My father started to lose his hair in his early thirties. I have seen pictures of him in his youth as the self-proclaimed king of all things disco with dirty blond ringlets and flared pants so tight that they suggested that the spermatozoon that would go on to make me in the mid-80s had to be on the reedy side. He looked so happy with his full head of enthusiastic follicles, like the Norse god Sif, before Loki’s cruel prank of sheering off her wheat colored wisps. However, I think my father took it worse than her because old age would first throw some shade. His hair started to get darker before it began to take up base-jumping. It went from dirty blond to coffee brown and almost raven before his death. I always thought that this metamorphosis was rather theatrical; it was like a preview of the all the mourning and moaning that he would personally do or be the cause of.
He claimed that it was my birth that really kicked the whole thing into a Rogaine sponsored rumble for time and sheer volume. According to The Mayo Clinic, there may be some truth to it. They say that one of the causes could be a dramatic trigger event like a sudden death in the family. I don’t think I was that much of a shocker. My mother went on special hormones in order to conceive me. They made her grow a thicker mustache than my father could ever hope to sprout. He knew I was coming; my mother gained over 90 pounds when she was pregnant with me. The only thing that truly died the day I was born was my father’s “there are no strings on me” mind frame.
I will admit that my father wasn’t ready for parental responsibility. In fact, he was not a baby person. Whenever we were in public together and a baby dare cry he would make the new mom feel even more helpless by laughing and saying,
“There’s that sound!” Then, he would cover his ears and pretend to wince. When I was producing those high level octaves he would often call my mother before coming home and ask,
“Is she asleep yet?” No, my father would regain interest in me when I had higher functioning cognitive skills, wouldn’t require any diaper changes, and could easily be bribed into silence with candy and fuzzy, stuffed baby sister substitutes.
As I got older, I remember my father started to exhibit symptoms of hair loss that suggested something more profound was at work than just him not being able to get over his Peter Pan complex, as my mother put it. According to Web MD, his hair loss resembled more of the heredity kind. They call this androgenetic alopecia. It will create an unlucky horseshoe pattern on the hairline and continue to recede backwards, and to add an extra splash of cuticle cruelty, the hair also falls out in a spot towards the center of the head. Thus, the tension for most men has got to be when, oh when, will these two spots meet and greet. Not everyone can be as dashing in the face of a follicle freak-out like a young Patrick Stewart. Make it so, sir. Make…it…so, indeed.
Anyway, my father had both these symptoms. As his front hairline receded the furrows in his brow became more prominent and doubled in number. As a child, I use to sneak up to the couch while he napped, and pretend that they were a mini staircase to all his secrets, like where all my ice cream went at night or why mommy would look so sad sometimes. My little fingers would climb all the way up only to find nothing but a dead end. He would always wake up and tell me to smooth the wrinkles out for him instead. I would giggle and then, of course, do the exact opposite.
When I was in the third grade I remember the big scientific research going on at Oxycocus Elementary was learning that the night sky was home to more than just twinkle, twinkle little stars and cuddly aliens with speech impediments. There were planets too! I wanted to do my project on Jupiter so badly. Not because it was the largest planet in our solar system, or that it was named after the philandering king of the roman gods, but because of The Great Red Spot. When I first saw it in my coloring/reading homework I immediately thought of my father. It looked like it had the same swirl pattern that I had observed my father trying to desperately comb over Monday mornings, before he would vanish into the workweek. He would spend more time in the bathroom than most weave conscious and extension wielding women. I didn’t end up getting Jupiter, but my father’s bald spot in the back would forever have the nickname The Great Bald Spot.
“What? It’s not that great,” he laughed, when I let him in on the joke.
“Yes, it is,” I giggled. I then went on to tell him about Neptune’s spots, the planet I begrudgingly got, because some other kid beat me to Jupiter on the sign-up sheet. I told him how my planet had something called The Great Dark Spot that showed up in 1989 and then it disappeared.
“That’s great! That’s the kind of spot I want,” he said, trying to rush our conversation to completion because he was about to make a phone call on his then brick-sized cellphone. I pouted and left him surrounded by paperwork and plans to give other families editions and room to grow. Before I was out of hearing range I yelled,
“But the spots are thought to come and go!” He angrily waved me out of the room. My father was already too engrossed in chatting up the digital ears of all his other children, aka his home improvement employees and customers.
When I entered into adolescence hair became my preoccupation due to the fact that my father’s family must have been descended from mutated sasquatches with very little on top, but shag carpet thick everywhere else. I needed to shave long before the other girls, but waited until the teasing became unbearable, and that put me right about at the normal middle school age range. My mother first tried waxing, or as I like to say The Devil’s Mucus, and I screamed the entire time,
“Why I am soooooo hairy? This isn’t fair!”
My mother first tried to use the “Welcome to Womanhood” line, but by the end of it my legs were tiger orange from the wax’s coloring and all the epidermal distress.
“You didn’t get this from me. This is your father’s Italian genes,” she finally sighed. By that time, we had already been relocated down to Florida and my father was in the “commuting” stage of his life. His business was up in the Northeast and we were way below the Mason-Dixon line and out of his mistress’s line of sight. When he came “home” the next time I gave him a once over, while he was cleaning his boat in the backyard. His arms and his legs were mastodon-level shaggy, yet he made it a point to always shave his chest and back. However, by the end of the day, I discovered it was actually possible to have a five o’clock upper torso shadow.
“Are all Italians so hairy?” I asked him when he was finished.
“Nah, the northern ones are usually pretty smooth. It’s us Sicilians and the Southerners that usually have a little more fuzz to love,” he laughed.
“It’s gross,” I sighed.
“Nah, just shave it. No one will know. If you get the female stash they got lots of products now to cover it or get rid of it,” he teased.
“I might get a mustache!” I ran inside to consult my mother/resident reality check specialist.
“Oh, honey, that’s not going to happen. You’ve got my genes in there too. The good news is your hair on your arms is blond, so there is a good chance any facial hair will be too. This will make it much harder to see,” she cooed.
“You promise to tell me if you ever see one?”
“I promise, and we’ll deal with it. But I really don’t think it’s going to be a problem for you,” she said with a hug.
“Plus, now that I think about it, I believe the whole Italians being hairy thing is more of a stereotype,” she laughed.
Upon further research, many Italians and Italian Americans find it offensive that they have been stuffed into various cannoli stereotypes, such as: being in the mob, being hopelessly attached to their mothers, and being spaghetti slurping womanizers. However, I found it very difficult to track down an article, blog, or Italian-American website that would address the stereotype behind the sheep dog legs, torso, and groin situation that I was experiencing as an adolescent. Thus, leaving me to believe my father’s fuzzy declaration about Italians. Plus, to this day, I still have to shave everything, including my toes on a bi-weekly basis, or I have quite the hobbit feet situation going on, something the women on my mother’s side of the family never have to deal with. Your move Italian-American PC polizia!
Towards the end of my father’s life he kept saying he was going to take up his receding hair line with the good people at Bosley. This company has boasted for over 40 years that they can replace hair through both surgical and non-surgical methods. My father would see the commercials and start praising and proselytizing for them, before ever even having a consultation.
“You won’t be laughing when I go see my friends at Bosley,” he would chuckle. I would roll my eyes and continue to tease him. However, his plans for a chia pet miracle kept being postponed due to his many run-ins with heart “episodes” and expensive cardiac shunts. They kept him on an ever trickling stream of blood thinners that were not unnecessary surgery friendly. I remember that whenever he would shave his face, while on them, it would look like Bloody Mary sneezed all over the sink.
Also, I don’t think he ever really knew how to shave properly. My grandfather, who had the same unlucky charm hairline by the by, was committed to a mental health facility long before my father’s face even pondered the possibility of peach fuzz. He was self-taught to self-mutilate. This habit of self-punishment flowed over into other veins of his life.
When my father came under investigation by the IRS I noticed that it was not just his hair that was disappearing, but him. He started to lose a lot of weight and the last time I saw him I remember thinking, God, not only is his hair falling out but now he’s falling into teenage girl weight parameters. He never talked about just what exactly he did to rile up Uncle Sam’s most notorious hairy ball busters, but whatever it was he was now no longer my mutated sasquatch but my sickly looking weasel. I asked him if he was okay. He said,
“Oh, I’m just so busy lubing myself up for my court date that sometimes I forget to eat. You know how lawyers want you to be all nice and limber before they bend you over the bench and just take it.”
“Dad, quit messing around you look horrible.”
“What? Nah, it’s good that I lost weight. Besides, they’ll be no midnight snacking allowed at Camp Cupcake. Plus, the doctors might even take me off the blood thinners now. Who knows, maybe I’ll get in shape on the inside. Then, when I get out in a few years and get my hair transplant I’ll look twenty-years younger,” he laughed.
“Is everything a joke to you? This is serious!” I don’t remember what he replied back, but I do remember that we were at my favorite Japanese restaurant. The artwork behind him was of an Edo period Samurai wearing the traditional chonmage haircut. The chonmage was a special haircut worn by Samurai and men of distinction. It involved shaving the top part of the head and pulling and oiling the remaining long hair back into a little bun. I remember thinking his hairline had almost reached my Japanese anime standards of cool. I imagined him as a comical version of a Samurai though. Instead of a sword, he swung a big bag of shit. Unfortunately, I had forgotten that all Samurai, even the silly and irresponsible ones, could commit seppuku.
It was only a month or two later when I saw my father’s dead body did I realize a profoundly cosmological/cosmetic truth. That it would take death for my father to finally sprout his first few white hairs. My mother doesn’t remember the white hairs, and she says that my father had dark hair all the way up until his Red Sambuca stained exit. However, when I was left alone in the viewing parlor of that funeral home with him I took our last few minutes together to really memorize what I saw lying there in that pimped out and platinum casket. His hair was limp and not the rowdy muddle it was after a boat ride or primed and slicked back like it was on his way to work. It was lifeless, and in this unfamiliar stillness I saw them. I swear I saw them. They were the color of that sad looking snow that always gets pushed off to the side of the road with tints of mushy gray mixed in. There weren’t a lot of them, but there were enough for me to finally notice that he wasn’t that teenage disco king he pretended to be well into his forties and early fifties, despite the ebbing hairline.
Now that I am thirty my hair has become much darker, and even though my husband and my mother both say that I am being paranoid, I swear that it is thinning with every brush and blow dry. I am even starting to notice my own brow lines getting more and more staircase to heaven like. I don’t think I am going to do anything about these things, yet.