When Your Hair Goes
I distinctly remember sitting in my little apartment in San Rafael, at 22, and noticing that my hair was thinning at my temples. I had long felt my hair — black and dense and often long — was one of my defining characteristics and key to whatever attractiveness I had. Thinning hair sucked. You notice that stuff on yourself long before anyone else notices or cares, but I could see the writing on the wall. My maternal grandfather, as folk wisdom warns, was reasonably bald when I met him, so I had that to look forward to.
Danny, my older brother, started losing hair young, maybe college, and we all thought he’d be bald by 25. But he wasn’t. It stopped. Maybe these things stop on their own. He’s over 60 now and his hair has hardly changed. When I got engaged I said “thank god I found someone who will remember me with hair,” as it was definitely on it’s last moments at my wedding, at age 30, and it would be hard to pretend any longer.
Men don’t have all the cultural body image problems that women tend to fight, but balding is still big. Ask a guy. Unlike catching your ass in a mirror, you see the problem every time you look at yourself, your drivers license, the family portrait, it’s the essence of your identity. And my youthful identify was my hair.
Thinning at the temple was noticeable to me, mostly, but I felt like it wasn’t really getting worse quickly. Maybe I’d be like my brother. Then Greg and I were playing racketball, an admittedly rare occurrence, and I slid down to the floor to rest after a game, and leaned my sweaty head back against the wall and it was COLD. What a strange sensation, I don’t think I’d ever felt my head cold like that. I reached my hand back trying to understand. “Greg, what’s happening here?” He looked and said “Well, there’s a spot there with no hair.” I hadn’t even considered the second battlefront.
Friends suggested wearing a hat, and I could definitely imagine myself a cool dude in a hat. Like most men, I had a small assortment of hats that seemed a fun idea at the time, but rarely got use. Hats aren’t casual — to be a hat guy you have to go all in or not at all. I envisioned myself as a “porkpie hat” person and I started wearing one in public. But it quickly felt like I was hiding, or it would look like I was embarrassed by my head, and I didn’t like the story that I needed to hide my infirmity.
My father, a physician, suggested that there were newly invented products available that stopped hair loss with some reliability. And he sent me a sample bottle of Minoxidil (Rogaine) to try. I massaged it into my scalp exactly one time. It had a light odor. It was a grooming ritual I instantly didn’t enjoy. Apparently, for the chemical to work, the instructions pointed out that you had to use it everyday. And even if it did work, if you stopped using it, the hair would again fall out. That’s a dubious path you’re signing up for.
A moment of clarity
It became clear that I was never going to do this. And here was my thought: What is the point of fighting this natural course of aging? Yes, hair is great. But if i’m scrambling at 30 to stop looking older, it’s going to be a horrible uphill battle that I will certainly lose. What if, instead, I embraced aging — and reframed it as a metamorphosis from larvae into adult? A natural transition from the naivety of youth into the wisdom of age? My hair loss would be a daily reminder of my impending sagacity, and I should own it!
In fact, better it was happening young — it would arguably be worse to continue with the myth that I wasn’t aging, only to get hit by the balding at 40, when I’d be even more attached to the sight of myself with hair. No, this was appropriate. I have to be honest: Jean-Luc Piccard really really helped. It’s good to have an iconic awesome bald dude to identify with.
And so I never looked back; and for the most part never missed the slow-drying, product-consuming, time-sucking, hair-flipping-neck whiplash of the old mane.
I showed photos of myself to my 18 year old daughter today. “No question about it,” she said, “you look much better now.” How strange. It’s one thing to embrace the negative change with tolerance. It’s a more disorienting to hear it was actually an improvement. Go figure.