Transcendentally evil Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin had a convenient way of making inconvenient people, places and events disappear – his minions would literally erase them. Entire cities were removed from official maps, names stricken from history books and disobedient apparatchiks photochopped™ from official state photos. Now it seems well-meaning parents are conspiring with school photographers to do the same.
Okay dads… I am not equating you to Stalin yet, but judging from this story in the NYTimes parents are opting to have their children’s bumps, bruises and assorted booboo’s airbrushed out of school picture day history. More image conscious parents are even having cowlicks, braces and blemishes removed as well. There is also the disturbing fact that some parents who have had plastic surgery to trim a nose, remove a mole or sculpt a jaw are uncomfortable seeing those pesky physical traits re-appear in their offspring. Might they be tempted to exorcise the ghost of their once-giant schnoz with the click of the mouse?
My first dude instinct is, ‘what the fuck?’ Isn’t the best part about finally growing up, looking back and realizing you are not the dirty, awkward and gross cretin you used to be? Also, aren’t old-school photos a rich source of reminiscing, due almost exclusively to the, ‘what the hell was I thinking’ factor.
As a dude I am not exactly a huge fan of this. A persistent problem in modern Russia is an ignorance about the horrors of the USSR. There simply are few un-doctored records telling the tale of that awful regime. There is plenty of value in preserving all of the inconvenient blemishes of our lives. My dad taught me that. I disobeyed him once and as a result ended up with a scar on my face I would never forget.
In my grade 10 class photo I am sporting a noticeable scar across my forehead down into my eyebrow. The wound came from an argument I had with my dad over picking up the fallen leaves, walnuts and sticks in our (his) backyard. When I refused and he beat me like a rented mule. … joking. No. My dad is a genius, not a monster. Knowing full well the only way I would learn my lesson was if he picked the absolute worst moment to force me to do it.
This particular moment happened to be minutes before kick-off of a New Orleans Saints v. San Francisco 49ers NFL matinee. As a Saints fan living in Canada it was my only chance all year to see my team play on TV that year (and maybe next year too). I had been planning on watching the game for weeks. I’d set up a fully equipped game-day viewing station in the basement. This included a reclining chair flanked with my favourite football watching snacks: Cool Ranch Doritos, and a now-extinct soda pop named Wink.
My calculating Dad knew this full well. He’d bided his time. Minutes before kickoff he calmly sauntered downstairs, and in that impossible to resist, Jedi mind trick, ‘I mean business,’ dad voice he commanded me to get to the backyard and finish my chore. No combination of ifs, ands or buts could save me from my fate.
Pissed-off and muttering under my breath, I picked up the lawn junk as violently as possible. The non-leaf backyard debris went first. Branches were snapped in two and walnuts were flung into garbage bags with righteous indignation. When it came to raking the pesky wet leaves there was no way I would stoop so low as to actually bend down pick up our old 1950s-style rake. Fuck that. Old man couldn’t even get me a proper rake. No way would I literally stoop down to get that ancient rake. I would conserve as much dignity as possible and simply step on the head of rake effortlessly guiding it to my awaiting hand. But like Sideshow Bob, or some other cartoonish moron I put way too much angry teenage rage into the endeavour. The rake handle shot up and cracked me in the face. I didn’t yelp or scream. I just fell backwards and lay on the soggy autumn ground waiting for the constellation of stars orbiting my head to recede.
With blood streaming from my head I wanted to run inside (probably to my mom) and announce what had happened to me and show everyone the violent results of my dad’s cruel and arbitrary regime. ‘See! This is what happens when you make me do something that is patently unfair! Blood will flow!!!’ Instead I snuck into the house, cleaned myself off and quietly finished the job in time to watch record setting Danish kicker Morten Andersen drill a game-winning field goal for my beloved Saints.
Come picture day a few weeks later I refused to hide the wound. Chicks dig scars, non? As that one pre-Photoshop photo session provided the scared image for my yearbook photo, student card and bus pass, barely a day went by when I wasn’t reminded of what happens when you lose your temper. I wonder if, without that reminder, I might have forgotten that insight as well as a bigger lesson? After that episode I never gave my dad any guff about outdoor chores again. Every summer I would mow the lawn dutifully, nary a snowflake could be found on our wintertime sidewalk, and I pitied any ambitious yet doomed walnut planning on being on the ground long enough to seed a tree. The trauma was a great character builder. I wasn’t perfect, or special, or beyond doing the little things that make a household run smoothly. No matter how independent I thought I was, how important something in my life was, I was just a worker in our little collective and my dad was still the dictator. His word was final, his rule absolute and disobedience would be paid in blood.