Wednesday, April 30, 2014

No Sir, I Will Not Cut My Hair

Early in my sophomore year (1972-73) at St. Augustine High School I attended a meeting in the school auditorium. The meeting's purpose was to introduce us newbies to high school Army ROTC in the hopes that we might join.

In other words, it was recruitment time.
At that point in my young life, I was still considering the military as a possible career. ROTC seemed like a good way to try it on ... see if it fit.

The speaker, a retired army Major, said his piece and then opened the room for questions.
I raised my hand.
He called on me.
"What about hair?" I asked,
"Do we have to cut our hair?"
There was a rustle in the hairy crowd, a murmur if you will ... I had voiced the collective thought of each long haired patriotic kid in the room.

The Major smiled (or was that a grimace) and shook his head.
"I'm tired of talking hair with you boys... hair is NOT an issue."

I signed up for ROTC class immediately.

ROTC turned out to be one of the best courses in my entire high school career. We learned military history, leadership, first aid, light tactics, drill, ceremony, how to polish brass ... ...never could get all the greenish Brasso polish out of my brass and it cost me demerits a time or two, but dang it was a fun course.

I completed that first year and signed up again for year 2 the next year. Late in my Junior year, ... about this time of year to be exact, the Major called me into his office.

After an evaluation and general praise for my leadership qualities, he said, "I want you to be the Battalion Commander next year." Almost in the same breath, he added, "You'll have to cut your hair of course."

Well ... crap.
I was afraid this might happen.
The senior who was the current Battalion Commander was as clean cut as Gomer Pyle.
He had also earned a scholarship by holding that position so it wasn't just an ego was a money thing.
(Scholarships were few and far between in the'70's, this was before Florida started "Bright Futures".)
It was kind of a big deal and I had just been handed a nice fat dilemma.

The Major

I thought about all the angles, the rewards, how proud my folks would be, a probable scholarship ...
"Major, two years ago you said that hair was not an issue." I then quoted him exactly, and held my breath, waiting to see what he would say.

He leaned back in his chair, grimaced again, and said,

"Well, yes, but this is the leadership position for the entire battalion and you have to project the correct image. Appearance is an issue for this position"

Of course, he was right. (Hindsight)
But, so was I. (Teensight)

In my teenage heart, it was a matter of principle. Here was a leader I admired, flip-flopping on a statement he had made just a year before.

So, I thanked him for his faith in me and then I declined the position.
"No Sir, I will not cut my hair. I took you at your word last year and I'm sorry you changed your mind on that issue, but I respectfully decline Battalion Commander. Thank you for considering me."
I walked out feeling a mix of feelings, but mostly a heady pride in standing my ground.
Later at home, my Dad shook his head, but did not get mad.

I stayed in ROTC, a good friend with short hair got the Battalion Commander position and a scholarship, the Major ( a good man by the way)  didn't seem to hold any grudges, and neither did I.
The third and final year of ROTC was just as good as the first two.

Now, deep into a 26 year career working with kids, I think of that day sometimes  when a teenager is making a stubborn prideful decision that "grown up" me is trying to talk them out of,
 and...confession time ...
... I do a secret smile when they stick to their guns.


Miz S said...

Youth! With all its passion and its heightened sense of integrity! I wonder if your dad was remembering a moment from his own adolescence.

threecollie said...

Big smile! I remember those hair days. My mom used to make my younger brother "get a haircut" on those luxuriant locks, which so fit his image as a drummer. So he had big sis do the job. Hey, a couple of inches is a haircut right? I had a lot of business from the neighbor boys. Good for you sticking to your guns! And remembering what it is like to be a kid. So few people do.

Julie Zickefoose said...

Oh, does this post speak to me. Being a parent is, in part, about letting go gently, about coming to the realization that you've got an autonomous person standing before you, one who might not see the necessity of doing what you feel is so very necessary--and who is willing to bear the consequences of it. So it was when my daughter refused to apply to my alma mater. It wasn't for her, and she made that perfectly clear. "Don't come to me in 20 years and ask me why I didn't force you to apply." And she won't. Great post. My brother was ROTC at Va Tech all the way, and recently finished his service in the National Guard. It effected quite a change. And the first thing he had to do was cut his giant soft brown Beatle wig.

Pablo said...

At last! Another tale of your misspent youth. Though not so misspent. Amazing how much your boy looks like you.

Doug Taron said...

I suddenly have Crosby Stills and Nash "Almost Cur My Hair" in my head.

robin andrea said...

Nice hair! I'm glad you kept it back then and were true to yourself. It's not easy being a teenager who expects adults to keep their word. One more reason why you are such a good teacher and role model.

Mark P said...

Ha! Back when I was in high school (graduated in 1968 from an all-boys private school) there was no long hair. No facial hair. No sideburns. Maybe that's why upon graduation I almost immediately grew a beard, which I have kept almost since that day. Anyway, good for you, and good for the major for not holding a grudge.

Helen Ostermiller said...

Our son received an NROTC scholarship for college, but after a year, decided he wasn't a fit and they parted ways. He retained his deep friendships with his NROTC buddies, though, and the consensus from them was that he shouldn't cut his hair again till after graduation! And long hair he had until after graduation from Cornell!

Aunty Belle said...

FC!!! Youse alive!?!? Did I come here a month or so back and find nuthin' but blue screen? Why , I tell ya' I was laid low if' happy to see ya back...even wif' them Samson locks. Youse mighty handsome in them days. Pappy Cracker be a Marine, so reckon what Aunty learned to tell sweet young fellas who wandered up onto the porch hoping to sit in the porch swing wif' 15 year ole AB? "If mah Daddy catches ya' heah, youse gonna git a free haircut."

R.Powers said...

Thanks for the stories and input everybody!
Aunty, No blue screen should be here, I am so busy, my daily posting has been dropped way back, but I'm here for the duration.
Always awesome to hear from you.

LaDivaCucina said...

Oh Raymundo! This story cracks me up and I can sooo relate. My hair meant everything to me back in the day (still does!) and getting a "buzz" cut then meant a certain nerd classification. Nice story and nice to see you again!

roger said...

well done fc.

Alan W. Cohn said...

i am very impress with it... thanks to share.