Mary Paterson is the author of The Monks and Me: How Forty Days in Thich Nhat Hanh’s French Monastery Guided Me Home.
I have two brothers, both older than me, both balding, the older one more so than the younger. In their decades of brotherhood, I highly doubt that either ever seriously commented on the hirsute state of each other’s heads. How do I know my brothers would avoid making jabs about baldness? Because men can be sensitive about hair, just like women, and as far as I’ve seen, my brothers don’t want to intentionally hurt each other. Poking fun doesn’t count.
The bonds between the three of us have always been good, but they strengthened after the deaths of our parents. I was 28 years old when my mother died. My brothers were 29 and 38. Our father died 12 years later. Since then, there’s been an unspoken understanding that our sibling relationship is deeply valuable, and therefore untouchable. It doesn’t necessarily mean we spend a lot more time together, but it does mean we cherish the history that connects the three of us to our beloved mother and father.
In the Royal Family, there are two brothers, both balding, the older one more so than the younger. The emotional distance between the heads of those brothers appears to be vast. One of them, Prince Harry, used the word “alarming” when referring to his older brother’s hair loss. Alarming for whom exactly? William? Harry? Men in general?
To me, saying that baldness is “alarming” seems about as smart as saying shortness is “alarming.” And the thing about uttering a phrase such as “more advanced than mine,” when talking about such things is that comparison is a happiness-crushing, perilous activity that causes unnecessary suffering for everyone involved. Comparison also shifts the focus to the one doing the comparing. Do you want me to reflect upon your looks in relation to your brother? You’ve pushed me to do it, whether you like it or not, whether I like it or not.
Writing about trivialities of this nature has a certain gossipy appeal but it can dilute the power of the real story: the trauma of a child losing a mother in unspeakable, horrific circumstances. Hearts genuinely ache for those who experience tragedy, but no one wants to cozy up to someone who points out other people’s flaws, perceived or actual. Writers of memoir tend to be aware of the necessity to avoid finger-pointing if true connection with others is desired. If you tell me who the villain is my back goes up because I want to decide for myself once I’ve read the details. And not many people want to be told what to feel.
To think that because a man has lost a few hairs his looks are gone is absurd. Short of slathering chemicals daily upon one’s head, or allowing individual hairs to be dug from the back and then stamped onto the front, by the age of 50, 30 per cent to 50 per cent of men will experience male pattern baldness.
Writing that line has caused me to recall a date I had some time ago with a good-looking man in his 30s. Things were going just fine until he bent his head down to read the menu, revealing clumps of hair shooting from a plugged skull in the most unnatural way. It wasn’t that it was an aesthetic failure, which it was. It was that I felt such sadness about the extreme lengths to which people will go to be deemed attractive in this society. I remember thinking how appealing the man would be if he’d simply gotten a good haircut instead. Do I need to mention attractive bald men? Mark Strong, Michael Jordan, Prince William.
No one can possibly know the inner workings of any relationship except the people inside it. And no one knows what goes on inside the head of another. But reading about things that appear to be more unbrotherly than brotherly makes me feel fortunate to be the sister of two kind, handsome men who find it more interesting to talk about things other than the crowns of their heads.