In 1992, I was sitting in my office inside my laboratory at DuPont in Wilmington, DE. I was an engineer in the technical services department for the white pigment titanium dioxide. I was assigned as the technical arm to the Midwest sales region that served the paint industry. Some of my clients were Sherwin Williams, Glidden, Rustoleum, and PPG. My team assisted the Goliaths with the chemical formulations of their paints, especially with the pigments that we supplied. This was a very conservative lot of customers.
I returned from a week’s vacation on a particular Monday. Heading to see my secretary Marie, I passed Max’s (my boss) office. In those days, we still had secretaries, not administrative assistants, and they still typed our letters and took our messages. With mail and messages in hand, I returned to my office. I had been seated no more than one minute before Max burst into my lab and pushed open the door to my office in back, and he had never before come to my area. I always met in his office or the conference room.
“The hair!” he said, pointing at me with his fingers like a pistol. His voice stammered as he repeated, “The hair!!!”
Max was a blonde haired, blue eyed devout Mormon from Utah. His hobby was procreating the species. At thirty-five years old, he already had fathered double digit children. In numerous conversations, I had gleaned that he had not grown up around much diversity, and Wilmington was a bit of a culture shock to him.
Then Max’s voice sounded as if he were in the throes of a seizure when he uttered, “The beard! The beard!”
As a former Army officer, I had maintained a clean-shaven appearance at DuPont until that day. My barber had come to my home routinely to cut my hair, and I had shaven daily whether I needed it or not. Interestingly, both West Point– my alma mater– and DuPont were both founded in 1802, and both had cultivated uber-conservative cultures.
During this time period, Michael Jordan had become the crowned prince of the National Basketball Association. While on vacation, I had grown a goatee and had shaven my head.
There Max stood in front of me, shivering, shaken from his comfort zone. He was clearly unequipped to know how to counsel the only tall, dark, and semi-handsome member of his staff. I wished that animated thought bubbles had appeared over his head to enlighten me. Had he fear that I was going to knock him out?
“The hair, the beard!” he said again in a quavering voice.
I quickly surmised his dilemma and responded, “No problem, Max.” The next day, I lingered in front of his office a moment when I went to see Marie. No words were necessary. I had complied with shaving the goatee, and soon the hair returned.
Fast forward to the spring of 1998. I had recently been promoted to a vice president at Morgan Stanley; therefore, I felt empowered to invoke some change. By this time, Michael Jordan had ascended to rule all of the sports world. All men wanted to be like Mike.
One Monday morning, my manager walked by my office. She glance in, made eye contact, and stopped in her tracks.
My heart froze in place. My tie and suspenders suddenly restricted my blood flow. All I could hear in my head was, “The hair, the hair!” I had shaven my head that morning but remained cleaned faced.
My boss’ face was glowing as she stood before my desk, appearing corporately beautiful in her heels and expensive dress suit. She had a fresh tan from a recent Florida trip. She told me how much she loved the bald look and that her husband even rocked that look, making him resemble the late actor Telly Savalis. She revealed that she’d had a crush on Savalis in your younger years. When she went about her business, I finally took a breath.
Twice more that morning, two other women in my office complimented my new look. That was all it took for me to adopt the Jordan smooth pate look that I sport to this day.
It’s amazing the power women wield over us men. It doesn’t even matter if we’re involved with them or not; we men are suckers. With a certain glance, we will run bare footed through fire. With a mere touch, we’re short-circuited and will brave raging electrical storms to grant ladies’ their most whimsical notions.
Why don’t women realize this power? Hmmm?