7: The $20,000 Haircut

7: The $20,000 Haircut

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Dad

The $20,000 Haircut

It is not what we take up, but what we give up, that makes us rich.

~Henry Ward Beecher

My dad is a non-traditional dude. He let me call him by his first name when I was a kid. He got a tattoo and was so excited about it he offered to get me one. (I was sixteen.) He owns exactly one tie and it has pool balls on it. And for as long as I can remember, he proudly wore his hair in a ponytail.

As easygoing as my dad was, though, some aspects of growing up with a freethinker weren’t so easy. Paying for college was one of them.

“Why don’t they have a box on those financial aid forms that you can check that just says ‘my parents aren’t paying for this’?”

“Because most parents do,” I said.

“Mine didn’t.”

“You didn’t go to college.”

“College isn’t for everyone,” he said in a spiel I’d heard many times before. “You could get a job. Or go to school part-time. Or join the Army and have them pay for college. Just the Reserves. It’s like two weekends a month and you won’t actually go to war.”

He wasn’t kidding, even though I weighed ninety pounds and HATED the outdoors.

Needless to say, it became pretty apparent that I would be financing my college education myself. Even if he wanted to, my dad wasn’t in much of a position to help. We simply didn’t have an extra $100,000 lying around.

The scholarship prospects looked grim. There were plenty of $500 scholarships for being of Native American descent, $800 scholarships for playing the bagpipes, and $100 scholarships for essays that weren’t worth writing. But I didn’t even qualify for those and anything better than that was few and far between or came from the school directly.

Finally, after weeks of scouring every resource available to me, I stumbled on a scholarship I actually qualified for — and this one was a doozey.

“$20,000?!”

My dad was stunned. His eyes literally bugged out of his head.

“Get it,” he said. “Get that one. Make sure you get that one.” He was dead serious.

For the next few weeks, I devoted myself to the application process. I polished essays. I prodded teachers for glowing letters of recommendation. I made a list of everything that could possibly be considered community service.

After about a month of selling myself on paper, and another month of waiting impatiently, my work paid off.

“They want to interview me!” I told my dad. “They want to interview me with you and Mom! I’m a finalist!”

For the first time, it sunk in for my dad that I might actually get this thing. He’d wanted me to win the scholarship from the start, but until I landed the interview, I don’t think he actually believed it could happen. That day, the money felt within reach.

The morning of the interview, I spent way too much time picking my outfit. I wanted to look professional, but not like I was trying too hard. I settled on jeans and a turtleneck. That would work, right?

“Ready to go?” my mom called from the living room.

“Just a second,” I said as I threw on one last splash of body spray. I had a really good feeling about this. I was confident that my smarts would impress the interviewers and that my personality would win them over. I had faith my mom would make them smile and that my dad would crack them up. We were a good team. A genuine family. I liked us.

As I bounded out of my room, fully ready to tackle what would likely be one of the most important interviews of my life, I stopped dead in my tracks, speechless.

There in the living room was my dad. Without his ponytail.

“Your ponytail,” I said, pointing to the empty spot on the back of his head.

“I cut it off. I don’t want you losing a $20,000 scholarship because they don’t take your dad seriously.”

It was bittersweet. I was touched that he would take this meeting so seriously — especially after all the times he teased me about paying for college. But I felt bad that he literally cut off something that had defined him for years.

“People have lost jobs over stupider things,” he said when I tried to tell him it wasn’t necessary. “I didn’t even want the possibility of it keeping you from this money.”

The interview went well, and a few days later we found out I got the scholarship. I was one of five recipients, and the $20,000 I got literally changed my life. It gave me the guts to apply to the University of Southern California when I found out they had a screenwriting program, and it gave me the means to enroll when I got in. USC led me to my job in Hollywood, and to friends I never would have met.

I don’t know if cutting off his hair really changed anything. I suspect that, really, it didn’t. But like my dad said, it didn’t hurt. And if it did sway the judges, I am even more grateful for the gesture.

Thanks, Dad, for cutting off your ponytail. You really did do everything in your power to help me.

~Jess Knox

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