As soon as I noticed I was going bald, I took the only sensible action and shaved my head. How could I not? Growing up, I grimaced at the sight of my father’s ill-advised comb over. I swore I would not make the same mistake. I love the man dearly, but I'm scarred by the image of his few scraggly hairs flopping in the wind like a dying fish. I always wondered who my dad thought he was fooling. It’s not as if anyone would look at him and think he had a full head of hair. Eventually he let go and got a buzz cut—only because of an insistent barber and a dose of the truth. To this day, he insists that it didn’t look that bad.
Recently at lunch, I complimented him on his latest trip to the barber.
"I was looking at my wedding photos. Matt, I forgot what it was like when I had hair," he said.
"But even then, you really didn’t have hair, Dad," I said.
"It was something, though," he said.
"More like nothing," I said.
If youth is wasted on the young, then hair is definitely wasted on everyone who isn’t bald. Fortunately, I wasn’t one of those poor saps who started losing his hair in high school or college. Back then I had a mane so thick my scalp would hurt when I put a brush through it. I even used mousse on occasion, which left its bottle as a liquid and then miraculously transformed into a mass in my hand. I can even remember how it smelled, perfumed and syrupy sweet. It left my hands sticky after a generous application. I didn’t realize it would be a love affair that would end.
There are so many things I would have done differently had I realized I would be bald by 30. There are so many hair styles I never got to experience that I wished I had: mohawks, dreadlocks, perms, mullets. All hair fantasies involve music from the 80s and me strutting through a crowd pointing at imaginary fans, letting them know that I see them and I know they see me and my awesome hair.
And when I first began to lose my hair, I thought it was an optical illusion. I found out when I started teaching fifth-graders. My colleague Ms. Cannon inspected me one day. "Mr. Borden, you’re going bald," she said. "You have a big space on the back of your head." I appreciated Ms. Cannon because she was a straight talker, even though she could hurt your feelings while she was keeping it real. What could I say? She was right. Eventually I came to face my reality and got what the kids called a "baldie." All my hair was shaved, and my days of using hair products were officially over.
This hairless reality has not been reflected in my dreams. They all follow the same script: I am in a dimly lit bathroom, staring at myself in a mirror. I glance at my head and gasp in amazement upon seeing myself with a full head of hair. Instantaneously, I realize that my baldness phase had been an enormous misunderstanding… with myself. I was preventing myself from having hair with my insistence on shaving my head. What a fool. If I just stopped shaving my head it would all come back. Then I wake up.
I told my wife about my recurring dream and she laughed. Then she kissed my scalp. "I love you just the way you are," she said. Maybe. But how much more would she would love me if I had hair?
In some ways I do feel responsible for my plight. In my carefree hair days, I mocked my friend Hirsch who used a shampoo in his 20s to stymie his loss. I laughed at my friend Eeyore, who fastidiously shaved his head every other day to deal with his receding hairline. My mother’s father had hair until he died, and so I believed I was to be promised the same fate. I thought my destiny was to be a silver fox, a John Slattery. But the only thing that has turned gray is my beard. That just makes me feel even older.
The hair I have left is a problem now, actually. My eyebrows are going through a difficult time. Stray hairs shoot out from all directions like a child’s drawing of sun. I am grimly aware that it is only a matter of time until these furry caterpillars blossom, not into beautiful butterflies, but into shaggy beasts that will live for eternity beneath my temple and mock me as they softly chant, "You are getting old." Shut up, eyebrows.
But what is it about going bald that is so frightening to so many? What goes through the minds of those who think they are fooling the world with a bad comb-over? I resent and feel empathy, in equal measure, for these men who want to be a member of a club that doesn’t even acknowledge their existence. It’s not as though anyone with a great head of hair sees a man with a comb-over and asks him for the name of his barber. I want to start a website, Just Shave It Dot Com, which would consist only of pictures of men with bad comb overs. I will point them out and humiliate them until they come to their senses. Tough love from one bald man to another. A hairless revolution is brewing, and I am on the front lines. Bald can be virile—just ask Jason Statham, Vin Diesel, Taye Diggs, or Patrick Stewart. Bald can be bold. I choose to be bald, rather than suffer the indignity of balding. Just Shave It. Keep your dignity.
And to all those who have hair, I implore you to treasure it. Regardless of your weight, height, or looks, there will always be a bald man somewhere out there, staring longingly at your hair, wishing he could be you. It might even be me. Although I have come to grips with the fact that I am bald, a part of me will always hope for the impossible. Recently, I received an email from a local athletic store, promoting a new study that purported to show a connection between barefoot running and hair growth. My heart started beating rapidly as I imagined my new exercise regime. It wasn’t until I reached the third paragraph that it became apparent that it was an April Fool’s Day joke. In addition to being virile, apparently bald men can be suckers too.
Matt Borden is a writer in Brooklyn and is in no way connected or affiliated with Matty B Raps Dot Com. Photo of a painting of Charles-Louis Regnault and his startling comb over, c. 1815, by Karen Green.