Somewhere along the way – maybe in 5th or 6th grade – someone told me that as long your maternal grandfather wasn’t bald then you wouldn’t go bald either. I don’t remember who told me this, but it must have been someone I trusted because I readily accepted it. Of course, the ease with which we believe something is often a function of just how much we’d like that thing to be true, and I probably would have greeted this hypothesis with a little more skepticism were it not for the fact that my Grandpa Barker had a respectable head of white hair.
Whenever the topic of baldness came up I breezily declared my immunity, citing the Maternal Grandfather Rule. Although even as a child I knew that the future held difficulties and challenges I couldn’t foresee, I took comfort in the fact that I would be facing them with a head of thick, rich hair. See, even in elementary school I was aware and fond of my hair to a degree that now makes me uncomfortable. While Ryan and Christian stumbled from bed to school without so much as a sideways glance at the mirror, my patented “Wave” required the use of hair spray and a hair dryer.
You can laugh at this all you want, but I’m going with Mara Peterson, and you’re not.
Now, this investment of time and effort yielded dividends of popularity and girlfriends, so I can’t say that I entirely regret it. But the fact remains that I was pretty into my hair as a kid, and that’s a little embarrassing. As time progressed I stopped spending as much time on my hair, but I was always pretty aware of how it looked and always had my eyes peeled for a new ‘do that would take my hair game to the next level.
However, as I got older I took a liking to wearing baseball hats, and by the time I was a freshman in college I wore one pretty much everywhere but church. In fact, a few girls I knew approached my roommates to ask if I always wore a hat because I was balding. When my roommates told me of the conversation we all had a good laugh, after which I said, “No, but seriously, that’s never going to happen. Because of my grandpa.”
When I was 22 or 23 my oldest brother Braden made a casual remark about my receding hairline. There was no uncertainty or questioning in his comment; he referred to it as an objective and obvious reality. It struck me as an absurd thing to say, not least because Braden knew very well that Grandpa Barker had a lot of hair. Taken aback by his obvious inability to grasp even the most basic tenets of genetic science, I smiled politely at his comment and changed the subject.
Ah, the smug grin of a man whose confidence in modern genetics has yet to be shaken.
It wasn’t until I was 25 or so that it occurred to me that I had a slight hair-related problem. It wasn’t baldness, or even a receding hairline. It was that the hair towards the front of my head just seemed to be a little sparser than the hair on other parts of my head. That’s OK. Hair is famously unpredictable, and there’s no law that says your hair has to be of the exact same thickness on every part of your head. I began to use gel to sort of prop up and piece together the hair at the front. Not a big deal. A lot of people use gel for various issues.
I lived happily in the cocoon of my fantasy for a little while, until it slowly dawned on me: Gregor Mendel was a fraud, and I was going bald. Now, that’s not an easy realization for anyone to come to, but it’s especially difficult for a single guy in his mid-20s. I recalled a conversation I had with my college roommates in which we jokingly swore that if one of us were to show a hint of baldness the others would immediately fly him to a foreign land to marry a woman whose desire for US citizenship superseded her allegiance to the natural laws of physical attraction. Ha ha. Not a super funny joke anymore.
I stewed about the matter for a few days, and then, for reasons I don’t fully understand, it just sort of faded from view. Kind of like my hair. I’m not sure why it didn’t end up being a bigger deal to me, especially in light of my history as a guy who cared a little too much about his hair. Maybe it was because girls didn’t seem to mind as much as I thought they would, or perhaps I became a little less superficial. In any event, life went on. For another year or so I sported my ill-advised “scraggly weeds up front, lush forest in the back” look, mainly because it seemed unfair to punish the 90% of my hair that was doing great work because a very small group of hairs were falling down on the job.
And then one day, I up and did it: in an act that was equal parts submission and defiance, I shaved it all off. I’d be angry at whoever introduced me to the Maternal Grandfather Rule, but since I can’t remember who it was, I’ve directed that resentment at my three brothers who all have their hair, Gregor Mendel, and my Grandpa Barker.