Monday, April 26, 2010

Finding My Haircut

Every man eventually finds his haircut.

Young men struggle with their hair. At first they celebrate it by growing it out. And why not? Hair is a symbol of youth itself. Thin and light or heavy and wiry, an excess of hair is a signature trait of young men in their teens and early twenties. This trait, this marker in time, is actually a process, a passage into adulthood.

Sadly, unlike women, no matter the surfeit of hair, men have very few choices when it comes to a hairstyle. My father, for example, who had less on the top of his head than growing out of his ears, knew this from long experience with little hair. He always enjoyed a good laugh at the seventies 'hair stylists' who offered to 'style' his hair for a few dollars more. Although he had the sense to know that styling a classic comb-over was ridiculous, somehow the idea of having a comb-over in the first place didn't seem to cross that same line.

I'm not saying that every man grows into the right haircut. Just 'his' haircut.

Eventually, it has to happen. The experimenting comes to an end. The hair 'products' and styling gels get washed out. Dying and close cropping get cropped, as do the ponytails and rattails. The mutton chops get chopped. Of course, not every man does this. Not every man gives this stuff up. But most do.

Most men give up with styling and settle on one haircut out of sheer laziness. It's the same with clothes, really. Most men would prefer to do as little 'prep' work every day as possible. This is not because there is any deficit of vanity in front of male bathroom mirrors, by the way. Most men just don't have the sustained energy to keep up with their hair. So, in time--usually mid to late twenties--they settle on the path of least resistance. Eventually, they pick a haircut and learn to live with it.

It's not as bad as it sounds, really. It's not giving in so much as it it seeing which way the universe is leaning and just going that way. In my case the choice, like my father's, was made simple by the absence of hair.

Now, unlike my father, a comb-over was definitely not among my options. Certainly, his comb-over (and subsequently, in my first year away from home, the similar affectation of a certain freshman history professor who had the habit of leaning over while he read the day's lecture) made me resolve never, ever to allow that to happen to my head.

Thus, the calculus is simple when I sit down in the barber, erm, hair stylist's chair these days. She will ask me how I want it cut. And I say, "Give me the old guy cut." This is a variant on the directive my father used to give the barber (yes indeed) as I clambered into the great big leather and chrome chair in my youth.

"Give him the little boy's cut" he would say, and out came the clippers. It took all of thirty seconds, if you didn't count the little shave they gave me around the neck and the cut that ensued when the razor hit the mole at the hairline. Nowadays, it takes about the same amount of time, but the stylists use scissors instead of electric clippers. They still hit that mole.

In some ways, the process of finding my haircut--even if it was motivated by a brutal slide down Occam's razor--was the same as finding my voice as a writer.

Both required much experimentation to make sure I have tried everything reasonable--and then some. Both required that I made some mistakes, but none of them were lethal. Both required that I would relent--eventually--to the force of our human nature and accept what it is because it could not be otherwise.

Neither process has required that I give up my individuality nor did either losing my hair or finding my voice require that I conform, completely, to any stereotype. I am a bald guy, but not just any bald guy. I am a writer, but not just any writer. Both my haircut (or absence thereof) and my voice have been shaped by a complex combination of my genes and my experiences.

In my case, it happened that I didn't find my voice until recently. The odd combination of my obsessive compulsive personality and the circumstance of having grown up in a traditional book culture with an unconventional autodidact for a Mother has for many years restrained my voice. But the annealing fire of grief has at last burned away the resistance and cleared away the background noise.

It took much longer than finding my haircut, but at last, I think I can finally hear my voice through the din.

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