Thursday, September 17, 2009

Golf and a Haircut

I had coffee with a friend and classmate this morning and the subject of golf came up. This was not because either of us golfs with any regularity, but because we were talking about hairdressers.

We discovered an interesting connection.

As any woman will tell you, her hairdresser must, first and foremost, be skilled at cutting/coloring hair, and doing so in a way that is individually tailored to face shape, hair texture and color, age, career and life considerations--the list of requirements is long.

Once these criteria are met, usually after several less than perfect experiences (it is sometimes a merciful quality of hair that it grows as fast as it does), the next level of operations comes into play. As soon as you feel assured that your hairdresser (let's say it's a woman, though it could also be a man) can do what you want and like with your hair, you no longer even think about it. In fact, you take her skill for granted.

But here's the key that unlocks the mystery many men see in the relationship between a woman and her hairdresser: the hairdresser's main role is confidant. I'm sure there's something I wouldn't discuss with my hairdresser, but at the moment I can't think of what it might be.

This role derives from one simple fact: if she has been helping women with their hair for any length of time, she has heard just about everything at least once. She has seen reactions, she has seen success, and she has seen failure. She knows happiness and grief; generosity and envy; kindness and nastiness; and every other polarity--as well as the range between them--that you can imagine.

It is unlikely you will bring a completely new story to an experienced hairdresser. The details will be different; the timing and consequences may be unique. But she already holds the basket into which you can set your fruit. She can therefore give you more comfort and better advice than just about anyone else. And she offers you an ear--bless her, she's captive as she's working on your hair.

Obviously, we need our therapists and our pastors and our friends. Very few of us can stand alone and face life's vicissitudes without help from others. But over and above that, when you really need to try out new ideas about who you are, or what you want, or what you might do, your hairdresser is your go-to person.

How does this relate to golf?

When my grandfather had to give up the game at 96 because he was losing his peripheral vision, he was understandably upset. He had been at it since the age of 16--in other words, he had been golfing for 80 years.

"Grandpa," I said, "you must be a fine golfer."

My grandfather shook his head gently. "No," he said. "I'm a very average golfer."

He must have seen the incredulity I was trying to hide.

"It has never been about the golf," he said. "It has always been about the company. Outside in all kinds of weather with three buddies week after week, year after year--that's what I'll miss." He let a great sigh escape. "Those fellows kept me sane."

And that's the connection: women have their hairdressers and men have their golf buddies (though I know there are also men with hairdressers and women who golf).

If I had asked my grandfather a direct question about the therapeutic value of golf, he might not have admitted it. He was from a generation that considered therapy with the same enthusiasm as they relished insanity. But when he told me what he would miss the most about golf, the therapeutic value of his game was clear to both of us.

There are two sacred dates on our calendars: hair appointments and tee times. Is it any mystery why most of us will juggle just about everything else in order to be there on time?

Photography: Drops of water, Staffan Enborn, Finland, July 10, 2004;; I can't remember where I got the hairdresser photo but if it is yours, please let me know and I'll credit you or remove it.

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