A hair-raising rite of passage

A parent allows that every child deserves some victories

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One of the imponderables about human development is why a child's hair darkens as he or she ages: Many a blond has become an established brunette by the time adolescence strikes.

An even deeper imponderable is why teens dye their hair to achieve effects that nature, in her wildest mood, would never have conceived.

My 15-year-old son, Alyosha, is a case in point. When he was little, he was a real towhead, his blondness even more striking during the warm months, once the summer sun had done its work. Almost imperceptibly, his hair darkened until, by 13, his mop had turned a uniform chestnut brown.

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And that's just about when he began to hint that he'd like to be a blond again. Which, coincidentally, is when I learned to stare passively off into the distance and make irrelevant remarks about the weather or the price of imported auto parts.

"But it's my hair," he'd persist when he realized how cool I was to the idea of bleaching his locks. At that point I'd turn to him and, with one finger raised, address his desire head-on by stating, "Er, we'll think about it."

The "we'll think about it" maneuver worked for a couple of years. When my son entered high school back in September, however, he found himself among innumerable students with not only bleached hair, but orange hair with purple tips, purple hair with orange tips, and hair that had designs and initials shaved into it. Suddenly, the idea of simply bleaching hair seemed benign, if not timid.

But I still didn't like the idea, perhaps because I don't consider myself a vain person and so didn't like to see this quality in my son.

But Alyosha is nothing if not patiently persistent. And so, one day he called me from a friend's house.

"Dad," he said, "how are you doing?"

My radar clicked on. How was I doing? I was not accustomed to such altruism from a teenager in the middle of the day.

"Er, OK, I guess," was my tentative reply.

"Well," he said, drawing a deep breath, "I'm over at Jeff's...."

"Aha!"

"Dad," he pleaded. "His mom already has the stuff mixed. We can't let her down."

We? Why I felt that he had me over a barrel I'll never know, but my lip-biting assent came out as a series of moans and groans. Before hanging up I made a face-saving statement: "But no purple tips!"

That evening my son returned home with the hood of his sweatshirt pulled over his head. I looked up from my newspaper and swallowed hard for both of us. He pulled the hood back and smiled weakly. "What do you think, Dad?"

I knew what I thought, but I wasn't going to tell him that it looked as if he had a head full of yellow suds. Instead, I cleared my throat and nodded.

"Well," I said. "It's really something, isn't it?"

The thing was, my son was genuinely elated with the change. He had gotten something he had fought long and hard for, and so he attached great value to his new "do."

I didn't realize how truly happy he was until the next day, when I went to one of his basketball games and watched as his friends - boys and girls alike - surrounded him and admired his new look. I was taken by surprise when several of these classmates came over to me and told me that my son looked great.

It was as if they were saying, "See, Mr. Klose? That didn't hurt so much, did it now?"

Well, no. In fact, in time I came to realize that, while I enjoy ultimate jurisdiction in our home, it's important that a child have his share of victories.

I reminded myself that my son was generally obedient, picked his friends wisely, and didn't mess with tobacco, alcohol, or drugs. If an ocherous head of hair was the trade-off for these positive things, then I had gotten the best of the bargain.

In fact, in the weeks since his bleaching, some brown has grown up under the blond. An intervening haircut has served to highlight this contrast, to the point where this morning I placed my hand on his head and told him how good I thought he looked.

Alyosha threw me a broad smile. Then he reached out and ran his hand through my own hair. "You know, Dad," he said as he studied my head. "I know someone who can fix that gray."

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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