Advisory: This contains Mom and Dad details

Advisory: This contains Mom and Dad details

I think it might have been my last haircut.

From now on, I have a feeling I’m just going to let it grow.

By the time a guy’s my age, he’s not supposed to have much hair left, yet here I am, still just a month or two away from having it hit my shoulders again.

They say baldness skips a generation, but I wouldn’t know much about that, having met my grandfathers for a total of about an hour or so. One was dead before I was even born, and the other was gone before I could even ask him about baseball or his favorite movie.

As far as their hair goes, I’m at a loss.

So that leaves my father, who, as anyone who remembers him will attest, always looked good, his silver hair striking a nice contrast to his summer tan, earned not idling at a beach but cultivating the backyard garden he tended with the same intensity he devoted to his classes.

As a college professor in the mid-’60s and early ‘70s — my Wonder Years — Dad spent a lot of his time on a typical American campus, and as the war protests intensified and the generation gap widened, he developed a finely tuned sense of what the counterculture was … and what it wasn’t.

And when he grew his sideburns out, letting them drop below his earlobes in the fullness of their silent statement of purpose, he looked beyond good.

He looked pretty cool.

He wore his hair longer than most of his contemporaries but never crossed the line into nonironic caricature, staying true to his credo.

“Everything in moderation,” he used to say.

Three simple words that carried a message that was anything but.

“You’re a child of excess,” my mother used to say, not nastily, simply trying to give me the other side of the equation.

Between them, I charted a course for a life that, while it may not have turned out as grandly meaningful as I’d hoped, has been filled with lots of stories, a lot of which I’ve been lucky enough to share.

Readers like you have saved me from just talking to myself all these years, and your feedback has been a blessing I’ve never taken for granted. Recently, though, I’ve begun to betray a pledge I made way back in 1990 when I began this series of weekly columns.

I could blame the pandemic, I suppose, and no one would bat an eye, figuring we’ve all had to make changes that would have seemed unthinkable a year ago. I mean when was the last time you sat down in a restaurant without feeling uneasy or walked into a bar knowing fatal infection lurked around the pool table?

And forget going to a theater or getting on an airplane. Those are behaviors that may soon be relegated to sepia-toned memories similar to vaudeville shows and stagecoach journeys.

But it’s the added burden of aging without accomplishing anything of consequence that has given weight to a sense of impotent inertia, an empty ennui and, essentially, a lack of purpose, which is wrong.

On so many levels, it is a failure of imagination, and that’s what I’m supposed to be so good at, having convinced myself that, at the very least, I’d always offer a personal reply to every single piece of mail, electronic or old-school, be it good, bad or indifferent.

And yet that stack of unopened correspondence grows weekly, accusingly, and I keep waiting for that sense of honor, of solidarity, to kick in, freeing me from the valley I’ve found myself in since my last birthday.

It was, karma-like, the last time my wife and I enjoyed a restaurant meal without face masks, social distancing and distrust that accompanies today’s tribal culture of hideously partisan division.

“There’s battle lines being drawn.

and nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong.”

So sang the Buffalo Springfield in 1967, a time when my father was teaching his political science students wariness while at home his three preteen children were just becoming aware of the world.

In 1968 everything exploded, and we know the name of that tune.

Dad voted for Nixon.

Four years later he’d cast his ballot for George McGovern.

If that’s all you ever remember about my father — not his dignity or his intellect or his love for family and friends — that’s OK.

He’d be fine with that. He would understand how it mattered.

Dad didn’t often respond to what I wrote, especially after my work disappeared from my hometown paper and began appearing in the next town over.

By then he’d remarried and begun building a new wing to the split-level life he spent the last 16 years remodeling, making room for an extended family that loved him too.

There was one exception, though. I found a note tacked to my door.

I’d devoted a thousand words or so to the doomed presidential campaign of Bobby Kennedy and what I remembered from those few months — March to June 1968 — when, as an eighth-grader in parochial school, I realized what a rare thing hope actually was.

My writing wasn’t extreme or partisan.

It was simply the truth as I knew it.

And Dad appreciated that.

“Fine writing,” he scrawled. “The hope you captured still lingers.”

I got my hair cut last week. It was the first time I’d been back to see the nice woman who’s been brave enough to carry that burden for many years.

I walked into her shop a few days after my 65th birthday.

“I have no idea when I’ll see you again,” I said that winter morning, knowing the coronavirus could upend everything, “so you better cut most of it off.”

And there I was again, five months later, asking she do it again.

“Your hair just grows so fast,” my wife said when she saw the new me in her den. “It won’t be long until it’s time to get it cut again.”

But I’m thinking that could be it. Given a choice between “everything in moderation” and “a child of excess,” it’s clear.

I just wish I could grow those fantastic sideburns like Dad’s.

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