The indignities of being bald arrive early and stay late.
One afternoon in college – this was the early ‘80s, I ran into Randy, a clueless preppy jackass who studied in my department. We chatted a minute on the sidewalk, clad in our backpacks and down vests. Just as the conversation ended and we were about to each head our own way, Randy stared at my forehead, puzzled, and suddenly spat, “Oh my God, Dude, you’re going bald.”
Thanks Randy. Did I mention he was a jackass?
As the next decade wore on, I proceeded to truly go bald. It was all for the best I guess. When I had a full head of hair it never did what I wanted it to do anyway.
There were some positive signs early on, signs that maybe hair was way over-rated. On a flight to Phoenix with my sister, Cindy and her first husband in those early receding hairline days, a cute young flight attendant gave me way more than normal attention, frequently stopping and chatting. When the young gal wondered off to fill someone’s coffee, Cindy leaned across the aisle and gave me her dry, familiar, dismissive smirk, gesturing toward her forehead, “Must be a father-figure thing.”
“What do ya mean?” I asked.
“The receding hairline,” she said, shrugging her shoulders. “You must remind her of her father.”
When I was a schoolteacher, boys would try to put me on the defensive with passive-aggressive questions about being bald. Out of left field and in front of the entire class, one would raise his hand and ask, “ Does being bald ever get you down?”
I’d respond with, “Yeah. Sometimes. Then I meet somebody with an embarrassing haircut like yours and I don’t feel so bad.”
Score one for the bald guy.
The Hair Club for Men commercials in the 1990s didn’t help with my self-esteem. Somewhere between the clips of formerly bald men running their fingers through new hair as thick as 1970s shag carpet was a clip of a busty blonde in a bikini chirping, “I don’t know why, I just like guys with hair.”
Thanks, Hair Club.
As I lost more and more hair, I tried to accept it by cutting what was left shorter and shorter. When I was a teacher I had a principal who did just the opposite – he wore a toupee. But it was clear he was self conscious about it, as well he should have been. It was a damn ugly, ill-fitting hunk of hair. When we talked, he’d stare at my receding hairline. I’m sure he was trying to imagine how he would look without the rug. It helped me understand how women feel when men stare at their breasts in conversation. I wanted to draw a downward arrow on my forehead and write, “My eyes are down here.”
Once you get a toupee, I figure you’re kinda trapped, and he was. But cruel reality intervened for my old principal. He fought cancer and of course the chemo gave him little choice but to throw the toupee away. After surviving that terrible journey he never wore it again.
Fellow bald man, Dave Kimmel, a North Elementary 4th grade teacher gets the same kind abuse the rest of us bald men get. Recently a small child asked him what was wrong with his skin. “What to you mean?” he asked. The little girl leaned closer and said softly, “It’s all over your head.”
Out of the mouths of babes. Yes, Virginia, once you go bald, the skin is “all over your head.”
I myself joke about being bald as a way to break the ice. On rainy days, I tell people, “I hate days like this. I spend all morning getting my hair just like I want it and then it rains.” But when I’m teased by somebody about being bald, I usually say something like, “I’ve as much control over this as a person in a wheel chair has over their handicap. Do you make fun of people in wheelchairs?”
Well, that shuts them up, but of course it’s not the same thing, and I know it. I’m just trying to turn the tables in the harsh way that is my habit. While it’s true that both bald and handicap people can’t control their condition, handicap people have real obstacles to overcome while we bald men have only wounded vanity to deal with.
Some men overcome their wounded vanity with grace. Think Noblesville legend Murphy White. If there’s a man on this earth who looks better in a hat than Murphy, I haven’t met him. Anytime I try to cover my baldhead with a hat I look like I’m going to a costume party as, well, somebody who looks stupid in a hat.
How’s that for diminished expectations? I’ve quit envying men with hair and started envying men who look good in hats.