Hair today

I think I speak for the fathers of America when I say: Individually, and collectively as a generation, our children have weird hair.

We dads mostly keep this opinion to ourselves, knowing the slightest spark could set off unwinnable Hair Wars. But secretly, we wince every morning as our children emerge from bathrooms, ready to face the world with hairdos that look like "mixed-media" art, something entitled "Industrial Accident at the Weed-Whacker Factory, Preserved in Scented Gel."

We smart, modern dads have learned to keep our mouths shut. We've learned that criticizing or arguing or even simple hysterical giggling will only make matters worse.

It's the No-Win Parent Paradox: Any parental signal about a new hairstyle -- even the merest grunt -- will cause heartbreak and yet another new hairstyle.

If parents voice approval, the child will know the hairstyle is a dud and will hack it off. If parents admit they hate it, the kid will find a style they hate even more.

(If parents voice no opinion whatsoever, Junior will do something weird to his hair anyway, in the spirit of free experimentation. But at least it won't be the parents' fault.)

Hair, like other fashions, suffers from "generational creep." Each generation must find styles more outrageous than the last, to keep up the cycle of rebellion. This escalation in elaborate hairstyles requires more and more time and attention. Eventually, children will get up in the morning, spend the day doing their hair, then go right back to bed again.

Upping the ante these days is the ready street availability of hundreds of hair-care products. Kids feel compelled to buy and try every form of mousse and gel and spray and dye. At our house, one whole bathroom counter is buried under bottles and jars of such products. And we have BOYS.

You see whole herds of guys running around today with hair cropped short as Curly Howard's. These boys have easy, buff-and-go hair. These are not my sons.

My sons like to experiment. They like to make a fashion statement. They think people gawk and point at them because they're "cool."

My older son, who has curly blond hair beautiful enough to make you weep, wants a black, jutting hairdo that could put somebody's eye out. Since he hasn't managed that yet, he sometimes just puts goo in his hair and pulls it in different directions, so portions stand straight out from his head. This is supposed to look like a rock star. Most times, he ends up resembling the victim of a "swirly."

My younger son wears a spiky flat-top with a long "rat-tail" in the back. At our house, this style is called "Definitely-Not-A-Mullet." This son likes to spray-paint his "Definitely-Not-A-Mullet" with colors not found in Nature. Fortunately, these dyes are temporary. So far.

To my sons, such hairdos send a message: "Hey, dude. You're looking at one hip, rebellious individual."

To me, the message is: "Hello. I am an idiot."

But I can't say that. I can't voice my chagrin without raising the stakes. So I say something neutral, like, "Is that how you want your hair to look?" And the answer is always, "Yes."

To me, these boys are missing the whole point of being a guy: You don't have to do anything creative to your hair ever. Pick one simple style when you're, say, 12, and you're set for life.

(Naturally, this style will be the one your father hated.)

Maybe that's what my sons are doing now. Experimenting before settling on their own personal lifetime hairstyles. I only hope they don't pick the "swirly."

(Editor's note: This column first appeared around 2004. Now that they're older and more mature, the 18-year-old wears dreadlocks and the 16-year-old has long, straight hair past his shoulder blades. So things are very different now . . . )

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