My Father’s Hippie Son

I read an article a couple of weeks ago that talked about men with long hair and that while it’s more acceptable to have long hair for men it must still appear effortless in order to comply with masculine expectations. As a guy who has had long hair for quite a while, almost half my life, I know how it has to appear effortless even when it isn’t.  That’s just one of the many restrictions/advantages that come with appearance and being male.  It also reminded me of my father’s disapproval of my long hair.

Growing up I lived with the legacy of the 60’s in the hair band and mullet 80’s. My father insisted I have military style “high and tight” haircuts because he didn’t want his son looking like a “damn hippie”.  I would be unwillingly dragged with my father on his trips to the barber and come back with whatever he wanted me to have.  If I resisted I would be forcibly dragged, or so I was told. I never tested my parent’s in general because I learned from my siblings’ failures in their struggles with my parents. The easiest way around my parents’ absolute “not as long as you live under my roof” dictatorship was through subterfuge. But a pony tail is something you can’t hide and I didn’t have any popularity to take a hit with an outdated haircut so it wasn’t a priority for me until I started college.

I grew it out in my early 20’s, circa mid 90’s, because a girl I liked pointed out how ridiculous I looked with a 50’s crew cut I had recently received. At the time I was taking night classes and working the night shift at a grocery store and being on a different schedule than the rest of the world made it hard to get a haircut.  So I had undergone a drastic change from unruly mess to almost nothing. The next time my hair got long and my father wanted to drag me to the barber I refused to go and told him I was growing my hair out. He told me I was going or he would cut it off himself but I pointed out that anyone cutting my hair without my explicit permission would be guilty of assault since I was now an adult. He wasn’t happy but relented and that was pretty much the end of our trips to the barbershop.

Of course I had never taken care of my hair before, had never even used a blow dryer, so I had no idea what I was doing. But I wasn’t about to concede any gained territory in independence from my parents and my father didn’t raise a quitter. I soon learned that the reason my wavy hair was usually an unruly mess was because that’s it’s natural state and not just because of my prior indifference to my appearance. I enlisted the help of my friends and multiple hair-stylist and they couldn’t figure it out either. The final verdict was it either had to be long enough for a flat iron to straighten it or longer still for gravity to tame the waves.

Ironically my long hair ended up being an advantage.  Normally it would work against a man in most careers outside of rock star.  However the dot-com boom and the rise of the no-collar worker changed all that.  The assumption was that if I showed up for an interview looking like a “hippie”, I must be confident enough in my skills that it wouldn’t cut against me.  Even vendors and clients assumed I was the resident IT guru.  When my colleagues came to meetings with slacks, polo shirts and conservative haircuts with their laptops in briefcases I would show up in a plain t-shirt, jeans, a backpack and hair down my back.  In a sea of IT consultants I stood out and everyone would ask who I was.  In today’s world where everyone has to be conscious of their own brand and struggles to differentiate themselves from their peers I had inadvertently stumbled on a simple and relatively effortless way to be noticed.

I say relatively effortless because it takes me an hour to get ready in the morning and about half of that is fixing my hair.  My wife doesn’t have this problem so she is consistently waiting on me so we can leave if I don’t get an early start.  People, especially women, seem surprised when they find out I actually have the need and inclination to “fix” my hair.  But my mane is quite broken and must be tamed.  Otherwise it’s back to high and tight.  But my father will get the last laugh in the end as my hair is slowly but surely disappearing.  I already have a bald spot and my lengthy locks are more useful for reducing the size of my forehead than any statement about independence or my skill set relative to my peers.  Someday I will bring it home and just shave it, but for now my effortless appearance is just more subterfuge.

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