A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker


I just want to say for the record that I was opposed to cutting Elizabeth's hair.

Well, OK -- not opposed, exactly. The shoulder-length look is cute on our 10-year-old. I just liked it long. Really long. All the way down her back long. But when the time came for back-to- school hair-styling, my preference was overruled in favor of something shorter.

"Look at it this way," my wife Anita explained. "This will be easier for you."

"For me?"

"That's right," she said. "You're going to be doing her hair every morning, remember?"

Oh, yeah. I forgot. With Anita's new work schedule, I was going to have the privilege of getting the kids ready for school each morning -- including helping Elizabeth with her hair. Since I struggle just to make my own hair look presentable (thanks for the cowlick, Mom), I was suddenly grateful that I would have less of Elizabeth's hair with which to do daily battle.

And so far, we're surviving. Turns out I can do a mean pony tail, and I've yet to brand her with the curling iron (although I have singed a few strands of hair into smoky oblivion). But when it comes to brushing and picking, I am, unfortunately, the Marquis de Snarl. I'm not trying to hurt her -- honest. I hate it when I do. I just haven't figured out how to hold her hair so I don't pull big clumps out of her head when I pull my way through those pesky snarls.

Which is why picking out the snarls is Elizabeth's job. It was a mutual decision -- she and her scalp both thought it would be best. And usually she does a good job. But once in a while she doesn't get finished in time, which means I have to take over, turning our downstairs bathroom into The House of Pain. At such times, my daughter and I try to comfort each other with words that have become the theme of our morning coiffure: "Hey, beauty isn't pretty."

Recently, however, there was a variation on that theme when Elizabeth decided to be a witch for Halloween. We had fun making her look . . . you know, witchy. The final -- and, in my opinion, most interesting -- element of her costume was a set of long, black plastic fingernails. Elizabeth didn't like them; she thought they were ugly. "That's the point," I told her. "With witches, ugly is good!"

But when we tried to fasten the fingernails to her fingers, the sticky stuff (I believe that is the precise technical term) didn't work. So we attached them with Scotch tape (I had suggested stapling, but I was overruled -- again). Squeezing them onto Elizabeth's fingers was painful, and there were tears on our daughter's cheeks as Anita put the finishing touches on the last fingernail.

"Hey," Elizabeth said, looking at me with red-rimmed eyes, "ugly isn't pretty, either."

Elizabeth is learning a valuable lesson. Often it takes just as much work -- and inflicts just as much pain -- to do "ugly" stuff as it does to do "beautiful" stuff. Just ask any student who chooses not to do school work, and then scrambles all semester to recover. Or any employee who has lied to the boss about Something Important, and spends the next few weeks trying to hide the truth. Or any spouse who has been unfaithful, and who tries to pick up the tiny pieces of broken hearts and shattered families. Ugly, ugly and more ugly.

Although it can be difficult to do the right (or "beautiful") thing at first, it is almost always easier than dealing with the inevitable consequences of wrong (or "ugly") alternatives. As Elizabeth and I are learning, "beauty" may not always be pretty or pain-free.

But neither is "ugly."

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--- Joseph Walker


Look for Joe's book, "How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through and


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