine states, including central Indiana.
Who: Founder Philippe Morgese