My old friend Xavier recently put up a post, a tiny little thing, really, urging upon his male readers that they try, at least once in their lives, to grow a beard, calling it "one of the manliest things in the world".
I had to smile at that, because I've worn a beard more-or-less continuously since the end of my sophomore year of college, and therein lies a tale. . . or two or three. . .
I've always been one of those hairier-than average guys. Certainly not the hairiest guy you've ever seen, by any means, but more than average. I've known a few of 'Those Guys' - the ones with nicknames like 'Bear' or 'Ape' - who, when they take their shirts off, you can't quite see their skin; the guys who have to choose a more-or-less arbitrary line where they stop shaving, because their chest hair just flows continuously up onto their chins. That's not me.
But I started shaving when I was twelve (I wrote about it here, once-upon-a-time), and, without getting any cruder than I have to, I was one of the guys who made a mild sensation in the after-gym-class showers in seventh grade. I made my first efforts at growing a mustache when I was 15, and by the time I was 16, my upper lip had disappeared forever, never to be seen again, to this very day.
As I said, I first grew a full beard toward the end of my sophomore year of college. It was 1975; Grizzly Adams was a popular TV show, and Loggins & Messina were at the height of their popularity. I grew my first beard mainly because I was curious what it would look like (and, to be candid, there was certain 'hippie/natural' vibe that I found appealing, as well). It took me about a week-and-a-half to not look just scruffy, and like I really meant to have a beard. And I liked how it looked, so I kept it.
I understand what Xavier is saying about beards being all 'manly' and all - facial hair is one of the most outwardly-visible things that distinguishes us men from women, for sure (I suppose I should say 'most men' and 'most women' but I really don't wanna go there) (at all). But that didn't really loom all that large in my thinking; it's not like I was insecure in my manhood, or trying to prove my manliness. Mainly, I just liked how it looked on me. I have a bit of a 'weak chin', and the beard did a nice job of, um, hiding that fact, aside from projecting a certain 'rugged' image. And besides, I reasoned, if God went to all the trouble of putting hair on my face, I couldn't quite see the logic of going thru all the time/hassle/irritation of cutting it off every day for the rest of my life. . .
After I first grew my beard, I can recall cutting it off twice - once, during my junior year, when I had a job washing dishes in the dorm, and they told me I'd have to wear a mask unless I shaved. So I shaved my chin, leaving behind a 'Gay-90s-style' set of mutton-chops that flowed smoothly into my mustache. When the school year ended, and I didn't have to care about public-kitchen hygeine rules, I grew it right back.
The other time I shaved it off was toward the end of my Master's program, when I was interviewing for jobs; in 1978, the association of facial hair, especially beards, with 'unbusinesslike' was still fairly strong, and I thought it prudent not to unnecessarily provoke any of my more, uh, conservative interviewers (cowardly, yes, but I got a good job). After I'd been on my new job for three months, and was past the 'probationary period', I went to my boss and asked if there would be any objection to me growing a beard. He said it wouldn't bother him at all, and he didn't think it would a problem for any of his bosses, so I grew it back, and I've had it ever since. Within six months, half-a-dozen other engineers in our office sprouted beards; probably the only time in my life that I've ever been any kind of fashion trend-setter. . .
I've had women ask me, "What does your wife think of that. . . that thing?" apparently imagining to themselves (and in pretty unfavorable terms) what it might be like to kiss a man with hair on his face. But I have to tell you, she loves it (even if she does occasionally have to pick a stray beard hair out of her teeth). Given the time-line of when we first met, and when I had a hairy chin or not, Jen has certainly seen me without my beard. But it was all before we were married, or even dating, so she doesn't have many major associative mental images of me without my beard. One time, after we'd been married maybe five years or so, she happened to pick up my high-school yearbook, and of course, she flipped right to the page with my picture on it. Instantly, she gasped, then turned to me and said, "DON'T YOU EVER SHAVE!"
Uh, well, gosh, Sweetheart, I wasn't planning to. But, uh, you know, that's still me in the photo. . .
I have five sons, and three of them are grown enough to shave; and between the three of them, they can barely push out five hairs on their faces and chests, combined (Jen comes from a, uh, smoother gene pool than I do; although the 'smooth' genes do seem to have a certain tenacity). Which doesn't keep them from trying, to occasionally humorous effect. But whatcha gonna do? Anyway, 7M is a newly-minted teenager, and he's showing some promising signs of hirsute-ness (hirsutitude?), so maybe there's hope yet. . .
On a (possibly) related note - my kids got me this T-shirt as a Christmas gift a couple years ago. . .
I like it. . .