No disrespect to Dad, of course, but I never really understood
Why Mom insisted on combing my hair in just that particular way
With those little ‘dags’ always sticking out on the sides.
The lookalike thing was fun when I was little, but as I grew up,
I wanted to be myself, to be my own man. I asked to change it
When I was sixteen, but she got around me just as easily
As she always got around him. The hair stayed as it was.
I even kept wearing those one-button shirts, just like his.
Years passed. After Dad died, I finally ventured out
And found a college 300 miles away — close enough
For visits, but far enough that I felt independent, able
To make my own decisions and, more importantly,
To make myself something other than a living memorial
To my father. The barber I chose said he’d never seen a cut like it.
I told him to take a picture, because it would soon be gone.
He trimmed it down into a generic cut that I picked
From the poster by his mirror. He chatted away as he cut.
I mumbled assent occasionally, thinking of my new, different life.
For me, the cut symbolized everything regrettable about Dad:
Eccentric, almost willfully so; sticking out inconveniently,
Yet docile, deferential, even kind of dumb. I was done with it.
The barber brushed and patted and sprayed it with something,
And told me I looked great. In the mirror sat the new man,
Moving when I moved, standing when I stood, brow furrowing
At the exact moment that something looked unsettlingly familiar.
The shop faded away, leaving only me and the staring stranger.
I pushed my hair to the right. He pushed his to the left. I pushed mine back,
As did he. My heart thumped, and I wished I had a sandwich.
For no reason I know, I was holding the barber’s skinny comb.
My hand moved, held it under my nose, not unlike a mustache,
And I knew. I knew him then. I knew myself, and I knew why Mom
Spent all those mornings brushing and combing and spraying my hair
To avoid this moment: The man in the mirror could be none other
Than Mr. Woodley — Herb Woodley, from next door. Dad’s best friend
Who’d died in retirement, down in Florida. The resemblance was clear.
The intolerable moment passed. The barber was still talking. I settled and left.
For the next while, I kept to my room until it was long enough
To restore the way I’d always looked. Well, I stayed in college two years —
Enough to learn I was no office worker; I ended up becoming a mailman.