Some fathers see it as their duty to provide a roof over their family’s head and to put food on the table. But there’s one father who is taking the “doting daddy” archetype to new, stratospheric levels. And together with his daughter, Jaxyn, he’s teaching the world what it means to love yourself for who you are, no matter what.
Benny Harlem is an aspiring musician, model and artist currently residing in Beverly Hills in L.A. But it’s not just his chiseled cheekbones and envious locks that have caused the internet to stand up and take notice of this Instagrammer. More importantly, it’s the beautiful relationship he has with his daughter, Jaxyn.
Harlem and six-year-old Jaxyn cut a striking image with their identical hair that’s as voluminous as it is long — and 100 per cent natural, too. Proudly parading their African heritage, the daddy-daughter duo often pose in complimenting outfits for their pics, which are shared with over 200,000 Instagram followers.
But there’s a lot more to the pair than their majestic manes, because it’s clear to see from the images they share that Jaxyn is the apple of Harlem’s eye. Moreover, fatherhood is a responsibility he takes very seriously, and he wants to inspire other fathers – and mothers – to act the same way.
“I put my child on a pedestal,” Harlem told lifestyle website xoNecole. “What my daughter knows is that if she loves herself first, love will align in her friendships, relationships, and all aspects of her life.” And it’s a lesson that Harlem had to learn the hard way, because growing up, he lacked a father figure himself.
“I didn’t meet my father until I was seven years old,” he revealed to xoNecole. Harlem’s dad worked as a high school football coach. And one day his mom, aunt and grandmother took the young boy to the school field so that he could meet his dad when the game was finished. However, when the father and son were finally introduced, his dad’s response was utterly devastating.
“He looked at me for about 10 seconds,” Harlem recalled. “[He] said, ‘I don’t have a son.’” Nevertheless, Harlem drew heavily from the strength of the women around him. “I grew up around all women… My family comes from women that don’t have men. Women who have been left or abandoned.”
And so, rejected by his father, Harlem turned to the arts to fill the void in his life. In fact, he consumed art in all its forms, drawing from outliers as varied as Michelangelo, Tupac, Prince and Grace Jones. Combine this with inspiration from his ex-model grandmother, and the result is the vibrant style of the man you see on Instagram today.
Harlem told Paper, “I used to watch my grandmother and think there is no limit on what you can wear and how we should look.” And so the young boy grew up in Harlem, New York, reveling in the area’s community culture and freedom of expression. Moreover, he developed a unique style and an accepting attitude at an early age.
“I just want to be different, creative, crazy, fun and fly and swagged out at the same time,” he told Paper. “Harlem is flamboyant and big… You can be who you want to be. You can be flamboyant, you can be down to earth. I’m a gumbo pot of that.”
When he reached the age of 15, Harlem decided that he wanted to grow out his lush locks. He wasn’t trying to make a statement, either; for the young teen, it was just another mode of self-expression. As he told Paper, “The ’70s, ’80s, men just grew their hair out and did what they wanted to do… We wore it as a crown – a crown of glory.”
It’s clear that Harlem takes pride in his heritage and his natural hair, and he has instilled this self-confidence in his young daughter, too. As he told Bored Panda, “I teach her to demand respect… She’s a beautiful girl who’s gonna be a pretty woman, but I teach her to love herself first.”
And Harlem believes there’s a lot more to fatherhood than feeding and clothing his little girl. In his own words, “I am my daughter’s keeper. The only way to protect her from life is to prepare her for life.”
Harlem grew up surrounded by women, and he wants Jaxyn to grow up every bit as strong as they are. What’s more, he has always learned from the painful memory of his father’s rejection on the football pitch. He told xoNecole, “That was the first heartbreak of my life, but it was the turning point of my life, too.”
Culture is important in the Harlem district, but it’s an important asset in the Harlem family, too. Because after turning that heartbreak into something more positive, this dad now wants to teach his daughter that she can be anything she wants to be. As for Jaxyn, when she grows up she wants to be a professional dancer, just like her mom and her role model, Josephine Baker.
In a touching post to Instagram on Father’s Day, Jaxyn wrote, “Dear Daddy, no one loves you like I do. I don’t have nightmares ever because I know you are always around if I have a nightmare… Thank you for making me know to love myself a lot.”
Harlem isn’t just an inspiration for his little girl, however. The devoted dad is also motivating thousands of fans on Instagram with his stunning father/daughter photography. In fact, one user thanked him for inspiring her to be a better mother. Still another was even moved to reunite with his kids after almost a decade apart.
The most striking aesthetic feature of Harlem’s Instagram page is, however, undoubtedly the masses of hair — which is displayed abundant and proud. So what’s the family secret? Well, father and daughter do, in fact, use their own homemade shampoos. “I look at our hair like a plant. Most plants need natural ingredients to grow and stay alive, and honestly, our souls and our bodies need the same thing,” Harlem told xoNecole.
Harlem never set out to be famous, however. In fact, like most people on Instagram, he just wanted to share and catalogue moments from his everyday life. As he told Paper, “There was a picture of me holding my daughter’s hand on Christmas morning. It got pretty big, but that’s just our daily life.”
And yet, although Harlem sees his Instagram account as “a family album,” the world has taken him and his daughter to their hearts because of the touching message of acceptance they embody. Despite the whirlwind of attention, though, the pair are staying true to one simple message. Harlem told Paper, “I get a lot of love, I get a lot of hate. Even in hate we have to stay firm in loving ourselves… Love yourself first.”