My boy was growing up. When he was little he wanted to look just like his dad, so he was over the moon the day I decided that four years old was old enough for Ryan to have his first crew cut, but now as a teenager he preferred his hair long and shaggy. His red waves reached past his collarbone.
On the day Ryan was born I was delighted to find that he had inherited his father’s red hair. I’m a redhead myself, but my husband Kevin’s hair is a brighter shade of red. Even though Ryan sometimes gets teased as the “redheaded stepchild,” those comments usually stop after observation day, since it’s obvious two redheads would be the most likely biological parents of a redheaded son.
Sometimes at the end of my workday Kevin will come into my shop just as I’m closing up and say, “Hi, I’m your last appointment for the day.” After I clipper off the two weeks’ growth we make love right in the barbershop. Ryan has no idea what his parents get up to when he’s not around!
Kevin has straight-ish hair and I have wild curls, so perhaps Ryan’s waves are a hybrid of our two textures. If he wanted pretty waves, I could teach him how to care for textured hair, but Ryan doesn’t care. He wants to look like a Real Madrid footballer, he says, but he actually looks more like a caveman, or George of the Jungle. Heck, even Brendan Fraser’s wild man hair in that movie was better maintained.
One afternoon a teenage girl came into my shop. She had a horrifying mullet-shag thing on her head. Normally I would have told her, “This is a barbershop. I mostly do men’s short clippercuts. I’m not so good at doing long hair, is that OK with you?” but the atrocity on her head made me understand that this was an emergency situation.
“I don’t know what to do to fix this. I was staying with my dad, because the court deemed my mother unfit to care for me, and I said I wanted a cute pixie cut, so my dad dropped me off at my nan’s old salon on his way to work. He hasn’t seen this horrible mess yet. I want to fix it before he sees it.”
“I see. Yes, I can see what happened here. The stylist thought leaving a rat tail at the back, covering the ears with long shaggy sideburns, and cutting the crown short enough to stick straight up would be a good look, like a tribute to David Bowie or something. You wanted a pixie, right? I can do that. The top will still stand up funny for about a week, but we can clipper up the back and sides.”
As soon as the girl felt the cold steel on her neck, she began to smile. “I’ve always wanted to do that. I wanted to know what it felt like for a boy to get his hair cropped close. There’s a boy in my class who would be so handsome if only he’d get his hair buzzed.”
Wait a minute. Could it be? “Oh? Which school do you go to?”
“St. Patrick’s. I’m going into the Senior Cycle this year.”
This girl was almost surely in Ryan’s class. Ryan had once mentioned being interested in a girl named Becky whose parents had gotten divorced because her mother was a drunk.
“I have a son in your school.” I decided not to give his name or age too soon. I tilted the girl’s head to the right as I snipped up and over around her ear. Her hair was straight and blonde, but I could see that her roots were brown and wavy, almost curly. This was good for a pixie cut that was short on top as well. I liked the look of whorls on the crown, as they reminded me of my beloved pet guinea pig.
“This boy has wavy red hair that hides his face. When he pulled his hair out of his face the other day I was surprised at how handsome he was. I think he believes women like long hair on a man, but he’s sadly mistaken.”
I was now sure that she was talking about my Ryan. I chuckled. “My son won’t cut his wavy red hair, and he goes to St. Patrick’s and is also about to start his Senior Cycle. His name is Ryan.”
The girl turned beet red. She had just been talking about Ryan as a love interest to the boy’s mother. It’s always a twinge awkward for parents when they realize someone is thinking of their baby in that way.
“Are you Becky?”
“Yes, I am. You’ve heard of me?”
“Yes. My son talks about you all the time. He has a crush on you, but he needs encouragement.”
I put the finishing touches on Becky’s pixie cut and showed her the back with a hand mirror.
“Wow! So clean and tidy! I’m so glad I came to you to get the pixie cut I wanted. I had no idea shaggy Ryan had a barber parent.”
“I don’t believe in forcing people to conform to someone else’s desires. It needs to be Ryan himself who makes his own decisions.”
Later that week Ryan seemed perturbed. Becky had smiled at him encouragingly on several occasions, but when he tried to sit closer to her, she would get up and look at him mischievously while fingering her short pixie.
I considered telling him outright what Becky was trying to convey, but that would be too much. I needn’t have worried, because Ryan soon had an opportunity to figure it out. He’s a clever boy, my Ryan.
One day he had come home from school to find nobody home. Remembering that it was a Thursday night and the second Thursday of the month at that, he realized that Kevin would be at my shop, getting his regular trim. He needed his dad to sign something for school, so he came to the shop with his documents and a pen.
Ryan had never seen his dad’s trims before. He had no idea that this was sexy time for his parents, so he walked in on us and found Kevin sitting in a barber chair with me sitting astride him, my body draped over his, rubbing aftershave onto his nape in a rhythmic manner that suggested what my lower half was doing. He couldn’t see that I had my skirt pulled up or that I wasn’t wearing underwear, thank goodness.
“You caught me at a busy time, boy-o. sorry about that.”
Ryan was speechless, the poor thing. Nobody likes to walk in on their parents getting it on. Ryan stood there in shock until we finished.
After we had disengaged and Kevin had zipped up his trousers, he slid down from the chair and over to Ryan. “I’m really sorry you ended up seeing that. I hope we haven’t ruined your childhood forever, but this is how you came into the world.”
Kevin was clearly flustered as he blathered on about what was bleeding obvious.
“Is this why you wear your hair so short, Dad?” Ryan was beginning to figure things out.
“It’s a positive cycle. I let your mother cut my hair like this because she finds the result attractive to her, and I enjoy the actual haircut because of the associations it has. You’d be surprised at how much better women respond to a man when he gets a nice haircut.”
I could see Ryan’s lightbulb moment. Yes, that’s right. If you want to court Becky, you need to look attractive to her.
“Would I do better with girls if I had a short crewcut too?” Ryan was asking his dad, who was obviously doing well with this girl.
“Yes, in general you would.” Thank you, Kevin. Becky would be happy too.
By this time I had cleaned up my station and stepped back, allowing my skirts to fall back down. “You want a haircut, Ryan? It would be no trouble at all and your dad could go over those papers while I cut your hair.”
Ryan began fingering his neglected tresses. “Yes, if you think Becky would approve.”
“Of course she would. She told me so herself when she came here for her haircut.”
“Well then, what are you waiting for?” Kevin put a hand on Ryan’s shoulder, pushing his long hair out of the way to do it. Ryan gulped, then marched toward my chair.
I didn’t bother to wet his hair since water is bad for clippers. The first order of business was to take off most of the length. I gathered his hair in my hands, then motioned to Kevin to come hold the hair while I drilled through the impromptu ponytail with my clippers, then repeated on the other side.
At this point Ryan looked like he’d been in a lawnmower accident, but he said nothing. I sectioned his hair and popped on an attachment to the clippers. Ryan seemed to remember this part from when he was little, for he knew to put his chin on his chest next.
As I began plowing upwards through the hair, I remembered all the times that I had clippered Ryan’s hair when he was a little boy. He seemed to like his crewcut then, maybe because it made him look more like his daddy, and because it was a shortcut to parental approval. Now he was going back to the style in order to win the approval not of his mother, but of another woman.
Once I had reached his crown, I took down his left side, then his right, before changing the attachment on the clippers to begin the fade. It was then that I noticed that Ryan was actually smiling. I had worried that he didn’t really want to cut off his hair, but once he was feeling the clippers dancing up and down his head, the pleasure of the sensation seemed to take over.
I always enjoy edging around the ears, particularly pulling the ears forward and out in order to get better access. I like a sharp sideburn, too. Now that Ryan was 16, he had beard to shave, so that I had more options in delineating his sideburns.
Now, for the top. I wanted to make use of his natural wave, but I also wanted the hair to stand up even without product. I elected to snip each wave clump individually with scissors, but of course each lock would be no more than a centimeter. The resulting crewcut would be not really long enough to wave, but it would grow back wavy, rather than puffy.
When I came around to the front of his chair to adjust the fringe, I saw Ryan blush. I couldn’t blame him, given what he had seen me doing to his father from the front. Maybe someday he would find a wife who would play with him like this; maybe Becky would grow into that woman. At the moment they were still much too young. All I could hope for was that Ryan could learn another facet of what a healthy relationship looked like from having surprised his parents today.
The following week, I noticed Ryan smiling and happy. He didn’t have to tell me that Becky had asked him out.