[deck]A man looks back on his life as an outlier. [/deck]
[caps]T[/caps]oby Bates certainly doesn’t look like a rebel.
With his neatly-trimmed mustache, short gray hair, and rather conservative dress, Bates seems more grandfatherly than troublemaker.
His house doesn’t reveal any revolutionary tendencies, either. Nestled in an out-of-the-way nook in Roseburg, Oregon on prime real estate next to Deer Creek, his house radiates a sense of quiet. Inside, there are no bright colors, no anarchy flags plastered across the walls, and no mug shots of Che Guevara or other revolutionary figures. The most rebellious inhabitant of the house is a small dog, which growls softly at imagined intruders.
Despite this, Bates was thrown out of high school twice because of his refusal to blend in.
“The vice principal grabbed me by the back of the neck and the arm and said, ‘We don’t want your kind here,’” Bates says, recalling the time he was barred from entering Grand Ledge High School during his junior year.
“Then he ushered me right out the front door and said, ‘Don’t come back until you clean up your act.’ That was it. I never went back.”
What was Bates’ great act of rebellion that made him so unfit for high school that the vice principal had to intervene?
The teenaged Bates was sporting hair that went just past his ears. In the high school academic setting of Lansing, Michigan circa 1966, this simply wasn’t acceptable.
“It scared the hell out of those people, that young people were going so radical in their image and not conforming,” Bates says. “They didn’t give a hoot who I was—it was just how I looked.”
Bates wasn’t alone in his unconscionable hair length choice; his band, The Beaux Jens, was in on it, too. The British Invasion was going on in full force. The vanguards of the assault—the Beatles—were taking the country by storm, and in addition to their catchy rock tunes and controversial social commentary, they brought with them the mop-top haircut.
Teenage Bates and his band cohorts thought the shaggy hairstyle was essential for up-and-coming rock stars, despite the fact that it was a fad the Lansing school district found particularly distasteful.
“There were literally hundreds of bands forming when I started growing my hair out,” Bates explains. And in a climate like that, he and his bandmates needed any edge over the competition they could get. “The hair was an important part of the image.”
It was important enough that the boys chose to ignore their principal’s request to “clean up their act” and did not return to school. Bates says his parents, namely his mother, supported the move. His father, while reserved, understood Bates’ decision even though he wasn’t enthusiastic about what it entailed.
“They couldn’t understand it was hair, because I wasn’t doing anything wrong,” Bates recalls. His parents went to the superintendent of the school district to clear up what they thought had to have been a mistake. When the Bates found out their son had been kicked out of school because of his hair alone, they decided to part ways with the school district entirely.
“[My parents] came unglued, my mother especially,” Bates says. “They said [to the superintendent], ‘That’s fine. If that’s your attitude, our son won’t be back.’”
Instead, Bates and a handful of his bandmates worked on a farm with an older tutor friend. In exchange for their work on the farm, the man acted as their mentor and guided them through the process of getting a General Education Development certificate.
The band’s dedication to their image paid off. By the time they had enrolled at Lansing Community College, they were successful enough to live off of the money they made playing at clubs and bars around the area.
Even so, poor public opinion of long hair followed them and made it exceptionally difficult for them to be taken seriously. Finding employment outside of the music circuit was difficult.
“[People thought] we didn’t have a lot of integrity,” Bates says. “That’s the thing—people misjudge people with long hair; ‘Oh, they’re a bum, just write ’em off’.”
Bates’ only respite came when he followed his favorite music out West. He found himself living in Roseburg and, soon after, enrolled at the University of Oregon seeking a teaching degree. For the first time in his life, people didn’t look twice at his hair.
“I didn’t have to battle image at all for three years,” Bates recalls, a hint of nostalgia in his voice. “I just said, ‘Alright, I can let it grow out.’ It was super.”
In fact, he says he received plenty of positive comments about his hair when he was testing to become a teacher. It was one of the few times in his life that had happened; his hair was also complimented at the Oregon Country Fair, an event considered by some to be emblematic of ‘hippie’ culture.
When Bates left the university, teaching degree in hand, the discrimination against his choice in hair length came flooding back. Trying to find a teaching job in Roseburg proved to be impossible with long hair, and all the time and effort Bates put into growing his hair out while at the university ended up going to waste.
“People weren’t able to look past my hair—again!” Bates says. “So I cut my hair; I conformed.” Bates says he had to cut his hair for the sake of the woman he married and the two children they had during this time—hitting the road as a long-haired musician simply wasn’t an option anymore.
At least, it wasn’t until he got a job teaching at a middle school in Roseburg. Bates went right back to growing his hair out over the summer, and by the time fall semester started, he wore a ponytail. Neither his students nor his colleagues were kindly about the length of his hair, however. Ridiculed by both, he eventually cut his hair once again, only to give in and grow it back once more.
This cycle continued off and on for years until it reached its peak in 2010. Bates was semi-retired and working as a substitute teacher at Roseburg High School. One of the regular teachers was out of commission for the majority of the school year, and he was called in as a temporary fill-in.
It was then that Bates was thrown out of high school a second time because of his hair.
“I walk in there and my image was under scrutiny once again,” Bates says, “and there are head hunters in that school that are [of] the same mentality as in my high school. Same exact mentality: ‘We don’t want your kind in here.’”
The situation wasn’t helped by the fact that he had inherited a mess. The teacher he was filling in for was a first-year instructor who hadn’t cemented into place a classroom system before leaving. There wasn’t even a grading system for Bates to fall back on.
Bates still believes that the school’s administrators used his long hair as an excuse to remove him from the job.
“So here I am, in a high school again, facing the same discrimination I faced forty years ago for the same reason,” Bates says, the frustration clear in his voice. “And believe it or not, I get kicked out of high school again.”
The vice principal told Bates to change his look or stop teaching and hand the reins over to a different substitute teacher. Deciding his hair was already plenty short, Bates chose the latter option. After the messy eviction, in which administrators claimed Bates had chosen to take time off without leave, he was fired.
Though he still has his teaching license, Bates says he has no plans to go back into teaching in the foreseeable future. For him, being kicked out of high school twice for the same reason was the final straw. Clearly, he says, people still aren’t ready to accept differences in others.
Instead, Bates intends to enjoy his retirement. He plans to write a book about his experiences and his musical reasons for moving out West.
“I’ve been rattling my memory banks lately,” Bates says; it’s helped him recall details of his story that he might have otherwise forgotten. He doesn’t really know what he wants to do with his book once it’s written, nor is he sure whether or not he plans to publish it. He isn’t even sure if he cares.
“It’s mainly for my family, so they can know about my story,” Bates says.
He’s also gone back to working as a musician, touring locally in the Douglas County area with the Barbarians, a bluegrass rock band. He sings and plays the keyboard, and simply enjoys being himself. At long last, he isn’t burdened by the perceptions that others have of him. It’s a welcome change, he says.
He might even grow his hair out again.