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.