I am nothing if not a compassionate, charitable Christian toward those who suffer the same pain and suffering that I have endured. As I shaved the head of my thirty-nine year old brother at midnight recently, I graciously and compassionately led Toby through the valley of the shadow of male pattern baldness.
My six-years-younger-than-me little brother has black hair with just a hint of white creeping into the mix with a strongly pronounced cowlick dominating his front hairline. Since he lives in upstate New York, I see him maybe every six months, and we assess the rate and progress of one another’s recession. And I don’t mean our economic fortunes.
The last few visits, I’ve noticed more scalp on the top of his head and a thinner cowlick. Toby has steadfastly refused to “go short”, the mantra of many thinning males, instead choosing to comb across. He even told me that his barber had recently given him a mini-version of the comb-over wrap that millions of hair-thickness challenged men have resorted to as a solution to scalp showing.
At some point, I had to take the plunge, the leap from the fraternity of virile male strength-and-beauty-is-my-hair, to the sacred brotherhood of those who have given up and shaved their domes. We have to say out loud, "I'm bald," and embrace, love and indulge our minimal coverage.
I believe it was W.H. Auden who wrote, “We would rather be ruined than changed.” That first change, the first buzz-cutt, is like jumping out of a plane with only an umbrella to break your fall. It’s a step that requires incredible courage. You’ve passed into the sacred brotherhood and there is an admission of middle-agedness, of fleeing youthfulness, of saying goodbye to your comb, brush and hairdryer. Done right, it is liberating, cleansing. You feel freed from the bondage of hair vanity.
As I shaved Toby last night and reassured him that he was still a man, his wife Debbie and my wife Karen walked into the room. I continued to bravely reassure him that life would be better now, through the muffled snickering of the inconsiderate females now observing and belittling. Through it all, however, I couldn’t bring myself to shave off the front area, the cowlick that had been so cute when my little brother was a baby. So I left it much longer and shaved the rest. I stood back. I looked. I tried not to think about how comical a twelve hair cowlick looked, but I couldn’t. So I said, “That’s the first twelve hair cowlick I’ve ever seen!”
Then the two women who didn’t know any better fell onto the kitchen floor in doubled over laughter. And I, the one who felt his pain, couldn’t stop laughing. We were laughing in that way that is uncontrollable and that tightens the stomach into painful convulsions. May the good Lord forgive me.
Perhaps though I’ve found a silver lining. For in becoming less, our baldness gives us more. More of what we came into the world with. Thinly veiled heads, lots of scalp showing, newborns all over again. We've given up our virility, for a healthy dose of humility.
Jesus talks about this when he says, “. . . unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”
To paraphrase Psalm 131, one of the shortest Psalms:
I do not concern myself with great hair or things too wonderful for me.
But I have stilled and quieted my soul;
Like a weaned child with its mother,
Like a weaned child is my soul within me.
Think I’ll laminate that and send it to my brother to post on his bathroom mirror.