So he turns thirteen years old, he has a music library on his I-Pod with punk classics banging on his eardrums, has given himself a nom de punk like Johnny Rotten, and has covered the pretty wallpaper you spent a week hanging when he was five with posters of greasy haired pop stars like Joey Ramone. And getting him to wash his hair requires more negotiations than nuclear disarmament talks. When he does finally take the shampoo plunge, the city should have been warned to open the slew gates, as his shower lasts longer than a walking trip along the entire length of the Great Wall of China.
"I won't need another shower for a while, dad. I put it all into that one. "
The little box you kept your baby in, is being peeled open, and the first step to youth is coming out. You've seen him hang around the neighborhood girls, jump on the skateboard bandwagon and jousted with others. There may already have been a split lip from a fight. His vocabulary likely includes words that would make grandma's teeth rattle. And now he comes with the request that sends shivers down every follicle on your bland normal haircut - “I want a Mohawk, Dad. "
The first image that pops into your head, after you steady yourself against the wall, is Last of the Mohicans. “Are you insane?" you say. And then you try and tell him that a Mohawk requires more maintenance than a Ford, and the supply chain to keep it erect is filled with products that will surely lead to premature baldness and membership in the Hair Club for Men at nineteen. “Girls don't like bald men, " you tell him, stroking your thinning weave. It falls on deaf ears, as his headphones are in, listening to Thrash at top volume. So you ponder his request, should I let my newly minted teenager show a hairy middle finger to the world?
Like Hamlet, you procrastinate, fobbing him off with the usual, “Maybe tomorrow. " You linger in thought, anxious, wondering about his growing desires for choice and independence. Should you encourage it? When should you let go and allow him to make all his own stylish decisions? And what will grandma say? Then you weigh up the consequences of saying that troublesome two-letter word that many parents never use on their sires. You imagine your kid coming at you with a tomahawk, ready to scalp you for saying “No. "
But you worry that “No" will lead to resentment. And future acts of explosive rebellion will be coming in the post, to be unexpectedly opened with a bang. Maybe a tattoo when he's fifteen, hidden at first, shown off in bravado at the family barbecue or the dreaded knock on the door from the police, or the father of a daughter with a new bump.
Settlement and negotiation seem reasonable. “No" is far too risky. The New Mohawk Deal requires improvement in the grades next semester, a tidy room, and discipline in taking out the garbage every week. Mandatory reading of quality books, including, Last of the Mohicans, because you hope this Native American haircut will be the last! Art projects must be started and finished and he must listen to Chopin's Piano Sonato Number 14 in C Minor to balance out jumping around to I Kill Children by the Dead Kennedys. Subscription to National Geographic is this year's Xmas gift. And finally, the coup de grace, mow that lawn, son! It's your job.
You might work a deal but no longer does his childhood come with a free deposit, when you had your whole self, shaping him, building up his account with your coin. And here comes the regret, a feeling of ending the first part of a journey, and maybe even a hint of nostalgia for the old days of strollers and bed-wetting. Nostalgia is a dangerous substance as addictive as wishful thinking. But that's all you've got to go on. Hoping he turns out fine. Hoping he makes the right choices, whether it is a haircut or something split with more serious ends. And you think back to the Last of the Mohicans and pray that life doesn't scalp your kid.