Pasadena Hair Salon Owner Overcomes Abuse to Mentor Women

After growing up in foster care, Tonya Fairley, 44, hopes her story will inspire other women.

Pasadena hair salon owner Tonya Fairley was 23 when she first met her father.

An alcoholic and drug addict, he had been in and out of jail for most of her life, she says. Her grandmother's death brought him back to his family in Southern California, where they met for the first time at her uncle's house.

"I knew that I was going to meet him, but he didn't know that I was coming," Fairley said. "He looked at me, he knew who I was, and he immediately started crying."

More than 20 years later, Fairley, 44, is a managing director for a national community called the Fatherless Daughters Network. She runs workshops in Southern California to help women and girls hurt by the absent men in their lives. Her next Fatherless Daughters workshop is scheduled for September in Pasadena.

Depending on their circumstances, women who are fatherless might struggle with trusting people or handling conflict, said Nicki Nance, a mental health professional and professor at Beacon College in Florida. But women need not learn about relationships from the traditional two parents, she added.

"You can tell that story as a tragedy, you can tell that story as a story of triumph," Nance said. "There are more people without a traditional family than with."

To connect with the women who trust her with their stories, Fairley starts by sharing her own.

Fairley was born in 1971 in Pasadena, to a mother who she says was abusive and a drug addict. When Fairley was 12, her biological mom moved her and her brother to Bakersfield in an attempt to clean up.

"That was the life I knew," Fairley said. "My biological mother was trying to do better. However, the drug won."

In Bakersfield, she became close to her future foster mom, Gloria Merchant, whose daughter was friends with Fairley.

Merchant was in Chicago when she received unthinkable news: that Fairley, then 13 years old, had been beaten so badly she'd lost part of her hearing.

Immediately, Merchant knew she wanted custody of Fairley and her brother.

"I didn't want them to get lost in the system," Merchant said. "I turned around and came back to Bakersfield and applied for my foster care license so I could take them. And I did."

Fairley had found a safe home. But the wounds of her past still needed years to heal.

"Throughout high school, I got in trouble a lot, because of being angry," Fairley said. "Until my foster mom and my social worker -- they saw something in me, and basically told me that I need to channel my anger in a better way, so I can have a better future."

Junior year of high school was a turning point. Fairley began mentoring to other girls in foster care, who she realized didn't have as much guidance at home as she did.

From there, her ambitions grew.

"The first opportunity I got to get a job, I got a job," Fairley said.

Since 2013, she had owned a hair salon. Fairley also owns a leadership training company and is married with three kids.

Fairley does not talk to her biological mother, and last saw her father about a year ago. She said he still struggles with addiction and lives on the streets of Los Angeles.

"I have to literally look for him," Fairley said. "Or I'll have one of my uncles go and try to locate him."

When they've spoken, she has told him her story and he's said that he's proud of the person she's become.

"The biggest thing that I tell people is, 'You've got to work through your past issues to get to the next phase of life ... to get them out of the way from being a road barrier,'" Fairley said.

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