Essay: A boy, his dad and a coronavirus buzz cut

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Bennett Hanson, 12, of South Royalton, VT, uses clippers to cut the hair of his dad, Alex Hanson, to a uniform one-eighth inch at the Valley News in West Lebanon, N.H., Tuesday, April 21, 2020. Hanson usually cuts his own hair. Photo/James M. Patterson

Story produced by the Valley News, proud member of

Not long after my son was born, in the early days of the Great Recession, money was tight. My wife was between jobs, but we had to hold a spot in the child care center so she could return to work. Infant care is not cheap.

We pulled through, with a little freelance work and some significant financial help from my wife’s parents. And we did some economizing: few meals out, no trips to speak of, and I started cutting my own hair, and, for a time, my wife’s.

Simple a word as it is, “cutting” sounds a bit fancy for what I did to my own hair. I just buzzed it off, down to about an eighth of an inch. I didn’t mind it, but I didn’t love it, either. I like barbershops and getting a good haircut, but the simplicity of the close-crop was hard to beat, especially for a new dad who had little time and less money.

Cutting my wife’s hair was a bit more fraught. She still wanted to look good; go figure. I cut my little boy’s hair, too, until he was big enough to get a haircut while sitting on my lap at the barbershop.

The coronavirus crisis, which has shut down barbershops and salons, has brought those days back, for me and for everyone who either doesn’t have a trained stylist in their household or who isn’t willing to wait until their favorite tonsorial tender opens back up.

I had already given myself a buzz cut before we went on vacation in late February. But I didn’t expect to be cutting anyone else’s hair. A few days ago, I asked Bennett, who’s now 12, if he was ready to head to the ballfield for some practice.

“First, you have to cut my hair,” he said.

Assuming you can cut hair because you’ve been going to a barbershop all your life is akin to thinking you can edit a newspaper because you’ve always had a subscription. But you have to start somewhere, and thinking about what my barber does, even if I didn’t know how to do it, got me going.

Bennett Hanson, 12, left, traded haircuts with his dad Alex, this week. It was Bennett’’s first time using the clippers at the makeshift barbershop, aka the Valley News in West Lebanon, NH. Photo/James M. Patterson

Whenever I take Bennett to the barbershop, I end up clucking that his bangs aren’t short enough. Now I know why: the Hanson family cowlick. He told me he wanted a short haircut, so I gave him one, and that cowlick is simply untameable. It’s charming as anything, and he wears it proudly, but it was a lesson learned for the next haircut. I hope I don’t have to do it again, but I’m afraid I will.

In this, I’m not alone. On social media, the aggravation is starting to mount with people complaining they can’t get a haircut. Dark roots are growing out. One woman I know took the step of shaving her head, something she’d always wanted to do. The DIY cut — just the ends, a little off the top or something more radical — is coming to a family member near you, I suspect. Even The New York Times has instructed its readers how to give themselves a buzz cut.

A co-worker of mine always tells me my new haircut looks stupid, regardless of who wielded the clippers. We all should have a person like this in our lives, but not right now. If you can’t say a friend’s home haircut looks great, repeat after me: “Hey, not bad!”

Cutting Bennett’s hair, I told him, “You can cut mine.” So on Tuesday, I broke out the clippers, wrapped a towel around my neck and turned him loose. He was as nervous as I had been cutting his hair, but there was nothing for him to mess up. He ran the clippers over my scalp until my stubbly hair looked even.

Not bad, not bad at all.

Alex Hanson can be reached at or 603-727-3207.

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