My Story

Wild Hair Days

Curse of the Cowlick


By James Donahue


If you can remember Alfalfa, one of the characters in the old black and white film short The Little Rascals, or the comic book character Dennis the Menace, you know what a cowlick is. It is that tuft of hair, usually at the crown of the head that seems to go wild and is always standing up like the fantail of a rooster preparing for battle.


I was one of those kids that ran around my neighborhood sporting a cowlick. It was a curse in those days, I suppose, to my mother, who was constantly trying to find ways to make those wild hairs lie flat, especially when we were going to church or to visit friends or relatives.


The cowlick didn’t bother me until I passed puberty and started getting self conscious about how I looked and took an interest in girls. That was when I began an earnest quest to get control of those wild hairs. There were some oily hair creams on the market then that seemed to work. And I was lucky because those were the days when Marlin Brando, James Dean and other actors of the movie screen promoted the greased-down hair look.


Age, thinning hair, and eventual balding eventually took care of the cowlick. Now I sometimes wish I could return to those days and enjoy the thick rich hair that I once had.


I used to think that only boys suffered from cowlicks, but have since learned that girls get them to. In fact, it is possible to have more than one cowlick within a single head of hair. Imagine the horror of being a woman, struggling with a head of wild cowlicks and trying to get that “perfect hair” look before going out in public. Fortunately for them, many hair styling products have been on the market so their secret was well hidden.


People that know about hair say that the cowlick is a genetic trait that we can’t do much about. Every hair on our body grows from a follicle in the skin that points at a predetermined angle. When cowlicks occur, it means that the follicles at a certain place on the scalp (usually the crown) are pointing outward to create a spiral pattern in the hair. The hairs usually spiral in a clockwise direction.


It is said that some people who have grown up without suffering the curse of the cowlick, but then lose their hair because of chemotherapy or illness, find cowlicks when the hair grows back. Why this occurs is a mystery.


The big mystery for me is how this wild spray of hair got the name cowlick. I suppose the obvious answer is that an untamed cowlick looks as if the child got too close to a cow and got licked on the head by a big wet tongue.


There has got to be some humor locked up in all of this.