My 14-year-old grandson, Ethan, called last weekend from his home in North Carolina.
"I just wanted to say thanks, Opa," he said.
I wasn't expecting that. It was a bit of a donnerschlag (thunderclap)!
Thanks? What'd I do? I made a quick assessment of the situation and came up with zilch. Zip. Zero. I had no idea what he was talking about.
No doubt my wife, Hedy, as she's been wont to do, Fed Ex'd some gift she couldn't pass up on the Internet. It'd likely just arrived on Ethan's doorstep, and he was calling to thank us. But because I had no clue as to what the shipped item was, I couldn't claim credit for it.
I needed a moment to recover. Still, no proper exit from my dilemma presented itself.
"I give up, buddy," I finally conceded, facing cul-de-sacs in every direction. "What did you call to thank me for?"
"I want to thank you for keeping your hair."
What? It took me a moment to grasp precisely what he was referring to.
Ah, yes. I sort of remember from a biology class I took several ice ages ago that male pattern baldness is a sex-linked trait. Baldness is an X-linked chromosome that's passed from mother to son via the X gene. If a mother's father is bald, chances are her son will be bald. Ergo, if Daddy's mane is luxuriant, well, you see where I'm going with this.
I, ahem, have my hair. And young Mr. Ethan is at a stage in life when that's important.
He's a handsome devil –- like his opa –- and girls seem attracted to him. But he's naïve enough at this point to not quite realize what's going on. And his mamma — my daughter, Jade — is pretty happy to keep it that way for a while.
"Dad," she told me recently, "he's my little boy and I want him to stay that way for a bit longer."
No harm in that. Unfortunately, with social media as it is today and all that bilge water spewing from the entertainment industry, kids in our society grow up much too quickly.
Two years ago Ethan was skinny and awkward, with knees and elbows akimbo! Today, he's tall, dark and handsome, and moves with the confidence of a lad who's comfortable with his station in life.
As far as the girls are concerned (and he likes 'em!), his dark locks are the cherry on top of the sundae.
Ethan chases his three sisters out of the bathroom each weekday morning to prepare his hair for school. And it's a well-choreographed routine. He works some exotic gel into his teeming follicles and comes away with a subtle sheen and a cluster of neatly controlled spikes.
Voila! It looks good, and the girls — excluding, of course, his own sisters — seem impressed.
Ethan is grateful that he's my daughter's son. It seems his old opa (me!) was good for something after all. I contributed a priceless hair gene.
It was the least I could do, buddy boy. Happy to be of service!
My mother's father — my grandfather — had a full head of hair until the day he died. Unfortunately, his life was cut short at just 41 — but he had a glorious pomaded, raven black hairdo.
My own father kept his hair until he died, at 84. Dad's hair — his pride and joy — was thick and wavy.
"I used to run my fingers through it but that irritated him," my 90-year-old mother says with a smile. "He never wanted anyone touching his hair. He was a stickler about that."
The acorn doesn't fall far from the ancient oak.
Last week I attended a reunion of my father's three younger brothers. They're now ages 90, 87 and 79 — and each still has an impressive shock of hair. That's bonus insurance for young Ethan.
My grandson must now concentrate on developing that gray matter that lies just beneath the abundant tresses. Sadly, I have precious little to offer on that one.
JIM CARNETT, who lives in Costa Mesa, worked for Orange Coast College for 37 years.