He and I have a longstanding, Saturday morning date. I arrive fifteen minutes to eight and park my car directly behind his copper-colored, Infiniti Q70 Hybrid. He owns the popular, mid-city barbershop – Perry’s Place. The modern, two-level building sits on the corner of Sedgewood and Middleton Parkway. It’s directly across the street from Gino’s infamous, pizza & sub shop. I’m always the first customer to arrive, as to secure my spot as Perry’s first cut of the day. He unlocks the glass door as he sees me coming, flipping the white, cardboard sign from CLOSE to OPEN. I greet him with a bass filled, ‘good morning’, and he replies, ‘wassup’. Between the heavy bites he takes from his sausage, egg and cheese, sour dough biscuit, Perry sips from a sixteen ounce bottle of water. He always offers me the half of his breakfast sandwich that is still wrapped. I routinely decline. We’ve never discussed the fact that I’m a vegetarian, but then again, there are a lot of details about my life that I don’t go out of my way to share at the barbershop.
Inhaling the aroma of wintergreen skin oils blended with musk-like pomades and lemon based Lysol, I take the empty seat in front of Perry’s barber chair. A crinkled, five by seven photograph of his daughter hangs above the row of dangling, gray and black clippers. Beside a collection of white, hand mirrors, Perry has a copy of his owner’s permit and license that are framed and on display. His center booth is always the cleanest and most organized amongst the other barbers who tend to stroll in around nine o’clock or nine thirty.
There’s a reclined manliness that shapes Perry’s Place. I never feel as if I have to go out of my way to butch up before coming to get my haircut. I wear my favorite, yellow flip-flops from Abercrombie & Fitch, paired with light denim shorts that are cuffed at the knee. Though I have friends and associates who put on their baggy, high top, colorless boy-drag before they go to the barbershop on Saturday mornings, I’m comfortable wearing the same clothing I run my errands in. Sometimes, tension mounts between the neighborhood boys and myself, as they walk in with no appointments, wearing sweats and other nonnegotiable, masculine attire. I know they see me in my foofoo accouterments of style and wonder where I get the guts to ingrain my expression of manliness into their urban dwelling. Visually digging for the pink cues and soft hues that would normally color a black man queer, these locals aren’t able to make sense of the easy back and forth that flows between Perry and I. Perry is the razor sharp alpha male; father, business owner and big brother figure to many of the patrons.
He scurries around the shop in his black, Adidas flip-flops. Carrying a broom in one hand and his partially eaten sandwich in the other, I watch Perry slide between stations. The telephone has already begun to sound off. Perry dashes into the back of the shop to take the calls. He tosses me the television remote and asks if I can power on the flat screen that hangs above the wall mirror. I always turn to CNN in an effort to create a moment where Perry and I aren’t forced to negotiate conversations that either focus on my love life or his affection for sports. He is more intriguing to me when openly expressing his views about Obama’s most recent executive orders, than he is when he discusses the pre-season, football lineup.
Perry heated the white towels by the deep, basin sink. He raised his voice over the CNN correspondent to tell me how crazy he thinks people are for even talking about impeaching President Obama. I responded, telling Perry that Obama will forever be chastised for basically being a civil rights politician. At that moment, one of the young, neighborhood guys sitting two seats down from me jumped up and shoved his iphone in Perry’s face. He’s one of many who respects Perry’s hustle. “This the bitch I smashed two weeks ago…the one I was telling you about!”, the boy shouted. Perry laughed out loud, covering his mouth with a bald up fist. He then joked in response, “if she has an older sister, you need to find out and give me her name on Instagram”.
Perry is a typical guy on the surface, but then again, he isn’t. His only tattoo is of praying hands, inked onto his upper, right arm. The tiny, black diamond studs he wears in each ear compliment his basic, tee shirt and basketball shorts style. We’re just about the same height, maybe five-eleven. He’s six feet tall at the most. His face is clean-shaven and butternut smooth. Aside from the thin, dark brown hairs that coil beneath his chin and strap across his top lip, his facial hair is barely there. Perry is an attractive man, but seemingly unaware of his physical appeal.
In the eight months that he has cut my hair, I’ve seen a side of Perry’s character that makes me believe it’s possible for gay men to form healthy relationships with our straight, male allies. He and I share similar political views, and are able to discuss our thoughts and ideas every Saturday morning. Perry and I never discuss women or sex, but more so because he doesn’t bring up those topics with me. He may sense that my sexual interest in women crossed the finish line over ten years ago. I just appreciate the fact that Perry does not make me feel like I have to be silent in order to blend in with his other customers.
Despite my attractions towards Perry, when I take a seat in his chair, and he wraps his black, barber cloth around my neck, our interaction is social and professional. (B)efore (A)ll (E)lse, we are two men who have established a mutually respectful relationship. Sexuality does not hinder our ability to openly engage with one another in an environment known to strictly tolerate traditional forms of masculinity. When Perry is done cutting and lining my hair, I pay him twenty-two dollars and I tip him five. I leave his barbershop as a customer who has been provided the type of safe space service that makes me want to uphold my longstanding, Saturday morning date.
I just started following you on Twitter two weeks ago. I saw a few of your posts retweeted in my timeline about praying, but also taking action in your own life to assist with the prayers. It was very interesting to me because my pastor has been preaching the same message lately. You said something along the lines about movement or change comes into people’s lives only when they begin doing the things that we ask God to do for us. And I truly believe in what you’re saying. You said if we do our part using the resources that he has given us then he will do his part and open doors that no man can close. That was the exact sermon in my church this past Sunday. I have been praying and asking God to help me with my youngest son and asking him to give me the proper tools to deal with him as of lately. I have two children. My oldest son is 18 years old and my youngest just turned 14 in May. I’m a young mother of 36 and raising both of my boys pretty much on my own. My oldest son’s father has been in his life since birth as far as spending time with him but I still take care of everything financially. He just graduated from high school and will be attending Mid Michigan Community College in Harrison this fall. He has always been a good student in school, active in our church youth group, works part-time at the Lakeside Mall and has never given me any problems growing up. My youngest son seems to be the total opposite of his older brother and I don’t understand it. This will be his first year in high school and I am trying my best to get him academically prepared. Although his 8th grade state test scores rank in the top percentile, his grades from middle school weren’t high enough to get him accepted into the school he is going to, the same high school my oldest son just graduated from. It’s a college prep type of high school. I had to pull strings with the principal in order to get my youngest enrolled because he plays around a lot. Just too much to really concentrate on his work. I let him go out for the JV football team this summer only because I know that it looks good in the community that my son does have extra curricular activities under his belt like my oldest did. However, I told him that if he starts bringing home grades lower than 80-85 then I will snatch him from the team during the season. I mean that. I have had to constantly remind my youngest son to complete his homework all throughout middle school. Now I am having to keep on him about reading the two summer books that the high school requires for all incoming freshman. He is suppose to be keeping a journal for each chapter he reads but he only writes 3 or 4 sentences that are just general statements instead of the 3-4 full paragraphs that are required. I ask him all of the time why he can’t be more like his older brother instead of me always having to run behind him to make sure he’s doing schoolwork and other tasks. I have tried my hardest to get him to spend more time with my oldest son at the church or even just sitting down to talk to him and he just wont do it. If he fails his English or Math class after this freshman year, the principal will automatically send him to one of the neighborhood schools and I can not have that. Everyone at the church knows our family very well and I was raised in our church. I don’t want my children looked at as being failures or drop outs like some of the others. Years ago the women in the church gave my mother a hard time when I got pregnant at 18 and we were determined to prove to the congregation that I would still graduate from college and make a healthy and successful life for my boys. I want only the best for both of my sons but am having a challenging time trying to get my youngest to understand the importance of his education. Since on Twitter you talked about actually taking action after praying what do you think I can physically do to help my youngest son actually achieve in school this year? They go back in two weeks. Any advice you could offer would be appreciated. I love your website by the way.
Thank you so very much for supporting my platform by following me on Twitter, reading my articles and now trusting me to offer you advice on issues pertaining to your youngest child. As I was reading your email, the one line that stood out to me most is when you shared the fact that you ask your youngest son why he can’t be more like his older brother. With that statement, you are verbalizing to your youngest son that he isn’t behaviorally, academically or socially as good as his older brother. One of the reasons why your youngest son rebels against spending time with his older brother in church or otherwise is because you have unconsciously created an environment where now your youngest son feels that he is in competition with his sibling. You have somewhat created silent labels of GOOD SON VS. BAD SON. Your youngest child has obviously taken the cue that he is the ‘BAD SON’ and therefore, he acts out accordingly. He is playing the role that he thinks is expected of him. Sometimes, parents assume that hailing one of their children as the ‘golden child’ will encourage the other siblings to model their behavior after that particular brother or sister. However, in many circumstances, the siblings who are being compared to the ‘golden child’ will intentionally act opposite of how the ‘golden child’ behaves. It’s their way of maintaining a forced identity within the household.
Instead of saying, “why can’t you be more like your older brother”, I advise that you begin saying to your youngest son, “try YOUR best to pay attention in class and complete all of your assignments. YOU are intelligent and bright.” Remove the focus from simply ‘getting good grades’. We often place emphasis on the end results as opposed to encouraging children to meet the standards at every stage of the education process. Every child should be made to feel like an individual within the structure of the household, school and community environments. Verbal comparisons between siblings create an unhealthy competition.
Additionally, your youngest son may be acting out because he resents you and his older brother. The absence of his father in his life may affect him in ways that he doesn’t verbalize to either of you. The fact that he has watched the father of your oldest son come around for years, probably makes him feel neglected. You didn’t mention whether or not the father of your youngest son is ever in the picture, but I am assuming he is not. Your youngest son may feel like the outcast whenever the father of your oldest son comes over to the house or when your oldest son leaves out to spend time with his dad. Your youngest has been forced in those moments to accept that his older brother has an established relationship with both of his parents. Once again, by comparison, his older brother appears to have the advantage. Do you have open discussions with your youngest son about his biological father and why he isn’t active in raising him? If not, at fourteen years old, your youngest son is ready to hear the truth.
Though I am very confident that you are an amazing mother, I do suggest that you possibly turn towards your pastor or even the JV football coach and ask one of them to begin mentoring your youngest son. Now that he is entering high school, it is crucial that your son begin receiving positive, male energy in his life on a regular basis. He should be receiving this sense of guidance outside of his male, peer group. Since he obviously doesn’t feel a natural attachment to his older brother right now, another adult, male figure that you trust should begin building a solid relationship with him. There are certain issues that your youngest son simply isn’t going to feel comfortable bringing to you now that he will be experiencing early manhood thoughts and feelings.
Also, you may be a little too concerned about public ‘appearances’. You mentioned the fact that you only support your youngest son playing JV football because of how children who participate in extra curricular activities are “looked upon” positively by others in the community. You then went on to say that if your youngest son had to attend the actual neighborhood high school that he was accepted into, members of the congregation would see him as being a failure. I could understand if you suggested you didn’t want your son to attend the local high school for safety reasons. However, it seems that you are encouraging your children to reach for a standard of success that is measured by outsiders. You cannot push your children to make decisions based on how they will be judged by a community of onlookers.
Now that you have pulled strings to have your youngest son placed into the college prep high school that your oldest just graduated from, he is going to face greater levels of academic difficulty than he experienced in middle school. Your son is obviously intelligent, as he performed exceptionally well on the standardized tests for eighth grade students. However, if your youngest son isn’t an independent student, as you suggest he isn’t, the pace of his classes are going to be challenging for him. It would have been wiser for you to allow your son to attend the school where his academic performance matched the structure and pace of the curriculum. If he started to feel out of place or more advanced than his classmates, he may have pushed HIMSELF to earn a transfer slot into the college prep high school for his sophomore year. By calling in favors to have your youngest son placed in a high school above his progress level, you also sent the message to him that he doesn’t have to work for certain opportunities because his mother can pull strings to arrange them. Keep that in mind before calling in favors next year to secure your youngest son a seasonal or part-time job.
Honestly, your youngest son will begin to display academic progress once he is able to sort out his internal struggles, as well as carve his own position at home and in his new school. Give your son room to step from behind the shadow of his older brother. Allow him to develop a positive relationship with his coach and classmates during this freshman school year. I encourage you and your oldest son to attend as many of the football games as possible. Your presence will make him feel that his individual accomplishments are being supported. Do not pull him from JV if he isn’t bringing home all grades above 80 during the first or second quarter. Beyond the physical training, team sports have the ability to build self-esteem, confidence and focus in the lives of many young boys. The confidence your youngest son feels on the field will translate into his determination to achieve academically. He is already a smart young man. People don’t always perform poorly in school because they’re lazy or unintelligent. It’s often that these individuals are dealing with internal stressors as well. Help him to cope by using language and love that is specific to his needs – not as your youngest son in comparison to his older brother, but as a fourteen year old boy who is still trying to find his way in the world.