Carol and I have been married for 29 years. This is the first time I have heard her say, “You should wear a hat.”
I respond appropriately, “Huh?”
“Like when you were in college. You wore hats then. Maybe you should get a fedora.”
Carol and I did not meet until after college, but I let it pass. My beloved thinks it is time to start covering my bald spot. “Spot” may not be the right word. Spot sounds like a barely visible dot. My bald area is yarmulke-sized and is threatening to become a bald head rather than a bald spot. By age 50, half of all Caucasian males begin to lose their hair. This is true for only one in four Chinese men. I should have eaten more egg rolls.
Men have long been frightened of looking like light bulbs. A doctor’s prescription written in Egypt around 1550 BCE recommended applying the fat of a hippo and a crocodile to the scalp for four days. Aristotle suggested goat urine for the follicly challenged. Cleopatra implied that Julius Caesar’s thinning dome could use a lotion of ground up mice, horse teeth, and bear grease. A Viking legend advocated smearing pates with dollops of goose poop. India had the simplest prescription for retreating hair—do a headstand. In 1896, Scientific American concluded that listening to stringed instruments prevents hair from falling out while brass instruments cause hair loss. Nineteenth century French psychologist Emile Coue believed positive thinking could bring back curls. In 1988, Swiss farmer Gerhardt Flit claimed bat milk—which he sold for $3500 per ounce—cures baldness.
During the Middle Ages choir boys with particularly beautiful voices were castrated before reaching puberty to keep their voices from changing. Researchers found that none of these castrated choir boys grew bald—which suggests to me that baldness is a sign of sexual potency. Even so, when you see that you are going James Carville, you go through the stages of grief:
(1) Denial – “This can’t be happening to me. The barber must have made a mistake.”
(2) Anger – “Why me? Justin Bieber has his hair! I didn’t do anything wrong.”
(3) Bargaining – “The guys in the Rogaine ads look good. Why not?”
(4) Depression – “My life with hair is over. What’s the point?”
(5) Acceptance – “Sean Connery is handsome.”
Scientists used to claim baldness was due to one’s mother’s genetic makeup, but now they are unsure. Baldness could be the next step in our evolution from a furry ape.
I’m getting used to my androgenic alopecia. My hair is going from parted to departed. I don’t own a blow dryer. My remaining hair dries in the time it takes to brush my teeth. I get colder when it rains and sunburned when I play tennis. When children count bald men in church I make the list. I cannot become a faith healer, because no one trusts a bald one.
When I go to my stylist at Super Cuts I ask, “How much more like Sinead O’Connor do I have to look to be eligible for a discount?” My barber laughs and offers to trim my eyebrows, while I notice that haircuts are $15 and shaves are $10. Shaving my head will be cheaper.
I’m still some distance from Daddy Warbucks, but I am now the guy people ask for directions. Apparently bald men are more likely to know street names. We look more mature, less angry.
I am making peace with becoming Mr. Clean. I feel some camaraderie with Bruce Willis, though I still wonder why God would want me bald.
The Bible helps. Leviticus 11:22 tells us we can eat the “bald locust”—which must be the tastiest of locusts. Leviticus 13:40 offers a promise that should be cross-stitched, “If anyone loses the hair from his head, he is bald but he is clean.”
2 Kings recounts this touching story about Elisha: “Some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, ‘Go away, baldhead! Go away, baldhead!’” This is ancient Israel’s version of “Are you really that bald or is your neck blowing a bubble?” Elisha cursed them and “two she-bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys.” (This heartwarming story is seldom included in children’s Bibles.)
Most of us want to keep our bald spots out of sight. We know the feeling of wanting to cover our head or being in way over our head, but we might be better off admitting that something is missing.
According to The Acts of Paul and Thecla, a book written sixty years after the New Testament, Paul was “bald-headed, bowlegged, strongly built, a man small in size, with eyebrows that met, and a rather large nose.” There’s no growing back, so I’m joining St. Paul, Tony Campolo, and the Dalai Lama, though I do look good in a fedora.