Hair was the source of many of the biggest battles I had with my mom. The Beatles had just landed in America, and I wanted to be them. My parents bought me a guitar, but my hair grew faster than my talent.
My mom was ill one time, nothing serious, but my dad used it as an opportunity: “Ken, you would make your mother very happy if you would go to the barbershop and get your hair cut; she does so much for you and she is not feeling well.” This was my introduction to Fransen guilt. More lessons would follow.
In high school, my aspirations shifted from wanting to be a rock star to hoping to fly fighter jets. Accordingly, my hair-length went from being too long to bordering on excessively short. As a young kid I had been known as brush-cut Charlie, but I never quite developed the courage to go full buzz in high school. Somewhere along the years that followed, I just became normal hair-wise.
I started growing my mustache the day I left high school. It took two years before anyone could notice. It took 5 or 10 years for it to be worthy of the name. Now, I cannot get rid of it. My wife and kids, and most everyone I know, have never seen me without it.
There are a lot of things I don’t remember about my hair.
For example, I don’t remember when I started to grow hair out of my ears; I just know that we older men can push out more hair out our ears than the domes of many of our heads. I don’t get the feeling this affects women – if it did there would be ads about it on tv. Of all the things women have to worry about, ear hair apparently is not one of them. Likewise nose hair. And bushy eyebrows. Some hormonal defect causes us men to move our hair-growing capacity from our heads to our nose and ear and eyebrow regions.
Speaking of eyebrows, I don’t remember when mine got out of control. I think it started quite innocently while on the phone – I realized that one of my eyebrow hairs was longer than the rest, and I just pulled it out. It became a nervous habit whenever I was one the phone. At some point I was not making enough phone calls to be able to keep up with them all so my barber asked if she could trim them. Now it’s mandatory and if she doesn’t offer, I ask.
I also don’t remember when I first noticed I was going gray but my wife noticed about 10 years before I did. “Oh look,” she’d say, “you are getting gray!” I didn’t see a thing. One day, all of a sudden, I was gray. An attorney I had worked with years before but hadn’t seen in the meantime, invited me to lunch one day. When we met, he extended his hand and loudly blurted “you’re gray!” “Yeah,” I replied, “and you’re bald!” Pleasantries ensued.
My hair is now completely gray, although I prefer the term silver. Gray is drab, silver has a certain chicness, maybe even sexiness, about it. A handsome older man with gray hair used to be called a “silver fox.” I have not personally heard that term in my presence. I do not know why.
I’m proud of my gray hair. I’ve earned every one of them. When I go to a theatre, I don’t ask for the senior rate, I ask for the gray hair discount. When I go to an event that serves alcohol, my gray hair saves me the trouble of having to pull out my driver’s license. If the person at the registration desk is zoned out and asks anyway, I just smile and point to my hair, and I am then cleared right on through.
I often choose my sports teams based on hair color. When I got to the point in life when I had time to watch football, I noticed that one of the stellar and well-seasoned quarterbacks had gray hair – Brett Favre. He was still with the Green Bay Packers then, so I decided to root for his team. (It didn’t hurt that good friend and avid reader Neil was a big Wisconsin-bred fan of the Pack who told me the endearing history of the team and its place in Wisconsin culture.)
Similarly, with the departure of the last wave of true redneck Nascar drivers – those who cut their driving teeth running moonshine through the backroads of the South and who sometimes engaged in fistfights when a hotly contested race ended – I found a ‘gray hair’ to root for. Mark Martin was the oldest guy then driving, and he became my driver. I also thought it was cool that he owned and flew his own jet between his hangar home and the various race-tracks. Mark had a great career, and though he came close, never quite made it to a Nascar championship. In his final years as a driver, his sponsor was Viagra, the obviousness of which bordered on elegance. I rooted proudly for Mark, but never had the guts to wear an official “Mark Martin Viagra” jacket.
Once, a long time ago, I started growing a beard. It was truly awful and only lasted a few months. Ironically, many of our most prominent family photographs were taken during that brief period, causing me to make a gagging sound whenever they are pulled out of the family photo box. A number of years ago, I wondered if my beard would grow out silver (ok, gray) if I tried to grow it again. I decided that if it came out solidly the color of my now gray hair, I’d keep it, otherwise I’d just forget about the whole beard thing. Uniform gray-ness followed. The beard’s a keeper.
Women do not seem to love their own hair. Those with fine hair wish they had thick hair so they would be able to do something with it. Those with thick hair envy those with fine hair because fine hair dries so much quicker. Women with curly hair straighten it. Those with straight hair curl it. When you google “bad hair day photos,” the results are almost entirely of women.
Some women even prefer men’s hair. When my wife (we’ll call her “Carol”) sees a man with a long wavy tress, she turns to me and says “don’t you just love his hair? Mine just hangs.” Of course it hangs – what else is there for it to do? Gravity, after all, is rather insistent. Her point, though, was simple. She does not love her own hair and would trade it for some guy’s if she had the chance.
When we had just gotten married, Carol decided to get an Afro – being a popular hair style in the mid-1970’s. It did not last long – she looked just like the poster from the musical Hair! Except for the fact that she was blonde and northern European. A short hair style quickly followed.
Speaking of Hair!, Carol spent the last half of the 1960’s in San Francisco, lived in Haight-Ashbury, and hung around with theatre types. Hair! was a popular and controversial rock musical at that time. Extras and audience members came on stage at one point in the performance and during a particularly controversial part of the play, some on stage removed all of their clothing and simply stood there nude. She had always told me she was briefly in the cast of Hair! but we never discussed the details. I recently asked her if she was one of the people on stage who doffed their clothes and stood there nude. She said she is not sure, but for some reason I love the fact that I married a hippie-chick who might have.