Of the numerous things inherited from Grandpa, male pattern baldness was Dad’s least favorite. He claimed the term “hair loss” infringed upon his masculinity, rendering him a pitiable character unable to swallow the realities of growing old. Instead, hair was referred to as a phase, one which Dad left behind on his quest for bigger and better things. During Guys Night, Dad’s coworkers would stare at him and say things like “looking a bit sparse there” or “guess you won’t be needing those combs anymore, amiright?” Visibly flustered, he would turn his cheek and straighten up.
“We had a good run, she and I. However, the split was mutual so there’s nothing more to be said.”
It was strange hearing him personify his hair as if it had any say in the decision making process at all. What was even more bizarre was the fact that he referred to an inanimate object as “she.” Once the alcohol kicked in, Dad’s response became “Pfft, who the hell needs hair anyways?” This was usually followed by a slap of the knee with his non beer-holding hand while his buddies stood watching in amusement. Sometimes, Dad went as far as naming famous bald-headed men. A lengthy list including the likes of Vin Diesel and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. He insisted that women swooned over them even though neither had any hair. While his argument was fair, it wasn’t error-free. For one, these men were celebrities. Two, they were jacked. Dad was neither.
Years of allegiance to a desk job had taken a toll on Dad’s physique. His body lost all structural integrity and what was once pounds of solid muscle became fat which now hung on his frame like ornaments on a Christmas tree. One could also make the counterargument that a man’s name says a lot about who he is or is destined to become. Whereas words like “diesel” and “rock” oozed manliness, Dad was born Jim Aldridge, which sounded old-timey and might as well have been the name of a maple syrup company.
In his defense, there wasn’t anything inherently different as far as I knew. Dad was still the same, just with less hair. Disregarding someone because of a single flaw was something I couldn’t picture myself doing. Mom’s attitude towards him hadn’t changed either even though stress caused Dad’s hair to fall out at unprecedented rates. The aging process tested relationships in a way few other things can, and the fact that Mom continues to love Dad exemplified the solidarity of their relationship.
Even with the support of his wife and children, Dad still found ways to hide his insecurity from the public eye. With baldness came a sudden interest in various forms of headwear. From fitted caps to snapbacks to balaclavas and berets, he tried it all. He even managed to somehow acquire a kippah, a hat resembling an inverted coffee filter commonly worn by those of the Jewish faith. The science behind them fascinated me, how they appeared stuck to the wearer’s head even though the point of contact was no bigger than the palm of one’s hand. I guess with enough faith, anything is possible.
Following countless hours of experimentation, Dad settled on the kippah. His fondness of the Jewish hat stemmed from its shape fitting perfectly over the bald spot at the crown of his scalp. Once the decision was made, Dad began wearing it religiously. Religious not in the sense of becoming a full-fledged Jew, but in the sense that rarely was he ever spotted without his beloved coffee filter.
Dad pulled into the driveway one afternoon as Lionel, our neighbor’s son, and I were in the middle of our daily pick-up game. As Lionel went to retrieve an airball, Dad rolled down his window and began pointing at the kippah atop his head.
“Check out my new hat! Isn’t it nice?”
Lionel was struck by Dad’s new accessory and spared no time in vocalizing his surprise.
“I didn’t know your family was Jewish.”
“We’re not, he just wears it to conceal his hair loss,” I replied.
“Hm. Have you guys given hair transplants a consideration?”
Throughout our six year friendship, this was the first time Lionel offered a sensible idea. I relayed the suggestion to Dad and he found it brilliant, agreeing the procedure offered a more permanent solution. After hours of browsing, we found a local hair restoration clinic whose five star ratings outweighed those four and under. It wasn’t the ratings that sold him, but the plethora of adjectives such as spectacular and trustworthy followed by anywhere from four to eight exclamation points.
“With reviews like that, how can you not trust them. Right?” Dad said.
Those remarks came across as gimmicky considering the more praise someone received the less I wanted to believe it. After several minutes of wrestling with the idea, I figured the only way to find out was to go and see for ourselves.
Google Maps led us to a building bearing closer resemblance to a luxury hotel than a health facility. The glass doors greeting us appeared freshly squeegeed and gold lion heads adorned handles of the same color. We stood staring at each other while mouthing the same two words in unison. “Holy. Shit.”
Dad caught a young man exiting the elevator and stopped him for questioning.
“We’re here to see Dr. Saliba, might you know where we can find him?”
The fellow directed our attention to the floor above. “All your answers are right up there, brotha. You stay blessed now.”
Dr. Saliba told us hair transplants operated under similar principles as skin grafts, holding up a cross section of rubber scalp resembling a pizza slice with spikes shooting from it. The process sounded simple enough. Healthy hair gets removed from one section of the patient’s head, usually the back, and placed onto areas most affected by balding.
“All we’re doing is relocating some things,” he said.
“How much will it run me?”
“While prices vary, you’re looking at upwards of $4,000 to $15,000.”
Dad dropped his head in shock and a small patch of hair broke off, settling itself between his thighs. Dr. Saliba picked up the straggler and waved it in front of Dad’s face.
“You see this? The quicker we get the procedure rolling, the quicker this gets fixed.”
To ease our worries, Dr. Saliba joked that 4,000 shouldn’t be viewed as a monetary amount, but the number of years Dad would regain were he to go through with the transplant.
“Just think of how much younger your father will look!” he exclaimed.
My realist brain began picturing Dad 4,000 years younger as some naïve single celled organism oblivious to the curse that would plague his father and eventually him. Dad wouldn’t have had a head yet, much less any hair to decorate it. How was that any different from current circumstances? It was this argument which sent us out the door with Dr. Saliba trailing behind, insisting we would regret our decision for years to come.
The following evening, Dad barged into my room carrying an Office Depot shopping bag. He was all buggy-eyed the way people get when they’ve stayed up for a week straight.
“Remember how you filled out those scantrons at school? Well I’m going to need you to channel that energy again.”
While I stood there confused, Dad whipped out two sharpies. Not the standard issues but those Magnum chisel-tipped ones that produced a line twice as thick. He then tilted his head in my direction and informed me that if I wanted any sleep tonight then I’d better get to it.
“Make sure them edges are crispy,” Dad said. “And I mean, extra crispy.”
The only thing I could think about was Dr. Saliba as my arms turned into rubber. He’s probably sipping on some fancy wine, wearing some fancy slippers, in his fancy house while I’m over here refusing to doze off in fear of messing up Dad’s hairline. No matter how hard I tried exorcising the image from my brain, it remained. There he was in his spiffy white coat, head cocked back in full-belly laughter at what I now realized was the biggest mistake of my entire life.