What do Sean Connery, your childhood dentist, and my beloved grandfather have in common? All three were bald. As bald as an American eagle at a swim meet. I remember as a kid looking at my grandfather’s shiny dome and thinking “Poor grandpa. He doesn’t have any hair left. Why has his God forsaken him?” OK, maybe I wasn’t quite so fatalistic about it, but I definitely remember hoping that I would never suffer the same fate. Millions of men all over the world live with baldness. It’s not an easy life. Applying sunscreen on a curved surface, reflecting sunbeams into oncoming pedestrians, and having a drawer full of dusty hairbrushes are all heavy burdens to bear. For many years, I felt confident that I was safe from the curse of male pattern baldness.
My hair was thick and curly; unruly even. It grew so fast and full I started clipping it myself. It was just too expensive to go a barber every 10 days to “tighten it up”, as the kids say. I got pretty good at trimming and tapering, and all was right with the world. Then it happened. I was in a shopping center with my family and decided to head downstairs for a kale smoothie. OK fine, it was for an Orange Julius. Does that sound believable? OK! IT WAS A VANILLA CREME-FILLED DOUBLE-DOOZIE CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIE!
We all stepped onto the escalator to head downstairs. I was in front. Suddenly I heard my cousin, who was right behind me, say “uh oh!” I turned around to see what happened. She touched the back of my head and said “what’s that?” I responded knowingly, “It’s probably just a Lucky Charms marshmallow. Happens all the time.” “No” she said. “Your hair. Where’d it go?” “Oh” I said. “Yeah. I cut it too short.” I hadn’t cut it too short. I knew it, and so did she. Luckily we had arrived at the bottom of the escalator and stepped off. “Those cookies smell good!” I said, trying to change the subject. “Yup” she responded. We went on with our day, and both tried to forget the awkward exchange.
When I got home, I rushed into the bathroom and used a hand mirror to look at the back of my head. It was true. My hair was starting to thin, and I could see the beginnings of a bald-spot emerging from my glorious head shrub. I sighed and looked at myself in the mirror, shaking my head. I can’t say it was a complete surprise, because I always knew it might happen. That didn’t make it any easier to accept.
I went through the five stages of bald grief. Shock, denial, anger, potato chips, and doughnuts. Actually, I might have accidentally combined two separate lists there, but you get the point. Needless to say, I was a bit distraught. Although my hair and I had a good run together, I felt like we weren’t finished yet. There were so many things I still wanted to do with my hair; visit the great wall of China, go to the World Cup, try a man-bun (ok. maybe not that last one.) All of that was being taken from me, and I felt cheated.
Then I remembered one of the most poignant pieces of my advice that my grandfather ever gave me before he left this earth. I was only 8 years old the last time he said it, but I can still hear his voice in my head, guiding me like a beacon of wisdom. “Quit playin’ grab-ass and get to work!” I’m pretty sure I was helping him mix concrete for a sun-porch at the time, but the advice still rings true today. “Quit playin’ grab-ass” indeed gramps. I wasn’t going to take this lying down. I refused to go bald. “We’re gonna fight this!” I said to myself.
Some men decide to take up this fight by buying hair pieces and wigs. Others do hair transplants and plugs. All of these are perfectly acceptable options for a man not yet ready to part with his locks. However, none of those options were to my liking. Luckily, 21st century men have another option that wasn’t socially acceptable in the time of my grandfather. It’s called “The MJ.” Named after Michael Jordan, the patron saint of smooth craniums, this technique involves shaving all remaining hair off of the sides and top of the head, thereby reclaiming ones own folicular destiny.
Just because I was losing my hair, didn’t mean I had to “go bald.” Bald guys, like your dentist and my grandfather, lose the hair on the top of their head, and leave the full bits on the sides and back. To my mind, it sends the message “I really wish I still had the rest of my hair.” Cutting it all off, on the other hand, says “This is a choice, not a death sentence.” It’s about being comfortable in your skin. I mean that literally, because that skin is no longer covered with hair. I made the decision that I would have to accept my fate, and buzz my baldness away.
As I mentioned above, this was not always a viable option for men. Maybe it was a remnant of the times when most men wore hats much of the day, so the ring of hair around the head hid the fact that the rest of the head was bald. Nevertheless, some of the most popular entertainers and athletes had started shave their heads, and it had become perfectly acceptable. If it was good enough for Dwayne Johnson, it was good enough for me!
I had shaved my hair pretty short a number of times throughout my young adulthood. I knew that I had a normal shaped head, and I could probably pull it off. So I monitored “ground zero” on the back of my head for the next 6-12 months, cutting my hair shorter and shorter as the “affected area” grew larger and larger. Finally, the day came where I had to take the final guard off the clippers and go “full MJ.” When the dust (and very itchy little hairs) settled, I looked in the mirror. “Not too bad” I thought to myself. I actually looked younger than before I had cut it all off. I even got a number of compliments to that effect.
Although I would have liked to have a few more years to spend with my hair, I’m now satisfied with the path I chose. Sometimes when I look back at pictures of me with a full head of hair, I barely recognize myself. I think of myself as a guy with shaved head, and I think everyone else in my life does as well. It’s the only way my son has ever known me, which I love.
I don’t necessarily think that shaving your head is the right move for every man losing their hair. But I do think that you need to find out how you feel comfortable, and go with that. At the end of the day, it’s just hair. It doesn’t affect your overall health, and it shouldn’t affect your overall happiness. Ask yourself how you feel your most confident, and try to make it a reality. As a wise man once said “Quit playin’ grab-ass and get to work!”
If you’d like to laugh some more at me getting older, while trying to stay young, read Look At My Manhood.