How baldness made me a better man

I was 13 years old when the nun told me I would be bald.

It was a bright spring day and we were outside St. Joan of Arc Church. Our eighth-grade class was getting ready to go inside to practice for our confirmation as Catholics.

Out of nowhere Mother Tarsilla barked a laugh and said, “Mark, you’re going to be bald like your father.”

This was jarring news, especially since I was just entering adolescence and Mother Tarsilla, the head nun, virtually never spoke to me. I don’t remember if my classmates reacted, but I have always remembered those fateful, stunning words.

Turns out she was right, although for the wrong reason. Yes, my father was somewhat bald, but I would become even balder. The baldness gene comes from a man’s maternal grandfather, and my mother’s father was very bald. (He was also very grumpy, a trait I work hard to avoid.)

But Mother Tarsilla’s words and my baldness shaped my life, for good and bad.

Lesson 1. Watch your words.
The nun had no need to tell a barely pubescent boy that he was doomed to be bald. Why be mean when it’s not necessary?

Others ask WWJD — What Would Jesus Do?

When I’m tempted to make a cutting remark, I try to stop myself and ask, “WWMTS – What Would Mother Tarsilla Say?”

Then I do the opposite, especially when younger people are involved.

Lesson 2. Come to terms with your baldness.
I noticed my first gray hair when I was 29, the day before my first child was born. To get a gray hair at such an early age was shocking, but now I treasure my remaining gray hair. If not for gray hair I would have no hair at all.

In my rebellious late teens I had a full head of long blond hair that reached my shoulders, but it started thinning seriously in my early, early 30s. I quickly went to the comb-over, parting my hair farther down the side and sweeping the strands over the bald spot.

But the bald spot kept growing and the comb-over became more and more troublesome to maintain.

It looked and felt ludicrous. When walking on a windy day I would pretend I was a tacking sailboat as I crossed the street to keep the wind from getting underneath the comb-over and blowing my hair straight up, uncovering the incipient chrome dome I was developing.

Finally, late in my 30s I went to a hair stylist — $10 more than my trusty barber – and asked him to take away the comb-over and let the baldness be free.

I never felt so good. I was free of the comb-over’s quirks, the amount of time needed to build it in front of the mirror, and the fact that it wasn’t working. It was a liberating experience made even more so by the compliments I got from men and women.

Lesson 3. Don’t let haters get you down.
Some people feel obligated to make bald jokes, and I always smile even though I’ve heard them all.

Trust me, there hasn’t been a new bald joke in 30 years. But it’s important to smile and shrug off the remark. Otherwise, people think they got to you and they make even more bad bald jokes.

Instead, I turn the bald wisecracks to my advantage. I own a convertible and I tell people I am “hairodynamically” equipped to drive it.

I also congratulate myself for not pointing out my critics’ protruding love handles or other apparent flaws. Remember: WWMTS — What Would Mother Tarsilla Say?

And when I see longhaired young guys I sometimes point to my head and urge them, “Grow it while you got it!”

Some bald guys take an extra step and shave their heads regularly, but this seems like too much work. Too many razor nicks on the naked noggin, too. I like my low-maintenance hairstyle, three strokes of the brush – one to the left, one to the middle, and one to the right – and I am good for the day.

I know a few bald guys who resent their baldness and bristle whenever someone comments on it. Why? It’s like being angry about your height or your eye color. It’s something you were born with. You can’t change it, so make the best of it.

I’ve also encountered a couple bald guys who snort when they saw a fellow baldy covering up with a toupee. Most folks can quickly spot a toupee, which is a sign of a man’s insecurities.

I never wanted a toupee and I never felt threatened by a guy who wore one. I figured women also would wonder about a guy with such needs and he would be one less competitor for me.

Lesson 4. You’re more than your hair
Speaking of women, there’s no doubt that a good head of hair helps a guy get noticed. But a good sense of humor and other attributes will quickly overcome the hair handicap.

In the end, other things count for much more than hair, which can be here today and gone tomorrow.