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Haircuts once sparked meltdowns for 8-year-old Michael Flores, while also creating loads of stress for his mom, Joan. But thanks to one special barber, getting a trim has gone from crisis-inducing to comforting.
Michael has autism, and from his first haircut until very recently, even the mention of one caused tears and screaming. Joan Flores began cutting her son's hair herself to try to make the process easier, but even this elicited stress.
When her older son, David, began visiting Freddy Tineo at Bladez Barbershop in Vernon, New Jersey, Flores thought she might be able to take Michael there without incident.
And it worked.
“[Tineo] talked to him and made him laugh,” says Flores. “He has this way about him. He jokes. I can’t even pinpoint it. When Michael seems to be getting a little upset in the chair, [Tineo] jokes with him.”
For almost two years, Tineo has been cutting Michael’s hair without incident, which comes as a huge relief to Flores. Tineo says he doesn’t treat Michael any differently than any other kid. He says he just acts like a big kid, which might be why he and Michael fostered a friendship.
“I sat him in the chair and gave him a high five,” he says. “I developed something with this kid and I really like him.”
When Flores realized her family’s July move to Virginia Beach would mean that 8-year-old Michael could no longer receive haircuts from Tineo, she panicked. She posted a status update on Facebook: “If I had unlimited funds I would fly Freddy back and forth just to cut Michael’s hair.”
Even though Flores and Tineo were Facebook friends, she had no idea the impact her message would have on him.
“I didn’t know how important [the haircuts were] to her as a parent until she posted something on Facebook. That really did something to me,” Tineo says. “I remember reading the post and talking to my wife [and saying] ‘I think I am going to fly there and cut his hair.’”
His wife, Chaquira, said she’d join him and they began putting aside money for the trip. When Tineo told Flores, she was shocked.
“Honestly, I thought he was joking,” she says.
Stunned, she kept asking him if he was joking. She even sent him a message on Facebook to ask if he was serious.
“I didn’t even think it was a big deal,” says Tineo. “Am I really that important to the family? That, to me, is important on its own.”
Tineo plans on flying down a week before Michael begins school to trim his hair. The barber hopes he will also be able to visit before Christmas to give the boy another haircut.
“It is pretty amazing how they feel about it,” says Tineo. “If it is going to mean that much by all means count me in.”
Flores, who blogged about her experience, feels touched that someone would offer such a gift.
“I can’t say enough about him to make you understand how big of a deal what he offered to do for us is," she says. "It floored me, the kindness. I don’t even know how to repay him for something like that. Because it means the world to me and it is going to mean the world to [Michael].”