By Mark Gauert
City & Shore PRIME magazine
My dad used to cut my hair.
“Can you cut it so it looks like the Beatles?” I asked, as my dad draped a towel around my shoulders to keep the trimmings from falling all over Mom’s clean kitchen floor.
“The who?” Dad said.
“Not The Who, Dad,’’ I said, momentarily impressed he might know the difference. “The Beatles. I want a Beatles cut!”
My dad was a Navy man, the ship’s doctor on an amphibious assault troop transport. He knew how hair was supposed to look. Hair was supposed to be high and tight, like everybody else’s on deck.
Somewhere far from our home in the Midwest, young people might have been expressing their individuality, listening to their music, speaking their minds, growing their hair.
But not here. Not in this house.
“I don’t know how to do a Beatles cut,’’ my dad said, switching on the electric clippers.
“Please?” I tried. “All my friends have them …’’
The answer, my friends, was blowing in the buzz, as my dad mowed my expressed individuality down to stubble.
“Wow, your dad really scalped you!” my friends at school said. We were pretending we were the Beatles, and they all had haircuts that made them look like John, Paul and Ringo.
They said I could be George. (Martin).
I didn’t get full control of my hair for years. I thought I might have a chance when my father started to get busier at the hospital and decided to start sending me to a barber. But the barber was his cousin, Kenny, who had a shop across town.
“You know what to do,’’ my dad said to Cousin Kenny.
“Don’t worry,” he said.
Eventually, Cousin Kenny retired – and my time between haircuts began to grow from every week to every other week to once every quarter. Until, if I’d wanted, I could have worn flowers in it.
I slowly gained control of my music, too. My dad, as I mentioned, was a Navy man, and my mom, sister and I all had to listen to his soundtrack of Victory at Sea, from the documentary about naval warfare during World War II. He loved to play songs from the album at home, such as The Turning Point, Danger Down Deep, The Sound of Victory, and, inexplicably, throw in the Peter Gunn Theme, by Henry Mancini, now and then.
“More real music,” he said, “less rock ‘n’ roll!’’
I can see now from his example of hard work, love of country and truly questionable hair styling that there was advice and wisdom there, seen, as we here at PRIME magazine always try to see things, from the perspective of time. How we learn lessons from our experiences – all good and bad hair days – and apply them to our lives, our work, our world.
I knew something was up, though, when I visited my now 85-year-old dad last month. He’s still working, still a force of nature, doing physicals each day for young service personnel at a Military Entrance Processing Station. (They all wonder which ancient war he fought in).
“Your haircut looks sharp!” he said, approvingly.
“Wait,” I said. “What?”
Then I remembered I’d been cutting it shorter, lately – far shorter than I wore it when I was in full rebellion. One of the concessions men of a certain age start to make when they’re afraid they’ll start pulling out what hair they have left when they brush it. (Even Ringo’s gone shorter, the last time I looked.)
“Who, me?” I said.
My now 85-year-old dad still doesn’t know who The Who are. (I’m not sure he even knows the Beatles). Or that Pete Townshend of The Who is cutting his hair shorter than the crew cut my dad gave me back then, too.
But the Fabulous Thunderbirds were playing at his favorite casino, and he invited us all to see the show. I wondered what was going on. He’d been wearing his hair a little longer, too. No Beatles cut, but far from high and tight.
The band didn’t cover any songs from Victory at Sea that night, or even any Henry Mancini. But they were great, playing the blues and some straight-ahead rock as people got up to dance.
“Less blues!” my dad, smiling, shouted from his chair. “More rock ‘n’ roll!”
The man who used to cut my hair, was teaching me yet another life lesson.
About time, patience – and change.
I’d rarely been more proud to be his son.
- Mark Gauert, email@example.com
PHOTO: My dad in his Navy days at the Naval Training Center in San Diego, Calif.