Occasionally I write about issues I face as a parent. And for the most part, these posts have been well accepted. However, I have received email and other feedback from readers who thought these posts were too highly personal to be posted on a blog. Yet, I do so because first and foremost, I desire this blog to be a place to exchange ideas, to work through questions and issues that although may be personal, others might be going through the exact same thing and asking the exact same questions.
That being said, when I was a young man, before I left the house each morning, my mother would give both me and my brothers and sisters the once over. When we left, we were expected to be well groomed and neatly dressed. My mother stood between us and the door and made sure our hair was combed, and we were all lotion-ed or Vaseline-ed up and shining like a new dime, and our clothes were neatly pressed, and our shirts tucked securely in our pants which were cinched tightly around our waists with a belt.
She would even do that annoying thing where she would wet her thumb with the tip of her tongue, and then wipe off any real or imagined debris on our faces.
Mother had three reasons for being so fastidious about our appearance. She reasoned, and perhaps rightly so, that our appearance had a bearing on our conduct, and that people often judged others by something so utterly superficial as their appearance. Lastly, and of most importance to her, she believed that how we looked and how we conducted ourselves outside the house was a direct reflection on her and my father.
Now let’s flash forward to the present. The summer before my youngest son’s last year of middle school, he begin grooming a beard. I don’t know. Blame it on the hormones in the food or whatever, but one day he was this little baby-faced middle-schooler, and the next day he looked like Grizzly Adams.
Shortly thereafter he sought me out to teach him how to shave. And we had this beautiful father and son moment. We stood in front of the mirror, and I taught him to treat the area to be shaved with a thin coat of Vaseline or lotion so that the razor didn’t come in contact with the skin. And to wet his face before applying the shaving cream. And to shave with the grain to prevent razor bumps.
It was a beautiful moment. But then a few months later, the summer before he was to enter high school, he declared that not only was he done shaving, he was not going to cut his hair anymore either. And over the course of the summer, he proceeded to grow this scraggly, nappy beard, and allowed his hair to grow into this unkempt, raggedy, pyramid-shaped afro.
I said nothing at first. I figured that sooner or later he would grow tired of it all, and then shave and seek out a haircut of his own accord. But when school started, he still had not changed his mind, so I took matters in my own hands and ordered him to the barber shop. However, he resisted, and my wife defended his decision with some argument about individuality and self-expression, so I eventually capitulated.
That was about eight months ago, and now he looks like an absolute wild man. Not only that, his wardrobe now consists of blue jeans, t-shirts or polo-styled shirts, and Chuck Taylors. He refuses to wear clothes with corporate logos or wear leather tennis shoes because of his concern for animal rights. And oh yeah, he has become a vegetarian.
In his defense, though, he may look like a vagabond, but he is a really good kid. He has never gotten into any trouble throughout school, not even a teacher phone call, and he makes good grades. Not only that, he attends a high school for the arts, and when I go to his school, all those damn kids look and dress weird to me, so he is not that out of place. In fact, amid the crazy tattoos and the piercings and the colored hair, he looks almost normal.
But in the same instance, this is my child. Every morning as he walks out the front door and I see his appearance, I grit my teeth. Nevertheless, I love him, nappy beard, raggedy afro, and all. But I do know how harshly African American males are judged because of their appearance; sometimes people can’t and won’t give them credit for the power of their intellect because they cannot get past their appearance, and I want him to be able to take advantage of every and all opportunity that comes his way.
Not only that, I see a number of young African American men, and women, too, for that matter, who fail to see how their appearance affects the opportunities available to them. But I'm being told that I am old-fashioned, that the world has changed since my youth. However, even as I look around, I don't see the world as being so different.
Am I being too harsh? Am I being too judgmental?