Oh dear. I knew an outbreak of headlice when I saw one. First one, then all of the little boys in my first-grade class at St. Anthony’s Boys’ School started scratching their heads. I love being a primary school teacher at an all-boys school, but headlice outbreaks are always a headache for all of the adults involved.
I sent the boys home with notices about the outbreak and the recommendations from our school nurse, and one by one the boys started coming in to school with buzzcuts. This was by no means the only effective way to get rid of headlice, but it was the easiest, particularly for little boys who might not have the patience to deal with messy methods involving butter.
One little boy steadfastly continued to turn up every day with a shaggy, grown-out classic little boy cut. Lincoln was always a bit of a contrarian. I wasn’t surprised that he would resist getting his hair chopped off, not because he loved his shaggy mop, but simply because he didn’t want to look just like everyone else.
Finally Lincoln was the only boy who still had longish hair. I asked him if he had had the butter treatment, but he only stared at me, bewildered, as if I had asked if he had a pet elephant in his pocket.
Going through his file I realized that Lincoln was growing up with a single dad. His dad probably wouldn’t have time to slather his son’s hair in butter and deal with the resulting mess. I would have been happy to give Lincoln a pass, except that the way he was always scratching his head suggested that he had caught the headlice. It was only a matter of time before he re-infected everyone else, not to mention his dad. I didn’t remember having met Lincoln’s father, but if he was working all the time he wouldn’t be able to come to observation day.
That was when I remembered a drawing that Lincoln had done of his family. The drawing showed Lincoln himself and his dad, who had been depicted with very long hair. Aha! Lincoln probably thought it was unfair that he was being asked to cut all his hair off while his father wasn’t, even though his dad’s hair seemed to reach down to his belt, judging by the picture.
I decided to send Lincoln home with a note addressed personally to his dad. In it I reminded him of the headlice outbreak, noted that Lincoln had lice, and described Lincoln’s resistance to getting his hair trimmed even, never mind buzzed.
The next day Lincoln duly gave me a reply from his dad. I was a little disgusted. He was asking me to cut off Lincoln’s hair myself, after school if need be. The excuse he gave was that he wasn’t home enough to do it himself, but I suspected that at least part of the reason was that he didn’t feel comfortable cutting off his son’s hair when his own hair was so long.
Even so, this was progress. Lincoln looked more and more glum as the school day wore on, suggesting that he was aware of his father’s suggestion. By the time the end bell rang after the last class of the day, he was quite morose, sitting at his desk while all the other boys raced each other out of the classroom. He had the air of a boy who had resigned himself to the inevitable.
“I don’t really want to do this either.” I decided to be honest. “I know you don’t want a haircut. It crimps your style, and it’s unpleasant that it’s being imposed on you due to external factors.”
Lincoln looked up at me with relief. I am fairly strict with my pupils, but I’m not sadistic. “It’s not fair. Dad has really long hair, and he scratches his head, too.” Perhaps Lincoln’s father had already picked up the headlice from his son.
“Hmm. Would you feel better about this if your dad got a haircut, too?” I was already thinking of sending a letter home asking Lincoln’s father to model the behavior he wanted to see in his son.
“Yes! Miss Lewis, I want you to cut his hair, too. Buzzed like everyone else. It’s only fair. Just because he’s a grownup.”
I couldn’t argue with this logic. Lincoln and I stopped by the nurse’s office to pick up the clippers and cape. It was rare that teachers found themselves in the position of barber, but it did happen occasionally, so the school kept the necessary equipment for just this contingency.
I set up shop in a secluded corner of the school grounds, behind the toolshed in the side yard. I didn’t want other boys to see Lincoln and taunt him. This was going to be traumatic enough as it was.
As I caped Lincoln, he asked me to promise to buzz his dad’s hair too, by force if necessary. “On your heart? Hope to die?”
“Yes, on my heart, hope to die.” I really hoped this could be resolved peacefully. After all, as a teacher at Lincoln’s school, I didn’t have any authority over how parents behaved or styled their hair. Of course Lincoln didn’t know that, and still thought that all adults were equally omnipotent.
I fired up the clippers. The whole point was to leave so little length that the lice would not be able to stay, so I was forced to choose one of the smaller attachments. I settled on a number one. Really there wasn’t much choice. Besides, this would be shorter than most of his classmates’ hair, so that he wouldn’t have to look exactly like everyone else, which had been one of his objections.
I gently pushed Lincoln’s head forward so that his chin rested on his chest. His little body was shaking. I steadied him by putting one hand on his shoulder for a moment before moving my hand to the crown of his head to help me guide the clippers upwards from his nape.
I ran the clippers over the back of his head in a methodical, rhythmic manner, thinking that the faster I finished, the less time spent in misery. In two minutes flat I had reduced the whole back of his head to stubble. Next I moved to his right and clippered the side, taking extra care around his ear so as not to hurt him. I lifted up the hair above his ear to allow me to see the outline better and ploughed upwards, then repeated the process on the other side.
Now for the top. I held the long hair in a sort of ponytail in one hand as I wielded the clippers with the other. In a blink of an eye his hair was gone. I decided to change the attachment on the clippers and taper a bit at the back and sides. The poor boy deserved at least a decent-looking buzzcut, if he was going to have to have one.
“There, all done. You can go home now. When can your dad come to the school for his haircut, or do I need to go to your house?” Put the ball back in Lincoln’s court.
“I think he’ll be home early tonight. You can come to our house.”
This was sudden. I decided that I should at least phone ahead so that Lincoln’s dad would know when I was coming.
“Hello? Oh, Miss Lewis. So you’re Lincoln’s teacher. Thank you for buzzing my kid’s hair for me. It looks pretty good on him, too.”
“I’m calling because Lincoln only let me cut his hair on condition that I buzz yours, too. I had to agree with him that it’s only fair.”
“What? You really want to cut my hair, too? But I need my long hair! I play in a rock band as one of my jobs.”
“I hear you’ve been scratching your head a lot. Are you sure you haven’t gotten lice from your son? Besides, headlice are an epidemic. We can’t get rid of them entirely unless everyone involved is free of them.”
“Yes, I understand all that. But—”
“If your hair is as long as Lincoln says it is, the butter treatment is going to be a massive pain. May I remind you that I have a responsibility to all of my pupils and their parents to keep them healthy and happy so that they can focus on school.”
He couldn’t argue with this. Besides, hair length has nothing to do with musical talent. It was hard to imagine his sound changing simply because of a haircut. Unless he was native American or Sikh, it seemed unlikely that he had religious or cultural reasons to keep his hair so long.
“All right. Do you know the address?” I wrote down the address, borrowed the clippers and cape from the nurse’s office, and set off.
When I rang the doorbell, Lincoln answered. “Miss Lewis! Come in, come in!” He was clearly excited to have me in his house. Kids that age are more interested in novelty than anything, so I knew not to take the enthusiastic welcome personally. Chances were that he had even forgotten why I was there in the first place.
Presently Lincoln’s father emerged. I did a double take when I saw him. Wow, what a beautiful man. He was younger than I expected, probably at least a couple of years younger than me. I like younger men. His waist-length light brown hair was gathered into a ponytail at the base of his neck. The ponytail was admittedly a turn-off, but I was here to remedy this very flaw.
“Hi, I’m Robert Murray, Lincoln’s dad. You must be Miss Lewis.”
“Yes, I’m Celine Lewis. It’s nice to finally meet you. I think you’re the only parent I hadn’t met yet.”
“Oh, I’m sorry about that. It’s not that I don’t care. It’s just that I have three jobs. St. Anthony’s is actually well beyond what I could afford, but I went there myself and wanted the same for my son. Besides, seeing how happy Lincoln is to get up and go to school in the morning, I trusted you completely. My late wife’s medical costs have left me in the poorhouse, but I didn’t want to compromise on Lincoln’s education. I’m glad to finally meet you, even if under strange circumstances.”
I smiled. I could see that Robert Murray was an honest man who was doing the best he could for his child. He was exactly the kind of father I had hoped that Lincoln had—a good dad, if a little frazzled. I could smell food cooking. It was impressive to me that he still made an effort to cook at home despite his crazy schedule.
“I don’t want to keep you too long, especially if you have another job to go to tonight. Dinner smells good, too. Let’s get this over with before it gets cold.”
Lincoln was still bounding about the house. The outside of the building had been quite shabby, but the inside was cleaner than I expected.
Robert Murray led me outside, onto the back porch. There was an old wicker chair for him to sit on, and a smaller, heavily-weathered plastic chair where Lincoln could sit and oversee his father’s haircut.
I wasted no time in caping him. I realized that I didn’t have shears, but I could use the clippers to slice through his ponytail. They were battery-operated, thank goodness. I had spare batteries in my pocket just in case.
“OK, here goes.” I fired up the clippers and began to saw through his ponytail. In less than a minute, the long tail of hair fell with a thud onto the patio. Lincoln began to cheer. This ponytail was likely older than Lincoln himself, but now it was lying on the ground.
I switched off the clippers and clicked on the number one guard—the same as the one I had used on Lincoln.
“Dad, you gotta look down.” Lincoln was clearly enjoying this. He would squeal with delight when he saw how short I was going to cut his father’s hair.
Robert duly lowered his chin onto his chest and I began to shear the back of his head. With quick strokes I reduced the back to stubble in two minutes. There would be no lice in his hair when I got through with him. Next I parted his top hair on the right, tilted his head to the left and set to work on his right side, expanding from the already-buzzed back until the back of his ear came exposed. Then I grabbed the remaining side hair with my fist and guided the clippers under my fist. This left clumps of patchy hair still clinging to his temple and hovering right above his ear, so I slowed down, pulled his ear down, and went over the area repeatedly before I parted his top hair on the other side and set to work on the other side of his head.
Just five minutes into the haircut, it was time to tackle the top. I was not going to leave him with a strange mohawk, so there was nothing for it but to mow the top down as well. I grabbed fistfuls of hair and ploughed through them.
When I had gone over his new buzzcut twice with the number one guard, I shut off the clippers, changed the guard, and tapered the back and sides a bit, the same way as I had done for Lincoln. Then I removed the guard and used the bare blade to edge around his ears and clean up his nape.
“There, all done. I cut it exactly the same as Lincoln’s. I hope you don’t mind matching.” It had never occurred to me that father and son might prefer to not have identical haircuts.
Lincoln was jumping up and down by this point. “Dad’s been buzzed! Dad’s been buzzed!” I hoped for Robert’s sake that Lincoln would tire himself out and be quiet all night. I hadn’t been counting on this level of excitement.
Robert ran his hand over the top of his head. “Wow, this is short. I guess it’s too short now for the lice.”
“I could shave lines into it if would help you as a rock musician.”
“Maybe next time. I haven’t seen it yet, but if I like it, I might invite you over to do this again.” Was Robert flirting with me?
I cleaned up and we all went back into the house. Seeing Robert in the light, I was surprised at how good he looked with almost no hair. I hoped he would agree, because I realized that I would love to do this again. Not just one more time, but regularly. Maybe next year, when I was no longer Lincoln’s teacher, I could date Robert.
Robert took a look at himself in the bathroom mirror, and came out smiling. “I’m surprised how much I like it. I don’t think I’ve ever worn my hair this short. It looks just as rock-and-roll as my long hair did. I wonder if we can have another outbreak of headlice in the not-too-distant future?” Robert was smirking at me.
The following term, Robert actually came to observation day. I recognized him right away among the parents. He had the most becoming buzzcut of any of the fathers, and he flashed me a million-megawatt smile. We didn’t need any outbreaks of headlice to bring us together anymore.
Now, Robert is no longer a struggling single dad. He is my husband.