A BOY'S first haircut can be traumatic. Not for the boy but for the father. My son Toby, just shy of two, was shorn of his angelic locks two weeks ago and I'm still getting used to the shame of it all. For the generation I grew up in (I refuse to call that lot 'my generation'), hair had a significance vastly out of proportion to its usefulness. During my teenage years one had no choice: anyone not conforming to the approved standard of nonconformity was either a geek, a member of the armed forces or a moonie. We were Samsons for whom hair was a source of social strength. Thus, a haircut was a kind of defeat. A newly razored student entered school in those days as a capon entered a hen house. Despite the rehabilitation of short hair, I still feel a pang of chagrin when people call attention to my haircut. My own hair problems go back to when I was Toby's age and the crew-cut was the rage. My father, a Viennese musician, loathed the style, which he associated with the Nazi thugs he had come to America to escape. Europeans, uncontaminated by the moronic macho homophobia that was already taking over the United States, often preferred long hair on toddlers of either sex. Since mine was particularly long and curly (don't bother checking my picture - we're talking 1956 here), Dad forbade anyone from touching it. Mom went along with the ban until one day, when a passerby pointed at me and said, 'Oh, what a darling little girl!' That was it. Finished. Little Charlie was not going to end up on the wrong end of a Kinsey report statistic. My mother and elder sisters, the conspirators in this drama, dragged me to a white-coated Dr Kevorkian of a barber who obviously petrified me, because I screamed until they removed me from the shop. That gave them a great idea: they would take me to another barbershop. I repeated the scene there and was dragged from the second shop thrashing like an alligator. Sensing they were on a roll, my mother and sister took me to - that's right, a barbershop. And so it went, until I had exhausted all the establishments in Syracuse, New York. In fact, I did more than exhaust the last place; I vomited in it. This is, believe it or not, one of my earliest childhood memories, a primal Kodak moment. Finally, my elders were able to read my lips: no more barbers. At home they cut my hair themselves, overdoing it in their rage so I ended up looking like a miniature Gestapo officer. Like the rocket scientists they were, my mother and sisters tried to pin my curls back on me, so my father wouldn't notice the damage they had done. Since then, of course, the story has acquired the trappings of legend. Family lore calls it 'the day Charlie defeated the seven barbers of Syracuse', seven being a popular number for seas, deadly sins, etc. I doubt that the economy of a small city like Syracuse could have supported seven barbers, even in those days when men had haircuts every two weeks. But do we argue about the number of ships in the Trojan navy? That is why my heart went out to my son in that chair. Here was another Samson meeting his Delilah. And for what? So his hair would be easier to manage. In sharp contrast to his father, Toby confined his objections to a few whimpers. Still, I wouldn't have blamed him if he had said, like Samson, 'Let me die with the Philistines', and pulled the shop down.