Growing Up: Tears at My Son's Upsherin
Before he was born, my wife and I decided not to cut our son Declan's hair until he was three years old. We were observing what the learned elders over at Shalom Beth Wikipedia inform me is relatively recent Jewish custom called Upsherin, where a male baby’s hair goes uncut until it is shorn for the first time around the age of three in a religious ceremony of the same name.
Only recently have people asked me about the religious meaning of the Upsherin, and I’ve been candid and replied, “Damned if I know. He just looks really cute with his hair that long.” My wife’s younger brother didn’t have his hair cut until his third birthday. By the end he looked decidedly androgynous, a Cupid-looking imp with a shoulder-length mane of bright red hair.
Declan is, if anything, even more delicate-featured and long-haired. For the last year or so at least my wife and I have been fielding near constant compliments for our beautiful daughter and her amazing, angelic ring of golden curls. I honestly don’t think Declan even notices, or minds that people constantly think he's a girl. I think those kinds of differences matter more to adults than they do to children.
I don’t think Declan particularly cared that he had long, luscious, gorgeous hair, but it was a source of great pride to his family, particularly his parents and maternal grandparents. For him, it was more a source of pain. Brushing it nightly in the bath so it didn't develop knots or dreads was a nightly torment for Declan and my wife both. But it had to be done or it would become unmanageable.
My wife and I are both huge softies. We both resigned ourselves to the inevitability that we would both be weeping throughout the Upsherin, possibly making our interactions with Spider Guy, a children’s performer with a very revealing Spider-Man costume (or what I will for legal reasons describe as the costume of a Spider-Man-like figure similar to, but distinct from, the intellectual property of the Marvel corporation) that left little to the imagination when it came to what he was packing downstairs, even more awkward.
I never imagined I could be so emotionally attached to another human being’s hair but parenthood changes you. It makes you a sap in ways you never imagined possible. So the cutting of Declan’s hair took on huge emotional significance for me. It’s one of those landmarks that commemorates both life changes and my son getting older, both of which have historically brought out the waterworks in me.
Declan is less distinctive looking with his hair cut. Before the Upsherin, I could invariably recognize Declan from behind in a group of children. Some other children had long hair, but none of them had hair as long, or as beautiful, or as angelic as Declan used to before it was reduced to a more manageable shoulder-length cut. Declan’s long, flowing locks were definitely something that separated him from other children, but even without it, there’s still so much about him that’s remarkable.
It made me feel all kinds of feelings to see Declan’s hair cut for the first time. I felt sad more than anything because a big part of his babyhood was ending. You could say that the whole point of the ceremony was to officially commemorate Declan’s babyhood ending. In the same way a Bar Mitzvah marks a boy’s passage from boy to man, the Upsherin seemed to mark a milestone in his journey from babyhood, or toddlerhood, to being a Jewish child in the Jewish community. It marked his evolution from wild-haired cherub to lanky little Jewish boy.
I’m not gonna lie: I was very melancholy seeing Declan’s new, reduced locks for the first time but I take enormous comfort in knowing that what makes Declan so amazing and so unique isn’t the hair that’s on his head, but the beautiful mind and sweet soul that’s inside it.
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