Sunday, December 17, 2006

Mao’s the Pity

I and nearly all my male friends are losing or have even lost our hair. It’s a function of age, having an XY chromosome pair and a compound scarily named dihydrotestosterone (DHT) Invariably we lose it in a manner called ‘male pattern baldness’. (The medical term is androgenic alopecia.) You see it every day. It starts with a thinning on top and at the front. Eventually a bald spot appears at the back and finally the hair is reduced to a fringe around the head. Like this man.

My father is an exception. He started losing his hair in his forties. But his manner of losing it, gradually receding front–to–back, without a bald spot, left him looking distinguished and younger than his years.

Chemotherapy has many side effects. Nausea and loss of appetite are first among them. Probably the second is the temporary impairment of the fast growing cells within hair folicles, notably those on the head, but practically anywhere else on the body is possible, including eye brows. In other words, chemotherapy renders its recipients bald.

My dad is losing his hair. All of it. That, plus the weight loss, plus a small chronic tremor I’ve noticed (it could be just an amplification of essential tremor), are virtually aging him at least a decade in just a few weeks. He appears slightly older and more frail each time I see him. It is disconcerting and disquieting.

His compensations for the most visually impactful of these changes are millinery: He has taken to wearing a beautiful black Basque beret (Scottish: ‘tam’) recently given to him by a friend. The other chapeau is a relic from a trip my dad took to the People’s Republic of China in the early 1970s, at the behest of the United States’ National Academy of Sciences. It’s an authentic Mao cap. Which, I must admit, looks pretty good on him. Especially if donned at a rakish, er capitalistic angle.

No comments: