As many of you noted, on viewing the picture of me and my grandson in the previous post, I am bald.
I have what is called male pattern baldness. (Note that I "have" it. I am not "afflicted" by it. I do not "suffer" from it. I am not "fighting a battle" against it. I am not applying for a handicapped parking tag for my rear-view mirror.) I started losing my hair in my late 20s or so and although I'm no longer keeping track, for all I know I am still losing it. If I left it alone, I would have a smattering of fine, sparse hair on the top of my head, but I use a razor to tidy that up.
Like any guy (and there are so many of us) who has grown up with this, I have heard every bald joke in creation. And really, there are only so many. They're not particularly fresh or clever. Men have been going bald since the dawn of time, and people have been trying to make them feel bad or inferior about it since the very first follicle hit the ground. When you make a bald joke, you are ploughing very tired soil.
What always interests me about bald jokes is the motive behind them. I mean, when someone who despises me makes a bald joke, I get that - they want to let me know that they feel superior to me because they were able to arrange their genetic structure in such a way that they won't experience male pattern baldness. As you might imagine, this doesn't work as well as they hope. Instead, I sort of feel smug about their inability to grasp simple scientific concepts.
But what bemuses me is bald jokes coming from my friends.
See, bald jokes aren't the kind of thing where you're "laughing with" someone. If you're making a bald joke, you're probably not bald. Because of the way society views baldness, you probably know that the person you are making the bald joke at has spent years being pitied, mocked, dismissed, overlooked, or teased for his "affliction". So, when it's your friend ... why would you do that?
The thing is, I don't think it's a mean-spirited effort to hurt. But there's a fascinating short circuit in our social wiring when it comes to baldness. It's as if my baldness - in and of itself - gives you permission to sneer about it.
Most of us would never dream of mocking friends about other notable genetic characteristics they have. "Hey, leave some air for the rest of us, Big Nose!" "Nice map of Albania on your forehead there, Gorbachev!" "Wow, is that your ass or are you shoplifting an ottoman under that dress?"
But baldness? The bar is, evidently, open. Curious, that.
Look, I know I'm bald. And I'm not defensive about it. I'm not defiant about it, I'm not embarrassed by it, I'm not proud of it. I'm not anything about it. I don't have hair in the same way that you do have hair. I don't notice it - or, I guess, I don't notice not having it - until people try to make a funny joke about it. And even then, it's not my baldness that's the issue to me - it's them.
I don't look into a mirror - or look at that picture of me and Owen - and cringe about my lack of hair. If I did, would I ever stand in front of a camera? Nope. I'd be one of those annoying people who makes a huge fuss and draws attention to him or herself whenever anybody gets a camera out, all "Oh, don't take my picture, I'm so ugly, I never take a good picture, but please feel free to compliment me and cajole me into having my picture taken by telling me I'm not as bad as I say I am."
(Why don't we just let them take the damn picture? It would shut them up and - given the type of passive-aggressive bullshit maneuver they always pull to make us compliment them - it's not like they add value to any memory the picture preserves.)
I don't wear a hat to hide my baldness. I wear a hat because I got nuttin' up there to protect the highest part of me from the sun, and if you've never had a sunburn on your head you can't appreciate how painful it is.
Other than that one practical consideration, I don't notice my baldness until you say something about it. And what you say doesn't make me feel bad about my baldness. It kinda makes me feel bad for you, though.
Because I'm not bald by choice. But you? You stopped to think, then you made that joke.
Some people noted that Owen and I had the same hairline. He may grow up to have male pattern baldness. Or he might have a full head of hair, like my brother did. His hair might be white blonde like mine was when I was young, or bright red like his Dad's or thick and curly and red like his other Grandpa, or ... well, lots of possibilities, I suppose.
I don't hope he has any particular colour of hair, nor do I much care whether he keeps it his whole life or loses it in his 20s.
I hope he'll be healthy. That he'll have lots of friends and will treat them well. That he'll grow up surrounded by love. That he'll make good decisions, find something he's passionate about and pursue it. That he'll never stop learning and loving and laughing about life.
But his hair? Sort of low on the list of things to care about.
Same as mine, ya know?
I don't want people to stop teasing me, or taking the piss out of me, or laughing at me. I dish it out, and I really do love taking it. But I tease you about what you do or say, how you act. Try that with me. No end of fertile ground, and if I can break you of the habit of making bald jokes, the world is a (slightly) better place.
And if you did make a bald joke, and are now feeling mortified and hurt that I didn't understand you meant it in gentle fun - stop. I do understand. You're a friend, and you really - really - didn't hurt me.
It's just not the best way to go. And now you know.
Finally, I'll leave you with words from Christine Lavin, one of my favourite singers:
Everybody know it's testosterone
That turns a bushy-haired man into a chrome dome.
But testosterone's what makes a man a man; the more that he's got, the more he can
Do the things that make the women go "Oy!"
I'll take a bald-headed man over a big-haired boy.
Big-haired boys make very good friends, but they cannot compare to bald-headed men.