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.

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.