It was June 1994 and I was 32 years old. My boss at the time decided that we needed to forge a collaborative research agreement with some famous professor at the University of Washington in Seattle. I was skeptical about whether such a deal would benefit my research group at the time, but I had never been to Seattle before so it sounded like a reasonably fun trip. When I arrived it was raining. You gotta love when stereotypes are true. Since I had gotten up early and flown for about 6 hours, I was tired before the meeting even started. Fortunately, the professor offered to get me a coffee and took me to some coffee place that had recently gone public called Starbucks. It was quite popular, he promised me, out in Seattle, though I had never heard of it. But, instead of coffee, they gave me something called a “latte.” It was tasty, but different. I remember nothing else about that day, the meeting, or the coffee. I think we did a small research deal, but I don’t think it ever amounted to much. I honestly just don’t remember.
What I do remember is the elevator ride up to my hotel room that evening. After checking in, I headed upstairs in the elevator. Like many elevators, it had a mirror. Like most dashingly handsome men, I stared at my handsomeness in the mirror. But, for the first time in my life, I saw something a little different, just a little off. It was something I had never seen before. Not scary. Just new. It was my upper forehead. I had never seen it before because it was always covered by a reliable thicket of hair. That day in 1994 in that elevator in Seattle, I realized there was less hair and more forehead than in all the prior self-admirations in the mirror that had preceded the one that day. Oh shit. I’m going bald.
I’m guessing most bald or balding men have a similar “oh shit” moment in their follicular decline. For most guys, it’s what comes next that matters. There are the inevitable 5 stages of coping with the loss and the loss that is to come:
1. Denial and Isolation
This might be the time at which the guy decides to spike his hair or buy a convertible. What I saw in the mirror can’t be right and it’s my wife’s damn hair that’s clogging the shower drain.
This is a very natural reaction. The man’s barber may be a convenient target: “Hey, you idiot, if you hadn’t used so much gel, I wouldn’t be losing my hair now.” Or, he might blame it on his kids. “See what you’ve done to me. I had a full head of hair before you guys were born.” Friends and family members have to be prepared to take the man’s wrath during this period.
During this phase, the guy will look back at what could have been and maybe make a pact going forward. Many a priest has heard the prayer, “Forgive me Father, for I have sinned. I cheated on my taxes and rooted for the Dallas Cowboys. But, I have cleaned up my act and promise to be good for the rest of my life. If I do, is there any chance, Dear Lord, that my hair could start growing back?”
Most men spend a minimum of a week balled up in the fetal position, clutching pictures of their former hairy selves, weeping about how they once looked like Erik Estrada. They may even visit the fuckyeahguyswithgreathair website (seriously, you think I made that up) during this difficult time.
This is a much tougher stage and, frankly, one some guys never get to or, in some cases, fade in and out of. No doubt, this final stage involves many important decisions that will have long-term implications. Comb over or no comb over? If yes, comb over side to side?
Or back to front?
Big, long, swooping, swirling, twirling comb over?
Or just a slight one?
These are not easy decisions and many of them will take months or even years to implement.
There’s also the shaved head option. This is an area where I am insanely jealous of my balding African American friends. I’m not sure why, but black dudes just seem to pull off the shaved head look a lot better than us white guys. They seem to end up looking like Michael Jordan and we end up looking like some crazy albino killer from a James Bond film. Not really fair.
There is a middle ground, which I implemented for several years, and that is the very short buzz cut. I loved it – much lower maintenance than the comb over and works better with the mid-life crisis sporty convertible. But, my wife complained because I buzzed it myself at home and never got the back part just right (I didn’t care – I can’t see the back of my head). So, alas, I went back to the Short-Version Side-to-Side Comb Over. Until last night.
I had a major follicular epiphany last night at the Nats game. I got there a bit early and was hanging out in the Red Porch bar. A few rows in front of me, there was a dude about my age with dread locks under his baseball cap. I stood there admiring his dreads for a while, lamenting the fact that my opportunity to grow dreads had died back in that elevator in Seattle in 1994. My mind quickly raced through all the lost opportunities for great hair styles since then.
I could have easily regressed in the 5 stages of coping, but then they started playing the National Anthem. Despite my undying patriotism, I hate that part of the game because I have to take off my baseball cap. When my baseball cap is on, I have as full a head of hair as anyone in that stadium. But, when it comes off, the truth about my scalp is laid bare, quite literally.
But, something magical happened in that moment of National jingoism. My dreadlocked buddy pulled off his cap and placed it over his heart and, Shazam!, he was every bit as bald as I was!
In that moment, an entirely new view of the world opened up to me. I’m not sure why I had assumed bald guys can’t have dreadlocks. Growing my hair downward is not a problem. It’s the top that’s problematic . Some decisions come to you in a flash and this one did. Literally and physiologically, I started growing my dreadlocks immediately. Mark your calendars – it was about 6:30 PM on September 6, 2012. I have checked a few websites like dreadlocks.com and howtodread.com and the consensus seems to be that you can begin to dread in about 6 months, but really need at least a year to have something recognizable as dreadlocks. I’m a patient man so my target is to report back to you by Christmas 2013 on my full-length, Rastaman dreads!