On Losing Your Hair

Everything is fine for a long, long time. And you made it this far: you’re an adult, and you look relatively normal. And you’re used to taking that for granted, because despite some hiccups, things were pretty steady all along the way. Hair was fixable, face roughly mirrored, limbs relatively proportionate. At least enough that no one would notice.

And then it all goes to pieces. Because now you have to think about it. Before you could part your hair wherever you liked, and it would stay there, black, no grand canyon of white in between. Can’t take that for granted anymore: the canyon is widening.

I used to be able to think, it’s going to be years before I’ll lose my hair. Or at least I’d have an excuse, a good excuse, like cancer. But no, no excuses; genetics was on my side. It just—forgot. Forgot to regrow everything.

And it’s all normal, so it’s really not a big deal at all. And no one is going to hate you or think your hair revolting. Nevertheless they suddenly have a leg up on you. They have a reason to look down on you. Overnight, your status changes. And I don’t really love that.

Losing your hair makes you hedge; where before you went hatless, confident, now you wonder if hats are really all that bad. You can’t despise fedoras as you ought to, in this shape. You start to wonder about things you shouldn’t. Does hair make the man? Yes.

Then there’s acceptance. What are you accepting: a mathematical line denoting a downward slope? A descent into senility and foolishness? A clown’s status? Notice clowns have two hairstyles: the fro and the balding fro. I guess fros are supposed to be foolish, too. But baldness certainly is.

There’s no dignity in balding. No graceful acceptance. You might shave it all off, but it’s not like you had a choice. It’s just you trying to fast-forward to the ending. Maybe there is grace in watching a halo widen until it engulfs the skull. Maybe that’s how we get to heaven. When the halo of scalp is big enough, St. Peter drops the drawbridge.

You won’t really get anyone’s pity: it could have been much worse I know, they know. Why worry about it? Time conquers, we comply. Be glad your wife didn’t marry you for your hair. I hope. When hers falls out you have a real tragedy. When yours does: welcome to the neighborhood, old fool.

Maybe that’s the fear: middle-aged, middle-class tragedy: nothing awful but a long string of nicks and jabs that bump you into a common mold, make you a common man. And the reminder every time you see yourself, that you’re really seeing someone else, everyone else. Whatever your young hair promised was a lie. It made promises it couldn’t keep. The proof appears each morning.

Might it grow back? Maybe. No, we have to spoil the ending here: it’s not going to. But here’s the other bit of the ending: you don’t need it back, you don’t need it to try again. You’ll be all right. What everyone else knew—it wasn’t a sudden tragedy, but a calm, downhill walk—you will know. Not because the hair didn’t matter, but because you are still underneath it, or what’s left of it. And you mattered more. And soon a real tragedy will distract you, and you’ll have to find a hat for a funeral, because bald heads aren’t solemn or collected. And, as it turns out, neither were you.

It’s not a tragedy to have a son bald before his father. It’s a different kind of death.