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Illustration by Mary Kirkpatrick

First Person is a daily personal piece submitted by readers. Have a story to tell? See our guidelines at tgam.ca/essayguide.

With hair salons closed again in my city, I decided to take matters into my own hands. Through the first wave of the pandemic, I rocked the long and shaggy look – just like Justin Trudeau. But as soon as it was allowed, I went into the barbershop to get it all cut off. For this second wave, I’ve decided on kempt versus unkempt for my look. And since I’m keeping contact to a minimum, I asked my wife to pick up the clippers.

She fumbled a bit when she turned it on and, with trepidation, started just behind my ear. The buzzing sound was an immediate trigger back to my childhood.

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Money was an issue for my parents in the 1950s and 60s. They had three young mouths to feed. Both had lived through the Depression and learned where to cut corners. One of the ways they could save was home haircuts for me and my brother. My sister, somehow, escaped unscathed.

The process started after dinner, usually on a Friday night, with my dad going down to the basement and getting the converted wooden high chair they had kept from when we were babies. It had multiple coats of yellow paint and the arms and tray were removed, so it was just a tall chair used only for barbering. It had little bits of hair in all of the crevices.

Whoever was closest went first; we were just sheep to be shorn. My mom did the cut and my dad stayed close by to keep order. They used a plastic sheet to keep the hair off of us, but it still itched and bath night wasn’t until Saturday, so I had a full 24 hours of itch ahead of me.

My friend Jim went to the barber and got a brush cut that had some length at the front and, with a little dab of Brylcreem, he could make the front stand up. I envied his cut. Any time I walked past a barbershop, I always slowed down and looked in longingly.

My home haircuts were so traumatizing that I got a paper route, partly to be able to take ownership of my hair. I wanted a barbershop haircut and was willing to pay for it.

In Grade 8, there was a girl who was interested in me and I became even more conscious of my home ‘do. Flush with my paper-route riches, I rebelled and went to Dominic, the local barber, recommended by my friend. I loved the patter of the barbers talking to their customers, the blue container of Barbicide disinfectant that the combs were kept in, the smell of talc and the swish of the striped cape as they removed it and shook it in the air to get it ready for the next customer.

When it was my turn and I got in the chair, Dominic greeted me and asked me in his thick Italian accent, “I’ve never seen you before. You new here?”

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“Yeah – I’m new,” I said, not catching his eye. I didn’t want to say that I just lived around the corner and had been getting home haircuts.

“How you want it?”

I knew exactly: “Short on the sides; a little bit longer on top, and a little longer in the front so it stands up.”

We carried on small talk and the buzz of a professional’s clippers in my ear was never so welcome.

My parents were pretty ticked at me, but by now it was the 60s, and the times they were a-changin’. My social upheaval began and ended with control of my head.

I started high school in 1967 and had full decision-making powers on my hair. I grew it, and my dad scowled.

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“Not the way a man should wear his hair,” he grumbled.

I grew it long during the hippie era and I had it permed during the disco era. About 20 years ago, I shaved it all off during a trip to England, just to see what it felt like. It was liberating, but my wife didn’t like it.

“At your age, if you’ve got hair, you’ve gotta grow it and show it,” was her comment

As time passed, I had settled into overpaying at a salon for my haircuts. Then the pandemic struck. And with this second wave, I’m rethinking my hair. I’m at home hiding most of the time anyway, who’s going to see me? The real issue now is to stay healthy, but I feel like I need to keep a tidy head to make myself feel good.

So my wife and I looked at some YouTube videos. She said there was no way she was even going to attempt a fade. If I wanted her to cut my hair, it was all one length – or nothing.

We had clippers that I used for keeping my beard stubble in check, but I could only find two attachments, No. 2 and No. 4 lengths.

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Not that I was a particularly tough customer, but my wife was nervous. She had never done this before. Maybe she was afraid of botching it. Maybe she was afraid of clipping my ear. I tried to calm her. “Have a drink if it will help,” I said.

We started with the No. 4 attachment. Better to stay safe by going longer, but my hair hardly seemed trimmed. I think it was the angle she was holding the clippers, but I didn’t say anything.

“Let’s ditch the 4 and go with the deuce.” She clipped it on and I reassured her again that it was impossible to make a mistake. Just keep going over it until it’s all one length. She got into a rhythm and although it took quite a while, she got the job done. There was much more fun and frivolity with her cutting it than with my dad’s forced cuts.

After she left the room, vanity prevailed and I got out the mirror to check the sides, front and back – just in case she had botched it. All was good.

So, I have come full circle. I have the short, all-one-length look that my dad used to give me. But I look at haircuts differently now. Hair grows. And at my age, still having hair to cut is a bonus.

Brad Furlott lives in Toronto.

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