Every experience is formative

It was the policy of the Pflugerville Independent School District (located just north of Austin, Texas) that all high school boys come to school with their whiskers shaved. “Whiskers,” it was explained to me, were facial hairs growing on the chin, neck, and cheeks. Mustaches somehow were exempt.

One morning, I got sent to the principal’s office for distributing unapproved literature on school grounds. The remaining copies of the underground newspaper I helped produce were confiscated, and my band of co-conspirators was given a stern talking to. Then I got pulled aside on a technicality. The head principal decided that the facial hair on my chin (that I so wanted to let grow into a goatee) merited a shave.

In the principal’s office was a large glass jar of pink Bic razors, which a student could buy for 25 cents, were he caught in violation of the facial hair code. The principal “loaned” me a quarter, handed me a razor, and directed me to the bathroom. I considered shaving—even though I didn’t know how, I’d always used an electric shaver—but I ended up just sitting there on the toilet contemplating my situation. Eventually I decided that I was not going to submit.

I emerged from the bathroom, and he became enraged at my “willful insubordination.” He turned red, quite literally. So I was sent off to a day of in-school suspension.

At some point, maybe it was after I was released, maybe it was the next day, I found myself explaining what happened to my 11th grade AP English teacher. She told me about a friend who had to cut his hair as a condition of getting a new job. I think her point was that even in “the real world” adults sometimes have to sacrifice their personal style.

I immediately seized on a key difference. He had a choice. He didn’t have to take that job if he wanted to keep his hair. But I was forced to go to high school. I had no choice. And what sort of stupid job would force someone to cut their hair? At the time I was also growing my hair out, primarily to challenge another asinine policy: dictating that a boy’s hair be no longer than the top of his collar. Male ponytails were also verboten. In public high school!

Anyway, her reasoning just wasn’t working on me. I felt completely justified in my disobedience. And then she hit me with a zinger: “If you’re not in class, I cannot teach you.”

Anyways, the moral of this story is not that you shouldn’t be rebellious, but that some times there are unintended consequences of doing so. So be prepared. In high school, I sucked it up and found ways to “stay out of trouble”…so that I wouldn’t miss class. In “adult” life, I find that “choosing my battles” is a constant balance.


Great post…you surprised me with where you were going with it.

I suppose the same is true of any part of our outward appearance, but I’m fascinated by how much symbolism our hair holds.

Wonderful post. I can relate to it in so many ways. Thanks for sharing.

The older I get the less value I put on my outward appearance being different than others. NOT because I think wearing art school black is bad for me now. (i miss my combat boots sometimes…) But because I’ve found a better camouflage.

I discovered a decade ago that I wanted to help create change in other peoples lives. Positive change that is individual and collective at the same time. To do this I slowly became willing to wear the costumes of a few. (I still add my flair tho’) I see it as removing a wall to work within systems like business and politics.

Its amazing how subversive a medium short hair cut can be. While folks are busy making generalizations we can do what is not expected of us. Be loving compassionate men who really help others. THAT is independent and radical.


And the moral of the story is… Are you now balancing the choice of some particular battle?

I’m with your dad. I would like the key to the subtext.

There are things that happen every day that cause me to consciously question what I’m doing, who I am, where I’m going, what things mean, what I want, what I could do better. It’s hard for me to sit still or stay satisfied for very long.

Sometimes I think I can trace this to experiences I had in high school, a few classes with a few teachers who turned on this self-awareness/introspection spiggot that just never got turned off. Or maybe it’s just me.

All this to say there’s not one battle or subtext I’m thinking about, there are dozens.

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