Saturdays used to be haircut days. Those were simpler times, when the kids were younger. I would pile them in the car and drive to a basic barbershop.
There the procedure was as straightforward as the trip down the sliding board that stood in the corner of the shop. While the kids waited for an available barber they would scoot down the slide or read comics. Once in the chair, they got their hair cut short on the sides, longer on the top. One wanted his hair parted, one didn't. They each got a sucker, maybe two, for their good behavior.
But in the past year or so the kids have developed strong opinions on a variety of domestic issues, including hair. Haircuts have become complicated.
Both the 12-year-old and his 8-year-old brother now want so-called stylish haircuts: haircuts with asymmetrical lengths, slashes, gashes and odd angles; haircuts that make them look like they had an encounter with a chain saw, not a barber.
I fight it. I'm a liberal when it comes to what my kids read. One of them is fond of Stephen King books, stuff that scares me. When it comes to what kind of videos they watch, I am pretty much a pushover. The 8-year-old says his favorite movies are the "R-rated" ones.
But when it comes to haircuts, I'm an old fogey.
"I just want you to look your best," I tell my sons when I turn down their requests for a haircut that, in my mind, would make them look like they just escaped from the penitentiary.
My kids don't buy that explanation. Just as I didn't accept a similar plea made by my mother many years ago when she wanted me to shape my then-free-wheeling mop into a form that would not embarrass her at a fast-approaching family wedding.
I realize now that many kids go through a rebel hair stage. I had mine when I was away at college, out of the eyesight of my father, a man who believed that hair, like grass, should be kept as closely cropped as golf greens.
Every other Saturday my dad would cut hair in our kitchen. One by one, my three brothers and I would take our turns sitting on a kitchen stool, as my dad, armed with his smooth-running Oster clippers, made short work of any unruly growth. My dad was a self-taught Saturday morning barber. He had a steady hand, but there was nothing stylish in his repertoire. His basic approach to hair was to mow it down.
Snapshots from those days show my brothers and I sporting very short, military-style haircuts, and displaying a lot of ear. Today, I think it's called a "buzz" cut.
Ironically, the buzz somewhat resembled the style the 12-year-old lobbied for the other night when he prepared for a trip to the downtown hair salon we now visit. The kid wanted his hair "buzzed," cut right next to his skull, "like Michael Jordan," on the sides. On the top, he wanted it long and shaggy, "like the skaters" he had seen appearing in Thrasher, a magazine that is to 12-year-old skateboarders what Vogue is to the New York fashion crowd -- the authoritative voice on what is cool.
Not to be left out, the 8-year-old piped up for hair liberty.
"It is our hair and we can do with it what we want," he said.
I was tempted to play the haircut heavy -- to tell them: "As long as I am paying for the haircuts, I say what they look like." Instead, I lobbied for moderation, for haircuts that made the kids look human, not alien. Closing arguments fell to my wife, a fellow campaigner for pleasant-looking children.
This time, she was the one who drove the kids to the downtown salon. While my wife was busy parking the car, the 8-year-old conspired with a hairstylist to get "a bowl with a wedge" or maybe it was a wedge with a bowl. Anyway, his hair ended up long on the top and shorter on the sides with a sort of stair-step effect in-between. He was quite proud of it. And it did look pretty good, if unconventional.
The older kid ended up with short sides and locks of his curly hair draping over his forehead. This, he decided after much study, was close to cool.
When the kids got home, they eyed themselves in the mirror and I inspected their coiffures. While pleased, the kids contended that if they were freed from parental restraints they would have chosen wilder, weirder haircuts.
I contended that while the kids look good, they would have looked better with a more traditional shearing.
But all is quiet on the haircut front -- at least for another three weeks.