Hair. Is there any feature of our appearance over which we agonize more than our hair? I can’t think of another feature to which we can attribute an entire “bad day?” Think of the time and money we spend on it and of the intimate relationship many folks establish with their stylist. People will go to any old manicurist, but to visit another hairdresser borders on adultery.
Hair is so central to our existence that, according to the gospel of Matthew, God has numbered “even the hairs of your head.” I suppose, God’s concern with humans’ hair is due to the angle from which he looks down on humanity. Our hair is the first thing he sees. So, do something with your hair for God’s sake. No less than Thomas Pynchon, the postmodern American novelist, said, “Change your hair, change your life.”
How we wear our hair communicates so much information regarding our moods and intentions for the day, even our personalities. Do we fuss over it? or Do we wear the “whatever” look of bed head? Do we pull it back or up or let it fall down? Do we hide it under a hat? Do we shave it off? Do we fashion it according to the latest trends or wear it the same way day after day and year after year? And what do any of these choices say about us? They must say something because they are all choices.
(A quick note of sympathy to those who have lost their hair and for whom the preceding paragraph may be no longer relevant or even hurtful. On the other hand, they may be the luckiest of all because they never have to devote another second of their lives to such thoughts about hair.)
Ever since I was a little boy, I’ve had a complicated relationship with my hair. To this day, I tug at curls and rake through my hair with my fingers whenever I’m lost in deep thought or in moments of high anxiety. It was the sixties when I was a kid. Long hair was all the rage, and I wanted to look like the guys in The Monkees, any of the the Osmond Brothers, and definitely like my favorite singer Bobby Sherman, whose song “Julie, Do Ya Love Me” began a lifelong attraction for me to any girl named Julie. (I mean who falls in love with a name when “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”?)
My dad, however, had a different opinion regarding boys with long hair, so the standard hair “style” for the Roth brothers was a “butch” cut. I hated it. I mean I really hated it. For me, a trip to the barber shop was tantamount to most kids’ petrified feelings regarding a trip to the dentist, and this was in the pre-flouride era when the drilling and pulling of childrens’ teeth was much more common than today. I remember, on more than one occasion, crying on the way to the barber, bawling through the entire haircut, and wailing even harder when I got home and studied my shorn scalp in the mirror. With my ears on prominent display, I looked like a monkey rather than a Monkee. To make matters worse, St. Mary’s Schools required boys to keep their hair above their eyebrows, ears, and collars. The whole world seemed in on an unjust conspiracy against me and my desire to let my hair down.
In the mid-70’s, my dad relented a bit, school seemed less intent on enforcing outmoded hair restrictions, and the old proverb to be careful what you wish for suddenly made sense to me as I let my hair grow out, thus beginning my lifelong love/hate relationship with my incorrigible hair. For the longest time, I hated my curls that seemed to resist my desire to let my freak flag fly because, no matter how long my locks would get, the curls would stubbornly defy gravity and send those locks retreating obediently back in on themselves above collar, brows, and ears. I tried everything to tame them, including blow dryers, brushes, hair spray, and gels but all to no avail.
In my teens, having abandoned barbaric barbers forever, I learned from ladies “styling” my hair and those sitting next to me in salons and from girls in school that there are women who are especially attracted to guys with curly hair. So, at a time when many of my classmates were spending good money for a 70’s-style afro, I let mine grow out like a Chia Pet fertilized with Miracle-Gro, and it didn’t cost me a thing other than future years of photographic embarrassment (see photos above and below). I happily traded the fine-toothed comb in my back pocket for a pick proudly planted in my fro, and I dreamed of being a Soul Train dancer. For the first time in my life, my natural hair was groovy, and I felt cool.
In my adult years, I’ve gone back and forth as if my hair is a scoreboard for periods of manic depression. I swing from periods of letting my hair grow long and unruly followed by a return to a more “respectable” length. The short hair eras have almost always been the result of my own questioning of the appropriateness of a man at my age or in my profession sporting such long locks. Only recently have I realized that in either case I was cutting or not cutting my hair to meet the desires/expectations of other people, not to satisfy my own preference. It has led me to consider and to regret many other life choices I’ve made in a similar fashion.
I recently turned 60, and I’m determined to let my hair grow out until I decide to cut it. Like anything we do or don’t do in the public sphere, I suppose it is some kind of statement. One that has nothing to do with a mid-life crisis. Sadly, it’s too late for that. Instead, I think I’m inching toward that sort of boldness of behavior that comes with advanced age when one just stops caring so much about what other people think and decides to satisfy their own whims and finally live their truth because the road that remains ahead is far shorter than that which lies forever unwinding in the rearview mirror.
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