When I was a teenager, I kept my hair very short. Mil spec. People sometimes asked if I was in ROTC.
Then in college I developed a used-record habit that Harold, my supplier at Headstone Friends, was happy to support. I skipped haircuts to buy more records. At first, when I’d go home on break Mom would hand me ten bucks and send me to the barber. But soon Mom got wise and so my hair grew out. When it started looking shaggy, people started asking when I was going to cut it. Now, I had come to enjoy my hair, especially how it felt when it brushed against my skin. But the more people suggested it needed to be cut, the more I became determined to let it grow.
When my hair reached my shoulders, the handful of other longhaired men on campus started to acknowledge me. I had discovered the unspoken Longhaired Brotherhood, even though my hair was the shortest of the bunch and I didn’t play electric guitar like they all did. One of the guys invited me to sing with his band. It turned out to be an audition, which I failed because the band’s leader thought my rendition of Iron Maiden’s The Trooper lacked guts. I got over it when, at a party, a lovely young woman couldn’t keep her slender fingers out of my hair. We were an item for two years.
I dressed the longhair part, with faded jeans and black concert T-shirts. I even got my ear pierced. My look brought challenges. Once when I was on the street, some scraggly shirtless guys in a rusty and dented old pickup truck slowed down, called me a faggot, and then sped off. Another day I showed up at a new stylist’s for a trim, her first appointment that day. The stylist wouldn’t unlock the door for me until another stylist arrived. Turns out she was intimidated by my look and didn’t want to be alone with me. She later felt bad, she said, because I turned out to be “such a nice guy.” Then I worked a summer job for the state of Indiana, and our agency was being audited. The auditors had to pass behind me through my narrow office to get to their room. Every day, I heard the two women chattering happily in the hallway as they neared the office. When they entered, they very obviously hushed themselves, passed silently, shut their door, and then (I could hear through the wall) murmured about me. As they squeezed past on their last day, one of them stabbed her hands into my hair at the base of my neck. She exclaimed, “It’s so clean!” I whirled around in surprise, but they moved on without looking at me.
As I neared graduation, I was having trouble finding a job, so I cut my hair off. I figured this was the cost of growing up. Years later, when the woman who would become my wife saw my old college photos, she excitedly asked me to grow it out again. Recognizing that one wife in a thousand would be this excited over long hair, I obliged her. In the winters I even grew a beard because she liked how rugged I looked. But by my early 30s, I felt like I looked more like Grizzly Adams than a metal god. And because I had become a family man and had ascended to management in my career, I thought that maybe it was unseemly to have long hair. So I went to the barber and got a flat top. When I came home that night, my two-year-old son came into the living room to greet old Dad – and screamed! It was twenty minutes before he’d let me come near him.
After my divorce and as I pushed 40, the propriety of my 30s faded. I just wanted to do what made me happy, so I let my hair grow again. If this is my midlife crisis, I’m glad I chose this instead of a sports car or a string of bimbos. As my hair grew out, once again people commented about it. I was surprised that most told me it looked good, and only a few wrinkled their noses. Encouraged, I let it come barely to my shoulders – long enough to feel good and frame my face, short enough for relatively easy care.
While I first grew my hair mostly to thumb my nose at people and I next grew it mostly for my wife, this time I’m doing it purely because I enjoy it. I think that my inner longhair has always wanted to come out, but it’s only as I pass into middle age that I can acknowledge him honestly.
I find greater acceptance today than 20 years ago. It probably helps that my hair’s not quite long enough for me to be in the Brotherhood, that the heavy-metal T-shirts have been replaced with Oxfords and polos, and that many men wear earrings now – in both ears, even. The most backlash I get is the occasional woman who says, “I just couldn’t date a man with long hair.” And that’s fine with me. My ideal mate’s fingers will love spending time in there!
Headstone’s is still there, and they still have some records in the back.