There are moments in life-we all have them-when the veneer of denial that protects the delicate underbelly of who we truly are is stripped away, revealing the knotty, stained, and otherwise flawed reality which lies beneath. Often it is an outside force which lays bare our soul, rather than our own introspection. Sometimes blunt force trauma is the most expeditious path to inner salvation. So it was for me. Delivered with tactical, military precision in but one complex sentence from a person closest to me, the sphere of delusional vanity in which I swam was shattered forever into a million shards upon the living room floor of my psyche.
My path towards male pattern baldness began more than a decade ago in Boston, Massachusetts with mere hints and allegations that hairs manning the front line of my scalp were beginning, quietly and in earnest, to abandon their forward positions. Only scholars of my hairline would have even noticed but it was a dark portent of the mass exodus to come. I responded to the initial shock by entering full scale denial and stopped cutting my hair altogether. Unaware of concepts such as “layering” or “cutting off the dead ends”, for a period of time I looked like the blonde member of a 60′s rock band. One set of regrettable photos remains from this era due to my standing in my friend’s wedding. I’ve been mistaken for one of the bridesmaids. My haircuts improved drastically over time but not even quality hair work can impede the inevitability of nature’s wrath. There was a brief interlude during which I consulted with my doctor, the estimable and incorruptible Dr. Z, on the possibility of Propecia or similar. Dr. Z looked me straight in the tits and said “Sure, I’ll prescribe you drugs, the pharmaceutical company will even juice me for it. What I don’t know are the long-term ramifications. The studies of daily use only go out a short time horizon. I can’t guarantee you that in 15-20 years from now your kidneys won’t fail or you won’t have liver scarring. So you tell me how vain you really are and we’ll go from there.” Parade-pissing mutherfucker. I was forced to come to terms with the Great Recession occurring beneath my locks lest someday I wake up and look like Gallagher, kids calling me “Skullet” behind my back. Thus haircuts gradually became shorter, revealing a peninsula formation on my forehead which as I type is, as though a victim of global warming and rising sea levels, becoming an island. Soon all rail and vehicle travel to the island will be reduced to ferry boats until someday in the future the island will be but sunken barrier reef to the mainland. I’ve begrudgingly accepted my fate and several years ago began cutting my hair increasingly shorter since I no longer have the troops necessary to feign a united front. I don’t yet break out razor and shave my head, but it’s in the mail.
On a recent sun splashed Saturday morning, with the radio playing easy music and hot coffee warming my soul, my peace was shattered by the smallest of tempests. I was on the floor of the living room enjoying a picnic of plastic pie, cheese and crackers, and either strawberries or watermelon (it has never been clear which fruit is depicted in the picnic set) when my daughter began to discuss her recent haircut and subsequent impact the haircut had on her two-year-old life that week. In addition to it being “cool” it apparently also was deemed lollipop worthy by the staff at kiddie salon. At roughly the same moment I was registering my surprise at the fact a children’s salon would not only keep lollipops on the premise but that she would be deemed worthy of receiving one, my daughter began focusing her eyes on my hair. Her gaze switched in an instant from one of lighthearted play to laser-sharp focus and intense study. My own face wore a playful smirk as I pondered what silly-hearted equation was being worked out in her young mind. Then, as the ocean had suddenly been sucked miles out to sea and the children were frolicking in the bare sand and picking up the fish left flopping in its wake, from out on the horizon the wall of wave bore down. She shifted her eyes from my hair and locked them into my own and said, “Daddy, you don’t have hair; You just have a head.” Boom, roasted. As though not a mere innocent toddler but rather a savvy veteran woman 25 years her senior with the blood of many men’s souls upon her hands, she continued to stare silently at me as the gravity of her statement sunk in. It was the equivalent of the pilots of the Enola Gay doing a fly-by of Hiroshima after the mushroom cloud began to dissipate, performing aerial tricks as if to tell the few survivors, “Have fun with the decades of birth defects and acid rain, ya fucks!”. I’d been lying to myself for years; tranquilizing my vanity with the delusion that the world saw me for who I am and not my hairline. This opiate could not pass the toddler test. The world knows me as just a head, nothing more nothing less.
Various rejoinders began racing through my mind such as “Well at least I can wipe my own ass” and “Disney’s Frozen is a shitty movie!”. I didn’t utter a single one. I knew the war was over and I had lost. All I had left was the formal signing of treaties and the packing up of the imperial palace. After a long staring contest I gathered what remained of my pride and said, “Yes sweetie, Daddy just has a head”. Satisfied with her total victory she went back to the picnic as though I was not a broken man upon a leaking raft in a roiling sea. I had nowhere to go, nothing left to hide. So I picked up my plastic pie, made the requisite fake nibbling sounds and washed it down with the bitterest of fake beverage. In the background Neil Young sang, “I’ve been first and last, look at how the time goes past, but I’m all alone at last, rolling home to you. Old man take a look at my life……”
If those who love us most cannot be brutally honest, then why be loved?