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Losing my hair, but not my stride

It was a standard line you'd always hear as an anxious kid before haircuts, an assurance if you feared a botched job. "It's just hair. It'll grow back."

And it did, for a while. Through the bowl cuts, the middle parts, the spiked-all-overs, the spiked-in-fronts, it always came back. For all the challenges I had given my hometown barbers, it never failed to return. Every frivolous stage of my teenage years was translated into a new, goofy look.

"I want the Jonathan Taylor Thomas."

"I want the Rancid album cover."

And I went through college with that same, blissful regard for my flourishing follicles.

"I want the charming, intellectual 20-something with a mysterious past. ... OK, fine. Just spike the front and blend in the rest."

I lived in that ignorance for many of my 26 years, but there were signs of some impending roadblock. Here and there, I noticed that my hairline was maybe a bit higher than the previous day. I even remember joking about it hiding from my face, but it was never quite real to me. At least, it wasn't real until a hair appointment last fall.

I was getting the Smith Special, although I may be the only person who calls it that. After the job was complete, I put my glasses back on and something just seemed off.

"My hair's ... thinning? Is it thinning right there?"

"Yep," she said, clearly not aware of the paramountcy of this moment.

"I'm ... balding?"

"Yep," she said.

My first reaction to the revelation was textbook cool.

This is no big deal.

This happens to a lot of people.

I'm already married, so why do I care? Maybe I can pull off bald, but not in that Vin Diesel way. Lots of great people are bald: Patrick Stewart, Professor X from the "X-Men" movies and even one captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise. Wait, those are all the same person?

Next came a stage of curiosity, or more bluntly, finding who or what was to blame for this. Had I worn too many hats throughout my life? I've always loved hats, but maybe I should have skipped a few fedoras during my middle-school ska stage. My dad has a full head of hair. Could I have inherited something from the other side of the family?

I began to cycle through Facebook pictures, tracing back to the exact event in which a portion of my hair packed its bags and "went out for cigarettes," never to return. In none of these photos was I spraying my head with a strange, bottled chemical and ignoring the three Xs on the side. I never washed my hair too much or too infrequently. By at least that hygienic standard, I had done right by my body.

All I knew was that my hair was still thinning.

As with many worldly anxieties, making this supposedly big problem seem a whole lot smaller came down to confronting it head-on. My wife and I spent a recent afternoon researching male pattern baldness, which is to say we Googled it for about 10 minutes.

Although the Internet is hardly reliable, I was able to ascertain a few facts about balding. First, it is quite common. Second, there are multiple reasons associated with it - too many to blame any one. Third, there are several things you can do about it.

My initial disappointment was rooted in the fact that I possess only a few physical traits that have my full endorsement. I'm pretty sure I have a good nose. My elbows are OK, too, though, I have literally nothing on which to base that judgment.

But my hair - those sweet, chestnut strands - was reliable. It was the hair I dyed red in sixth grade with food coloring. It was the same hair I had when I graduated high school, college and landed my first job.

But none of those milestones required a full head of hair to reach.

And surely no further accomplishments hinge on a Bieber-like swoop. If all of my reflecting and problem-solving brought one notion, it's that this is no kind of obstacle. Vanity is easily fixed, and whether it's my hair or my scalp, I'll eventually forget it's up there if I'm doing anything worthwhile with my time.

Now, I'm still in the early stages, but after speaking with hair professionals, I'm pretty certain this isn't a temporary thing. So I have to tell myself at least half of what my parents told a 12-year-old kid, frightened that his first school dance would be ruined by a bad buzz cut.

"It's just hair."

Contact copy editor Andy Smith at Andrew.smith@dailymail.com or 304-348-4834.


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