To Beard Or Not To Beard

A few months back, my wife Renee, younger daughter Brianna, and I decided to venture together in support of a worthy cause. We formed a team to participate in a charity walk to support the Arthritis Foundation. We did this largely to support Brianna who battles rheumatoid arthritis. We designed t-shirts. We networked via Facebook, Twitter, and Google+  to help raise funds for the walk.

I also performed another gesture as the walk got closer. I grew a beard. I was growing a “playoff beard”. About two months prior to the walk, I decided that I would grow a full beard and not shave it until I came home from the walk. I had done playoff beards before. I used to work on a technical support team that would grow beard during a two month season of peak support. Part of me would like the look. The other part would hate the itch. As much as I hate the task of shaving, I REALLY hate the itch. Some guys grow really nice beards. They occasionally stroke their beard while caught up in thought or conversation. It’s a very relaxed look and gesture. I, on the other hand, do not stroke my beard. I do not twiddle my whiskers as i get lost in thought. I scratch my beard. I scratch it frequently and furiously. The only thought that enraptures me in that moment is: DADGUM! THIS BEARD REALLY ITCHES!

The other thing that I noticed about growing my beard is that you suddenly get a lot of interaction from other men who are long time beardsmen. Women with beards are conversely much less engaging. It was like I suddenly became a new member of a secret organization. I got quite a few recommendations and endorsements of assorted combs and oils.  These bearded brothers in arms love their oils and swore to me that it would reduce my itching (and my swearing). When I would tell my hirsute heroes that I was planning to shave off my beard after the charity walk was done, you could sense that some of them were holding back tears.

The other trouble with the beard was that it had really become much greyer than in previous years. Yes, I understand that the rest of my head has become greyer as well. Still, there were many days that I would look in the mirror and say: OK! I know I am 49 years old but I am ONLY 49 years old. I was getting a few comparisons to Kenny Rogers, Red Green, and Santa Claus. It was hardly a ringing endorsement to keep the beard.

True to my word, the walk came. I did two laps around the trail (a total distance of 5 kilometers). We all gathered together after the walk, exchanged hugs, and headed home. Once I got home, I headed upstairs and reached for the clippers. I took a pre-shave picture and a post shave picture and posted them up on Facebook.

This was when I REALLY started to get some responses. A couple of my former teachers told me that my beard made me look handsome and distinguished. Others chimed in and complimented the beard. My older son, Tom, was disappointed that I shaved but he sports a much nicer beard than mine. One friend compared me to the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman. I’m still not sure how to take that one.

The best feedback came from my old friend Brian. Brian is an ordained pastor for a church in Savannah, GA. I have known Brian since 9th grade. Brian told me that I should grow my beard back. He even backed it up with scripture: “The hoary head is a crown of glory, if it be found in the way of righteousness.” (Proverbs 16:31). I told Brian that I took issue with how old it made me look. Brian reminded me that it is a blessing to live for half a century. THAT was tough to argue. I then told Brian that my other concern was also found in the Bible: “But he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife.” (I Cor 7:33) It was at this point that Brian began to backpedal. Brian’s basic response is: “Happy wife. Happy life.” Brian is apparently a much wiser man than I thought.

Soft Shoulder Ahead

I do like to think I have a healthy perspective as far as my personal limitations are concerned. My body has gone through some significant changes over the years. Some of them are self inflicted. Others are just evidence that I am not as young as I used to be. In 1986, I was 20 years old. I had finished an enlistment in the United States Navy and I was certain I would be the next Paul Stanley (with slightly less face paint). I didn’t look like a body builder but my body was somewhat toned due to my recent military tenure. I was ready to make my mark on the world with a guitar and a blow dryer (as I said, it was the 80’s).
Time, of course, has a way of changing things. My guitar playing is sorely out of practice. I have long since retired the blow dryer. I didn’t so much retire it as it eventually died of boredom. My hair is now much shorter and greyer. I am also a little over 100 lbs heavier than I was in 1986 (file that under self inflicted). The effects of time and the excessive weight have had its consequences. I also have sleep apnea and high blood pressure. My rock star blue eyes now have the assistance of bifocal lenses. Let me put it this way – I have all but given up hope for a career as an Atlanta Braves home run hitter. Don’t work Hank Aaron. Your legacy at Turner Field is safe from the likes of me. Nevertheless, I try to take some of it in stride. I may not be as strong or as fast I used to be. But, I still have a chance to lose the excess weight and get myself in better health. I know I can’t completely turn the clock back on my physique. I CAN however wind up my figurative watch a bit better. In spite of the fact that many of you are too young to know what it means to wind a watch. My ego is not too bruised these days.

Recently, however, my ego has been a bit harmed due to a recent injury to my shoulder. I initially thought I slept wrong on that arm. I figured a good hot shower and a nice massage from my lovely wife would help to correct this. I thought incorrectly. The pain remained to the point where it shot from my right shoulder blade all the way down to my right elbow.To move or rotate my arm was would prove to be painful. To lift my right hand over my head would prove to be excruciating.

I tried to surmise what caused this injury since I had ruled out sleep position, My wife and daughter reminded me that I had carried a window air conditioner  from my daughter’s room to the curb in front if the house. Both my daughter and my wife insisted that I see an orthopedic doctor. My daughter had also suffered a shoulder injury that had to be surgically corrected. Given that, I relented to her recommendation and my wife made an appointment for me. In the days that followed, my daughter helped me with some physical therapy (since she knew it all too well) and insisted I put an ice pack on my shoulder each night for a brief bit. My family has graciously endured my daily groaning. My daughter showed even greater patience and understanding as I referred to her as Lady Torquemada (due to the exercises and ice packs she provided me).

The appointment finally came today. I was greeted by a nurse practitioner. She wore this lovely royal blue blouse. She had long flowing hair (imagine Farrah Fawcett without a curling iron). She wore dangling, but tasteful earrings. I thought to myself: maybe this wont be as bad as I imagined. I thought incorrectly. Nurse Farrah-Pretty-Blue-Blouse asked me some questions about my injury. She then began to move my right arm into a variety of positions. These were simple range of motion tasks. It was somewhat painful when she rotated my arm. When she placed my arm behind my back and gently pushed upward, it felt like a dagger piercing my shoulder blade. The pain I felt was too obvious for me to hide as my wife and kids who were sitting in the exam room with me. Nurse Farrah-Pretty-Blue-Blouse recommended physical therapy for me. She then offered me an injection of cortisone. She said this would reduce the inflammation after a few days. She pulled the needle backward to South Alabama and met my shoulder in New York. Once inside my shoulder, she decided to make stops in Syracuse, Utica, and Schenectady before making its way back to Rochester. Finally she gave me the referral form that indicated I had a rotator cuff injury with nerve impingement.

So it was now official, I have injured my shoulder doing physical work and was treated with a steroid. Maybe I AM to be a professional athlete after all. Watch your back, Mr. Bonds. I may just go for home run 763. I only have to hit….763 home runs to make it happen.

In Every Man’s Life, Some Whiskers Must Fall

As I have mentioned in some of my other writings, I currently work in technical support in a call center which many of my fellow colleagues affectionately (or with extreme irritation) refer to as a “cube farm”. The company for whom I perform said technical support has staff which spans the entire globe. We have folks that work in several areas in the United States as well as staff overseas. In spite of this great, diverse, and widespread staffing, we all communicate with one another quite frequently (usually via email).

One day, one of our colleagues came up with a hair-brained scheme (pardon the intentional misspelling). He proposed that since the peak of our work season runs from Mid-August to Mid-October, the male staff should grow beards as a sign of solidarity. I guess he felt this was a way promote esprit de corps among the male staff. The female staff (thankfully) did not feel the need to participate in this activity. They instead decided to show their respective solidarity and collectively sashay away from the esprit de corps.

 Many of us men chose to participate. You could easily dismiss as sheep following a call. Scoff if you will. We rams were more than happy to begin sporting our great naps of woolen whiskers. One man chose to wear a Van Dyke beard. Another man chose to channel his inner Abraham Lincoln and wear a chin curtain beard. One man had to recuse himself from the activity as he already had a nearly waist length beard that would have made Billy Gibbons green with envy. Other male colleagues (and I as well) chose to grow a full beard.

As each week passed, we admired the growth of some beards and pitied the attempt of others. “Dude, your beard is filling out real nice.” “Hey, son; why don’t you peel off that peach fuzz and have your Mom read you a nice story”. “Dude, stop crying. We were only joking.” We sat at our respective cubes and stroked our beards (and our egos) with great pride. I have to admit; the male bonding ritual was quite enjoyable.

Alas, not all was great in this great state of heavenly hirsutism. My daughters would not come near me. I had been dubbed “Scruffy”. I took such comments in stride. Then, I began to notice something that became much more prominent as time passed. The beard I had acquired in my forties had become significantly different than beards I had grown in my twenties. Patches and streaks of gray had begun to accent (or in some areas entirely cover) my wondrous beard. It was one thing to have your kids tell you that you are no spring chicken. It is another to realize that my beard has reached its autumnal equinox and I had the follicular foliage to prove it. The kids had dispensed the “Scruffy” moniker and began calling me “Santa”. My wife had also stated her displeasure with the beard. In short, her husband had a beard and so does a turkey. She found neither to be particularly attractive.

With my approaching wedding anniversary right around the corner, I decided to do the unthinkable. I decided to get rid of the beard before the end of the peak work season that prompted its growth. I flicked the switch to the beard trimmer and hesitantly took that first stroke. That first clump of hair seemed to fall at half speed and make a reverberated thud onto the bathroom counter. I had crossed the Rubicon. There was no longer any room for rationalization or mind changing. Once I realized this, each stroke with the trimmer got easier and easier. I shaved off the stubble with a razor and foam and saw the lower half of my face for the first time in a month and a half. I looked down at the mound of whiskers piled up on the counter. I then dutifully cleaned up this pile. After all, if my wife saw that, I’d have bigger problems than a few gray facial hairs. The autumnal equinox that was my face has become more tolerable. However, the winter solstice is surely approaching. I can already see the snow on the roof.



Stop Laughin’ Momma!

I have often written about my mother. I could go on and on about her many enduring qualities. She was incredibly wise, unbelievably supportive, and the most loving creature you’d ever meet. However, of all the positive traits that I saw in Momma over and over again, there is one attribute that constantly comes to mind. Momma was a good sport. I’d like to think that she was that way all of her life. It’s quite possible that she was. However, by the time I met her she was already 25 years old (I’ll have to go into the day we met some other time). The truth is she most likely HAD to be a good sport just to endure the average day in the McAfee home.

My father is a man who, like me, has a very warped sense of humor. My father uses this trait to do many things. We have all fallen prey to Poppy’s practical jokes, southern sarcasm, and zingers that became a staple in our house. This sometimes meant that my Dad would exercise his humor at my mother’s expense. Momma took this all in stride. She usually gave Poppy a dirty look or sometimes laughed as much as he did. The downside of this is that my parents saw fit to reproduce. This meant that while my brother, sister, and I inherited our mother’s diplomacy, we inherited our father’s warped sense of humor. We all took playful verbal jabs at each other. We also would occasionally set out sites on Momma. So, along with tolerating my father’s antics, she would bear the behavior of her three darling children (who were just like their father). Like I said, Momma was a good sport.

Momma was a little over a year older than Poppy. In addition, her hair greyed prematurely. Momma got her first grey streak at 12 years old (it’s not ALL my fault). This meant that Momma was subjected to a lot of jokes about her age. Most of these jokes were at the hands of her loving husband and offspring. For example, my sister, a high school senior at the time, was making decorations for the homecoming senior float. She asked Momma to help with the decorations. My mother replied: “I’m not a senior.” My sister quipped: “Yes, you are. You’re a senior citizen.” I was beet red with laughter. Mind you, it was my sister that made the snide remark. It was me, however, that got the dirty look (for laughing so hard). I once asked my mother if Methuselah was her prom date (read the book of Genesis if you don’t get that joke). My Dad would get his jabs in once in a while as well. My mom knew that, one day, she would get to see all of us have our comeuppance. Once, in a restaurant, Poppy was teasing the waiter. The waiter playfully (but unexpectedly) returned the fire. My mother not only laughed at the waiter’s response; she applauded.

These days, the tables have turned. I am 44 years old as of this writing. I am older than my mother was when SHE was getting jokes about HER age. I work in a technical support environment. Most of my nearest co-workers are at least 15 years younger than I (some are more than 20). Needless to say, the old people jokes fly left and right at my expense. I get jokes about enjoying movies with sound. I get jokes about not being able to use my mobile phone because it has no crank. I even get jokes that it’s OK to tell these jokes because I’ll just forget them 5 minutes later. Today, however, my comedic colleagues hurled this greatest jab of them all. It went like this: “Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Neither, SHANE did”. I couldn’t help but hear Momma laughing and applauding.