Sometime during the summer break between sixth and seventh grades I decided to let my mop of still-blonde hair grow out.
I can’t remember the reason behind my decision. As much as I wish I could chalk it up to my developing love of 1960s rock and soul, viagra here I’m pretty sure that was a consequence of rather than the cause for my going long and shaggy. In truth, it probably had more to do with an adolescent rebellion finding inspiration among the thick-maned rocker types who worked with my mom at the stereo factory.
This was 1984, the dead center of the Reagan Era. The two acceptable styles for men’s hair in Woburn at the time were crewcuts and the helmet-headed “dry look.” Even the local heshers had scaled back their locks into Kevin Croninesque permed halos or layers of psuedo-shag that stopped at the nape of the neck. Having straight, shoulder-length hair was an open invitation for taunts of “faggot” or “hippie,” which I received plenty of during my junior high years.
My mom was unflinching in her support of my choice of hairstyle, and oversaw its evolution from a full-on Jesus ‘do into an occasionally braided rat-tail. Being youth-obsessed to an ultimately self-destructive fault, she saw my hair as a vicarious way to revisit her own semi-hippie youth by way of the hard rock rebellion of my own.
My father, on the other hand, hated my long hair with a fierce and vocal passion. It wasn’t an ex-military thing, but a general resentment of the crowd my mom had fallen into as well as a nice hook by which he could screw with my shaky self-esteem. “One of these nights,” he’d gargle through a drunken haze, “I’m going to sneak into your bedroom while your asleep and BUZZ THAT SHIT OFF.” Just another mindfuck in a childhood full of the same.
When I did decide to lose the rat tail at the start of my sophomore year, my mom refused to do the deed.
“I can’t do it, Andy,” she sobbed.
“I WILL,” boomed the old man as he ended an era with a quick snip of the scissors. (My mom bound up the shorn tail with an rubber band and held onto it as a keepsake. I still have it in a box somewhere.)
I’ve cycled through a number of hairstyles and colors — buzzcuts, greased spikes, a partially tinted devilock, chin-length bangs — in the three decades following that incident before settling of my current oscillation between Frank Sutton circa 1964 and Peter Fonda circa 1969. The process gets reset whenever Maura’s hints become too pointed to ignore (or, more recently, when the amount of gray I see in the mirror becomes too disturbing to behold).
Yet at no time I have I ever felt the urge to let the back grow long again. That era has passed, and I’ve no desire to revisit the protracted misery of those times — abused by my peers at school and tortured by my father at home.
My dad swung by my house to visit me last weekend. In the time since we last met, he’d let his hair grow into a rough approximation of the “Old Man Mullet” rocked by Richard Harris in Unforgiven.
“So what do you think, Andy? A little wild?”
I have worked hard to sort out my complicated relationship with my father, trying to reconcile the hero with the bogeyman, the idealist with the asshole, the positive role model with the terrible parent. It has not been easy to lay aside grudges and resentments, but I’ve done my best to do just that. It’s difficult for me to hate him, because he’s so damn oblivious about the damage he does and because he’s not in great health and isn’t getting any younger.
Seeing him smirk about his long hair, like he was making some kind of statement of non-conformity? I didn’t realize I had such reserves of self-restraint within me.