Editor’s Note: Columnist Joe Garrett is on sabbatical. This column was originally published March 10, 2013.
I got my first chest hair when I was 13.
It felt like it would never arrive. I had no idea at the time this was just part of growing up. I thought chest hair arrived because I followed the orders of the older kids in my neighborhood.
Before turning into a teenager, the older kids in my neighborhood would make my friends and me do things we despised. They made us eat hot red peppers, wrestle each other until someone had blood running from his nose and so many other things.
Why did we allow this?
Well, we wanted to be in their neighborhood club. We wanted to be just like them. And we were ignorant enough to do everything they asked.
There was really no reason to tolerate their torture, but we did. We could have easily run home and told our parents, but the older kids had a way of motivating us with the following magic words: “Do what we ask you to do, don’t tell mom or dad and it will put hair on your chest.”
That was it. My friends and I decided all the older kid hazing in the world was clearly worth it if it “would put hair on our chests.”
It was the 1970s and chest hair was all the rage. Whether it was Burt Reynolds sprouting a hairy chest in “Smokey and the Bandit” or any man willing to shed his tie, open his collar and don a dapper leisure suit, every boy in my neighborhood wanted only two things in life — 1) a poster of Farrah Fawcett and 2) chest hair.
For the majority of my life, I’ve admired the men sprouting hairy chests. My generation always honored these men in the same way previous generations respected John Wayne. It was only recently while sitting on a beach in Ft. Lauderdale did I receive the ultimate awakening.
“It’s time to consider shedding your chest hair,” said my sister-in-law Lucie Anne.
“Are you saying other people sitting around us aren’t finding me attractive,” I replied. “If I decide to shave, don’t you think it will make my belly look larger?”
“You’re still stuck in the ‘70s,” she said.
I think she’s right. I still long to watch “The Love Boat” and “Fantasy Island” on Saturday nights and still dream of taking a trip to Texarkana in a black Trans-Am with a Jerry Reed song playing on the car radio.
This new epiphany of realizing chest hair is no longer considered stylish and cool among the younger generation has leveled me into reality. I’ve truly reached middle age. Besides, my chest hair has already started turning gray.
Even the people who I cycle with have started shaving their legs because it’s what the professionals in the Tour de France do. We’ve come to learn these professional cyclists also supplement their bodies with steroids and lord knows what else. So, I’m keeping my leg hair.
A few years ago, I had the opportunity to attend a lecture in Phoenix, Arizona, by Frank Abagnale, Jr., who was made popular in the Steven Spielberg movie “Catch Me if You Can” starring Leonardo DiCaprio. He told the real story behind the movie and how his wife and the F.B.I. character portrayed by Tom Hanks in the movie helped him turn his life into something positive.
“A real man loves his family,” said Abagnale, Jr. “A real man spends time with his family.”
He’s right. A real man is someone who loves others. A real man strives to be all he can possibly be. And even though my sister-in-law disagrees, I still argue a real man has a hairy chest