On Living Bald

I'm pretty bald and I like it.

I would never have said that twenty years ago when the shocking exodus of follicles began: unrelenting, unsentimental and with a cold hasty finality.

The feeling when this begins is akin to a relationship gone terribly wrong. First is the horrible sense of betrayal you feel when you see too many hairs on your pillow in the morning. Not to mention the shame as you swipe the hairs away, a new morning ritual, being ever so careful to do this while your girlfriend is in the bathroom. Add the indignity of repeating this act, each morning, and trying to convince yourself that she hasn't noticed when, clearly, this emerging transformation is unavoidably apparent.

As with many relationships that are going south, denial becomes a desperate means to extend the status quo. With young (and should be healthy) hairs vacating your skull with extreme prejudice you become creative in how you present yourself style-wise. Picture, as a teen with a full head of hair, the frustration of not being able to get yours looking exactly the way you would like. In my day I may have wanted mine to look like Sylvester Stallone's circa Rocky III (apologies for having to have to reveal that). Of course, I never came close to achieving Sly and that was a sad thing for me. Multiply that feeling of frustration/sadness/defeat by at least a million times when you abruptly realize that your pathetic hair-cut failures of the past are now your salad days hair-wise and things will never be that good again! That's right, you will now look back affectionately and longingly upon moments of your life that were, until now, something you'd tried your hardest to forget. Ugh!

As anyone who has witnessed, up close, the desperate nature of an extreme comb-over recognizes, The Comber is clearly dealing with a myriad of emotions. I believe that it's more complex than just simple denial. It's inaccurate to dismiss a carefully formatted hair-sculpture as just a desperate and vain attempt at deception. It is actually no different than someone with a full head of hair trying to make it look good. Unfortunately, hair-styling with a receding hairline and/or bald spot is like the Hebrew slaves having to make bricks without hay as ordered by Pharoh in The Ten Commandments. It just cannot work. I contend that the comb-over is just part of a process towards acceptance. It's a dark and dreary exercise but it may just be necessary to experience the shame of facing people and wondering if they're staring at your head with wonderment while you look away.

I never really went the comb-over route myself. I just grew my hair really long thinking, perhaps, people will focus on the length rather than the paucity of actual hair towards the front. Again, this is just a transitional part of the inevitable transformation. You're not hiding what's happening. It's more in the vein of a theoretical magic trick where you hope you can distract someone with an illusion. Slight of hair, if you will. That was actually a relatively un-painful period because I was able to focus on the hair I did have and didn't feel particularly ridiculous as a balding man with my remaining hair shoulder length.

When my wife was pregnant with our first child I had something of a turning point in the hair exodus situation. I hadn't worn it long for a few years and I'd kind of settled into being a guy in his early thirties who happens to have a fairly vigorous receding hairline which is far easier than being a balding twenty-something. Sure, there were still bummer moments. I remember heading towards a sure to be tense family dinner when in an elevator a relative (by marriage and a Wanker) looked at me, smiled and said, "Hey Dan...you're getting a little thin on top there." I was still not ready for direct acknowledgement and it hurt. However, those moments were few and far between and as we prepared for our son's arrival I must have been thinking in surprisingly mature terms. It just hit me that it was time to remove the stress and feelings of loss as there will be enough real and meaningful things to deal with to keep me suitably engaged in the very near future.

I didn't have real clippers so I used an electric razor that had a beard trimming accessory. It took a long time and wasn't easy but the shaved head was achieved and I felt incredibly liberated immediately. As I headed downtown to meet my wife at her baby-shower I felt a different kind of self-consciousness. I knew I would get a reaction having never shaved my head before but I didn't feel at all concerned about how it would be received by the gaggle of women at this gathering. Hairline fully on display with the extreme cut I entered the party and couldn't have felt more at ease. My wife smiled at me, rubbed my head as I touched her pregnant belly and I've never looked back.

I don't know if I could've just shaved my head when it all started in my twenties and had the same result. I wish I'd have thought of it then because I potentially could have saved myself a lot of, what I then perceived of as, pain. Of course, in reality it was all a vain and narcissistic fascination and an absolute waste of emotion and energy. I truly think baldness is wasted on the young because now that I've embraced my situation I couldn't be happier hair-wise.

Of course, there are other areas in my life that still are vested, to some degree, in vanity. Weight-gain, decreasing athletic ability, reading glasses, etc. However, there's no real emotional heft to any of these issues. Part of this apparently healthy perspective has to come from experiencing the withdrawal of my hair. And, for that, I suppose, wisdom, I'm grateful. It has served me in life and mostly saved me from what I consider the true ugliness of vanity.

I know there are men who are far older than I am who still swoop their hair into a funnel, held together with toxic spray with the purpose of simulating an actual healthy head of hair. I think these men are too far gone and I hope that their surely complex daily ritual of follicle maintenance is an act of comfort and, in their own way, an act of accepting the simple little truth that they're losing their hair big time.

And, I'm happy to report, there's hope for all. Here in New York we had an effective but repulsively mean Mayor with a severe comb-over that was legendarily ill-fashioned. He was holding on to the past and was as defiant about losing his youthful coif as he was in bullying cab-drivers and squeegee guys. Then, one day, it was gone! He just combed it all back and let it fly. A much more human look and despite his national political failures, Rudy Giuliani at least has laid his cards on the table aesthetically.

There are great bald heroes to embrace too! The masculine ideal of Sean Connery. The unapologizing champion of our bald community, Larry David. The bad-ass cool of Samuel L. Jackson. The greatness of Michael Jordan (and Lebron seems to be headed that way too). And, the dark and unrelenting leadership of Dick Cheney if that's your particular cup of tea.

It is for the balding who have come late to the party that I write this. Losing one's hair in your 30s, 40s, 50s, I suspect, can be just as painful as going through it as a younger man. I can only implore these gentleman to embrace this inevitable development and face it in whatever way that will enable you to get through it. After all, it's just hair.

I'm bald and I wouldn't have it any other way.

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