In my early twenties, I was a midshipman at the United States Naval Academy. I was effortlessly in near perfect shape, kept a sharp white uniform, and a full head of hair always flirting with the frontier of Navy regulations. If ever I was a conventionally beautiful person, it was then.
Unbeknownst to me, I acted like it.
All my friends were conventionally beautiful. We all stuck together like a conventionally beautiful posse. Hung out at conventionally beautiful places and got treated like a testosterone enhanced boy band. We were never wanting for the company of similarly aged, conventionally beautiful women. Consequently, we got to hear the disturbing thoughts of young, self-conscious, American women.
This conventionally beautiful world was constructed around us, and somehow made us feel “normal.”
Every billboard ad in the local mall was emblazoned with pictures of girls who looked like someone we’d date or dudes who looked like a less hardened version of ourselves. The physicality and hyper-sexuality surrounding us didn’t even register in our consciousness. Nearly every person with whom we’d interact, was a living, moving, humorous, decent-hearted, flesh-and-blood version of those pictures.
We were genuinely oblivious to our own conventional beauty. No matter where we came from, during those years of self-creation, there was no stock in it…We weren’t cool for our looks in the same way some millionaires can feel “strapped for cash.” No, in our conventionally beautiful world, we were cool for our creativity, ideas, work ethic, and performance. This went on through my marriage to my conventionally beautiful wife. Through all our friends’ marriages to their conventionally beautiful significant others and through the births of almost all our conventionally beautiful children.
And then, just as my conventionally beautiful bubble was about to calcify into something more permanent, it exploded. Somewhere around my 30th birthday, I was raking leaves in the front yard and Jen waved me over. She asked me if I wanted some water. It was the first time we’d ever had a conversation without her looking me directly in the eye so I asked, “What’s up?” She gestured for me to lean over and ran her fingers through the back of my sweaty hair. Then, her voice betraying exactly zero disappointment, she said, “Hey babe, it looks like your hair’s thinning a bit back here!”
I remember the feeling quite well. My first introduction to my own mortality. My mother’s father is indeed bald as a cue ball but, at well over 80 he still has the heart of a 40 year old. I felt surprisingly okay with trading a lush mane for demigod-like cardiovascular capacity. What I didn’t feel was panic or anything like it. I felt crestfallen for sure, but mostly because Jen would be saddled with a bald husband. More than anything I felt a deep respect for time…and an abiding resignation.
Some decisions had to be made. What to do about it?
You might find the end of the internet in your search for what to do about male-pattern baldness. But for me, I had just enough money to buy new golf clubs OR start a Rogaine regimen. Unconvinced a business in the business of curing male-pattern baldness has any interest in curing male-pattern baldness at all, I bought the golf clubs.
I stood in front of my bathroom mirror, looked at my still-intact locks, took stock of the shampoo, conditioner, hair product, and variety of combs and brushes; and then…I said goodbye.
I drove to the barber shop, ordered up a buzz cut and straight razor shave. I asked him to keep me facing the mirror while he cut. A true master, he sensed the significance of this event. As hunks of long, brown hair hit the deck, I was supposed to feel like I was closing the chapter of my youth. From what I’d read, I was supposed to feel a loss of virility. I was supposed to feel some loss of masculinity. I don’t know about any of that…
Instead, I felt the future.
I was the next step in the evolutionary chain. All these people walking around with unnecessary stuff cropping up from the tops of their heads. So old fashioned! I felt freedom. An enhanced version of my old self. I felt like polished granite. Not in the bull-headed sense. But more in the, “I’m not going any goddamn place” sense. I AM. And I know stuff. And I have a story to tell. I was grateful my life developed in such a way as to give me this absurd level of brass. I felt like I’d been given a gift.
And right HERE in the story, it feels like I should be writing about how wrong I was. How the world has since closed itself off, or stole my “best days are ahead” affirmation. But I can’t.
For all my youthful years, I’d been living in a half-world. Not even a half-world. A fractional world. A nearly insignificant number of human thoughts had made their way into my world view. But somehow, as I walked out of the barber shop, a born-again boss, my slight imperfection served as the key to a greater humanity. A Rosetta Stone to the rest of the world.
Overweight, underweight, and somewhere in between. People of all the colors. The gay people. The transgender people. And old folks, and depressed folks, and young folks, and bookworms, and sick people, and pro-athletes, and damsels in distress, and wounded warriors, and all the beautiful people at once met me just outside that barber shop door. They’d met a kindred spirit and had stories to share. My world grew. Only since, did I realize that barber shop was the threshold of my bubble. And that was the first day in my adult life, I’d breathed free air.
I read somewhere that human happiness “peaks” in your sixties. You’ve come to terms with who you are. Oddities and all. You see your imperfections as what the Japanese like to call “Wabi-Sabi.” Beautifully perfect imperfections marking your here-ness but impermanence in time and space. The universe for a moment manifesting itself in you.
I’m not okay with my daughters waiting six decades.
I am their father.
I will teach them what beauty is.
Jen and I will raise them to spot correct the made-over ugliness. They will trade compact mirrors for mirror lakes, bronzer for canyon dust, stilettos for trekking poles, whitening strips for white water rapids, eyeshadow for bluebird sky, and their powders will be of the Colorado snows.
And when you look at them, you’ll see something of what you’d like to see more of in the world. And they will love you. And they will appreciate you.