My mother cut my hair for seventeen years. She was practical, and calculated that buying one pair of hair clippers would cost less than sending me to the cheapest barber nearby, and she was right. Twice a month, she would sit me on a stool in her bathroom, run the clippers over my head, and sweep up after. That was how my first haircut happened, weeks after I was born, and how my last haircut with her went, halfway through my third year in high school.
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She got very upset when I told her I finally wanted to have my haircut elsewhere. But I was growing envious of the ways my classmates' hair changed: they came into the classroom with gel in their hair, and bracelets, and branded white socks, and I stared at them wearing the military buzz my mom had perfected for over more than a decade, and the plainness of everything else about me. I figured that my hair was the easiest thing I could slip past her. She hated jewelry, and always bought our school socks cheap. She sighed when I finally told her I was heading to a barber, and glared at the first tub of hair gel I bought that same day.
In the seventeen years it took me to decide to have my hair cut on my own, I spent the last eight years of that gingerly pushing my curfew from 4 pm to the 5 am it is now. I started buying bracelets and socks for myself. And all the while, I moved slowly, carefully, hoping she would say nothing. She always did, but less and less.
I remember a time when my eyes would widen when classmates would talk about hanging out after school, or staying overnight at a friend's house— something I still cannot do. I remember when buying gel felt like a personal rebellion. Now, my eyes widen at the idea of travelling without my family, or even just staying out past 5.
Duty to family is above anything—that was ingrained in me from the very start. I was never taught to be friends with my family. One day I was a baby and then I became a son. There is a world of difference between the two, and a universe separating them from the idea of being a friend.
I was never taught to be friends with my family. One day I was a baby and then I became a son.
Because of this, every new haircut, every extra five minutes spent out of the house, felt dangerous—and until now I feel this sheepish, childish thrill when my hairstylist cuts my hair differently, or when my phone alarm rings at 4:30 AM telling me to hurry home. It never leaves me.
It feels strange to know that others just grew up. I look at my friends who can casually invite for sleepovers, or decide to hop on to planes to fly to other countries. I watch them ring in the New Year outside until the sun rises. I see their parents welcome with snacks and open arms the friends they bring home. I watch them get tattoos. And I know that what I feel is envy.
It's that duty to family that can only change so much, and so slowly, that keeps me in this place between thankfulness (that I avoided making certain mistakes) and resentment (that I didn't get to enjoy many more freedoms). Until now I don't know how long it will be til I can—God forbid—spend the night elsewhere, or invite friends over to do nothing, or get my hair colored, or even find it in me to want to move out.
But every three weeks, I choose my hair, and I am slowly coming to a place of content about that.
Joseph Pascual is a photographer and occasional writer based in Manila.