Personal

Signs of aging: Losing my hair

I was looking back through old photos recently and came upon this photo of my parents, my brother, and me on my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary in 2014. We had taken them out for a fancy dinner in downtown South Bend, and then walked over to the church where they were married so they could reminisce. My sons were along; one of them made this image of us sitting on the church’s steps. I was 46 in this photo. Dad was 73.

My parents looked like they were 30 until they were 50, when they started to noticeably age. Even then, through their 50s and 60s they passed for a decade or more younger. They passed that trait down to both of their children. I was routinely carded in bars until I was in my late 40s. My co-workers were surprised when I mentioned recently that I’m 54; one said he would have guessed 40. Bless him.

We were also a family of full, thick hair. Here’s a photo of us with our Aunt Betty from when I was about 14, and Dad was about 43. But you’ll notice that his hairline is clearly receding.

Dad’s hair began to noticeably fall out starting in his 40s. It fell out unevenly, starting over his left temple and slowly working itself back. Here’s Dad in 1991 when he was 50, that hair-loss pattern in progress.

Meanwhile, a bald spot appeared at his crown. Then his hair started falling out over his right temple, eventually reaching the bare crown. It left him with a tuft of hair in front, right in the middle. You can see in the first photograph how he handled that: he left that central tuft long and combed it straight back to reach where his hair resumed again at his crown. He then slicked it all down with Vaseline hair tonic, which was made mostly of mineral oil. It wasn’t a great look on him, but there wasn’t much he could do with that hair pattern.

As I cruised through my 40s with my hair intact, I thought surely I’d escape Dad’s fate. Here I am at age 47 with a full head of hair.

But after I turned 50, my hair began to thin at my crown and recede over my left temple, just like my dad. I didn’t realize how much hair I was losing until early in the pandemic. I didn’t feel good about sitting in my stylist’s chair, so I bought clippers and gave myself a buzz. Only then could I see that my crown was nearly bare, and the hair over my left temple was thin all the way to the crown. I was losing my hair in the same pattern my father did. (I hate how I look in a buzz cut, but I don’t know any other way to cut my own hair.)

In my early 20s I swore to myself that as I aged, I would accept it in peace and with grace. But then with very good fortune I looked young for the next nearly 30 years. As I headed into my 50s I noticed gray hairs finally starting to show up and noticeable wrinkles forming on my face. Weirdly, my eyebrows became thin and faint. I certainly didn’t celebrate these changes, but I didn’t rue them either.

But when I saw how clearly my hair was going away, I freaked out — and I broke my promise to myself. I immediately tried Rogaine, and used it for nine months, but it had no effect. My dermatologist then prescribed Propecia, but the side effects were unpleasant and frustrating so I gave it up right away. I had no choice but to accept my hair loss.

I mourned for several months. I loved my hair! It was hard to come to peace with losing it.

Here’s a photo of me from the year I turned 40 that I especially love. I was at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on a field trip with my older son’s third-grade class. My son took my camera and made this portrait. I love it first because I see my enjoyment of my son in my eyes. But I also like it because my hair looked straight up terrific. I was wearing it a little long then, something I did off and on from college to my early 40s.

I now accept that little by little the top of my head will come to look like my dad’s, and I increasingly won’t like how I look. I never liked how Dad styled that front-and-center tuft, but I am no smarter than him and can’t see a better way. Maybe I’ll try shaving it. But fortunately, progress is slow and I won’t have to cross that bridge soon.

I’ve been very fortunate — I’ve had an extra long run of youthful good looks. I won’t complain anymore. But it feels good to get this off my chest.

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25 thoughts on “Signs of aging: Losing my hair

  1. I have been blessed with those traits you mention – looking at least somewhat younger than my actual age and having a full head of hair. My father and both grandfathers had full heads of hair until they died, though two of those men died at 65 or younger.

    Having entered my 60s, I see it as an opportunity to embrace. Once upon a time old men embraced the look that age brought. I find that liberating and refuse to do the boomer thing of trying to act or look like I did at 30. I guess I’m an old soul, and I’m cool with it.

    • I’m trying to do just that: embrace the look that old age brings. I had a temporary setback as my hair started falling out, though.

  2. Any kind of loss or change to the hair is a blow to the morale. I’ll be dying mine right up to the bitter end!

    Thank you for this honest, incredibly personal piece. You never know who you might help.

    • My wife started going gray in her early 20s. It started with a gray “racing stripe” in her black hair and went from there. Her first husband didn’t appreciate the gray so Margaret dyed it. But one day she decided she’d had enough. She’s been full gray ever since. It’s to the point now where it’s well on it’s way to full white.

      It’s crazy how universally intensely personal our hair is.

      • Andy Umbo says:

        Gotta say to Brandi and your wife, we had a pal in college who went completely silver/gray over a semester. She swore she didn’t dye it, in just happened (probably from stress). I’m telling you, it was so wildly attractive, that she had guys following her around like puppy dogs!

      • Oh my. That would be tough for someone so young. My hair is starting to turn white but it’s subtle enough that people sometimes think I’ve had highlights done when I haven’t. That’s usually a wake up call that it’s time to get an appointment though!

  3. Andy Umbo says:

    I looked 30 until I turned 62, now at 67, I look 80! Must be the cigars.

    I have OK hair, not full and luxurious, but mostly there. I’ve worn my hair very short since my mid-30’s, because I swam for excercise. My girlfriend when I lived in Washington D.C. harranged me to wear my hair longer, because her gal-pals had boyfriends and husbands that had bald spots and no forhead hair in their 30’s; she wanted to “lord it” over them! What is it about government work that causes substantial hair loss?

    I’ve always said, that if I had substantial hair loss, I would shave it all off, and I have to say, a great number of my friends have done this, and look great! You have to find the right hat tho, most of my fedoras don’t look good on a bald guy, you have to go with something like a beret.

    Doing the bald thing is also sort of dependent on head shape. If I did it, I’d have to lose a little weight. Nothing worse for a bald man than to have a pear-shapped head. Not a good look.

    • The few times in my life I’ve worn a buzz cut, I was not happy with the shape of my head. I don’t think I could pull off the shaved-head look well. Moreover, my thin and faint eyebrows don’t help. Men with good shaved heads and full eyebrows – that’s a good look.

  4. DougD says:

    Very interesting how your hair loss is asymmetrical, indeed getting older is a bugger and I’ve got plenty of grey and a thinning crown. But luckily I got my dad’s hair and he’s still got a good chunk at 84. On the other hand my younger brother got hair from my mother’s side of the family. He lost most of his hair, gave up and started shaving his head at least 10 years ago.

    But there’s worse things, I’d trade my hair for a healthy spine in an instant, maybe you’d trade yours for healthy feet?

  5. Jeffrey Nickerson says:

    Was it on purpose that after describing what is happening to your hair and wrinkles currently, that you only showed photos of yourself when everything looked good? Just asking. I do enjoy reading your stuff.

    • Yes, it was on purpose, as I wanted to look back on more hair-enriched times. But I have shown myself as I look now on this blog several times this year.

  6. Old guy here. The hair loss isn’t a problem. The hearing loss and eyesight loss … those are problems. Looks are superficial: it’s function that matters. (Manufacturers seem to have forgotten this as well.)

  7. Ah yes, the accumulation of birthdays!!! In my case so far it is mostly grey, a tiny bit thin on the back of my head. Two of my younger brothers have far less hair than me so I guess it is a lottery of sorts. But hearing and eyes are not quite what they once were!

    • It is a lottery for sure. At my 25th high-school reunion someone said to me that I’d won the hair lottery! But that was 12 years ago now.

  8. My hair began to thin in my twenties so I took that particular bull straight by the horns and went for the shaved look, which has been my “style” now for the past three decades. It has it’s downsides – cold in the winter, risk of sunburn in the summer – but the upside is that I’ve saved thousands on haircuts and hair products, never really have to think about my hair, and it’s super quick and easy to keep clean. If I was given the choice, I’d prefer a full head of hair to be sure, but it really doesn’t bother me at all that I don’t.

    There must be hundreds of millions of guys with male pattern baldness around the globe, so it’s not like it’s a small club to be a member of. :-)

  9. Peter Paar says:

    I am afraid you will have to blame your mother for your hair loss. Women (not all) carry the gene for male pattern baldness. Like hemophilia which the ladies also carry, they transmit but do not get.

  10. Mark says:

    Went through chemo, radiation, surgeries. Before that was very gray but thick. Didn’t loose hair in clumps but did thin some. After chemo stopped started shedding like a German Shepard in summer even with FlowBee buzz cuts. Finally stopped & I swear lots coming back is darker, even eye brows, yet not as thick. Very strange.

    • My dad experienced similar weirdness with his hair as he did chemo twice. The first time it mostly fell out but grew back in fully gray (when it had been mostly black). The second time it fell out again but grew back in mostly black again. There’s just no accounting for how chemo will treat you!

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