I've never liked getting my hair cut. As a shy child, the salons my mum took me to were terrifying. All those sharp edges, the heads covered in tinfoil, the spray bottles that looked like the ones my granddad used to kill weeds. The hairdressers would run their blood-red fingernails through my curls and say, "I'd kill for hair like yours." I didn't want to die. I didn't want the hair of a middle-aged woman in leopard-print leggings, either.
Male grooming has come a long way in the past 20 years. Just look at rugby players. Back in 93, aside from bald Bull Allen on the bench and Jeff "Goldie" Wilson on the wing, the All Blacks were a team of "short back and sides". Compared to today's coiffed, dreadlocked and dyed dynamos, the old guard looks positively North Korean.
But many of us average blokes missed the boat. We've never had a faux-hawk or frosted tips. We're wary of hairdressers. We may struggle with small talk, or the intimacy of having a stranger touch our head. Some are defeated by the dilemma of describing the haircut we want without being able to speak "hair". Salon anxiety is at the root of the ultimate fashion crime: the male ponytail.
The biggest bother for me has always been the day after you get the chop. While most females see a trip to the salon as a positive transformative experience, one that should be commented on, I'd rather no-one noticed. "Looking sharp, Craig," gets flipped in my head to: "You were looking a bit scruffy yesterday."
All these factors mean that I can only remember paying for one haircut since I left high school. It was October 2006. Justin Timberlake's Sexyback was the No 1 song. I'd finished my master's and I was heading back into the workforce. I didn't expect to be turned into the next JT, but for the price I paid at least I could be the next Nick Lachey. No such luck.
Every trim since has been delivered by my wife with a pair of $20 clippers. A No 3 all over. A No 2 if I'm feeling daring. It's cheap, reliable and limits the chance of getting any comments the next day at work: "Oh, your hair is slightly shorter, just like it was two months ago. Neat."
But it's been hard to find the time to be shorn recently, between feeding, bathing, jiggling, swaddling and shushing our wee one. When the offer of a cheap trim at a new barber popped up on GrabOne, I took the leap.
The Boar & Blade was as manly as it sounds. Instead of small talk we discussed the NBA playoffs. I never got sprayed with weed-killer. The barber, Brendon, translated my "shorter around the sides, longer on top" into a proper haircut with a bit of styling mousse at the end for good measure.
The next day at work a colleague told me I looked 10 years younger. My first thought: Did I look 40 the day before, or 20 now? But I did feel different. If not younger, at least more current.
You never know how many haircuts you have left. Why not make each one count?
Craig Cliff is a writer belatedly discovering the wonders of a good haircut. He writes a fortnightly column.
- The Dominion Post