A purple streak. I smiled. Bravely. Stifling my secret fear that the incongruous ribbon of Technicolor interrupting my daughter flow of sun-bleached blonde hair was a harbinger of . . . of what? Navel rings? Nostril spikes? The Ting Tings' lyrics tattooed across her lower back?
I peered at the cartoon color (Was it more magenta than purple?) and tried to see the future. She was (a few more weeks, anyway) 12. Was this act of dye-fiance the first volley in the long awful conflict I've heard other described in tones that evoke fear and loathing?
What I didn't utter, not a word, were the expletives,threats and sarcasms my friends and I endured when we veered from our parents notion of 1960s fashion norms. Not that I didn't think it.
Unhappily, I had been limited in my own hairy deviance. First by my military prep school's dress code. Hair was kept short. Civilian clothes were forbidden, though I kept a contraband pair of Wejun penny loafers hidden underneath my locker. At least they weren't purple.
Then it was six years in the Army reserve. At the weekend drills, I kept my hair slightly longer than allowable by greasing it up with Dippity-Do hair gel and stuffing the illegal lengths up under my military cap. On a hot day, the gel would melt and run down into my eyes. If my cap fell off -- almost an impossibility under that sticky mass -- the effect was something to behold. A great black shining glob that looked like a lab experiment gone bad.
After my (barely) honorable discharge from the clutches of U.S. Army, my efforts to emulate the flowing long hair of the hip-and-groovy-peace-and-love set was thwarted by the peculiar propensity of my own locks to defy gravity at the level of my nape. reverse direction and curl upward. The effect was something like the hairstyle worn by TV star Marlo Thomas in That Girl. Worse, it looked as if it was an intended effect. Like I spent the night before in hair curlers. It was not a groovy look
While I managed a poor excuse for a Fu Manchu mustache, the attempt at a beard was a sparse fashion failure with the texture of pubic hair. I sat through the musical Hair seething with secret resentment. Me and the bald guys.
Those memories bounced around my brain as I contemplated the purple streak. And I realized, once again, that my great overwhelming fear is that my kid might be like me.
The week before, an old friend was describing his college freshman daughter's first serious boyfriend. A kind of a geek. Shy. Sober. Dorky. Unlikely to drive fast, consume prodigious amounts of beer, cheat on his lover, fight, indulge in forbidden substances. The boy was no one, we realized, that either of us would have hung around with in our day. He was exactly the sort of kid we wanted bring home our daughters on a Saturday night. Someone - please God - not like us.
But a purple streak. The effect left my in a purple haze. No. No. I have no idea what that means. Except that I've got this vague feeling that being a parent of a teenie promises to be a long, mendacious exercise in utter hypocrisy.
Hey, I told my daughter. You're just like me. Check out my gray streak.