Dewaine Farria on the greatest thing a guy can do with his face.
Starting around the New Year my workouts lost something. Writing became painful. I felt chained to my inbox. I was simultaneously overwhelmed, depressed and bored. These are times when a guy is liable to quit his job, have an affair or take up golf. I decided to grow a beard. I’ve flirted with the idea before but always gave up after a couple weeks. Not this time. I’m three months in and the experience has been, in a word, awesome. But I’m still not exactly sure why.
Maybe it’s because there are very few things only a man can do. In fact, at this moment I have a hard time thinking of something besides growing a beard, which only a man can do. What else do we have, peeing standing up? I did that when I was four.
Maybe it’s because a man with a beard has committed to something. Not shaving isn’t the same as deciding to write a novel or run a marathon, but it is still a commitment and in life we don’t truly commit to things often.
Maybe it’s because a beard suggest calm efficiency. A guy with a beard probably knows how to change a tire and a diaper and will probably pull over to help you change yours (tire, not diaper).
Maybe it’s because not many comedians and politicians have beards. While there are members of both professions that I like and respect (more the former than the latter), it feels good to be sporting something that signifies that I’m neither. I’m pretty sure politicians and comedians avoid grizzle because it makes you look somewhat threatening. I’m also pretty sure that—for all of us non-politicians and non-comedians—looking somewhat threatening is not necessarily a bad thing.
Maybe it’s because having a beard gives you the opportunity for some great tough guy one-liners:
“When are you going to shave?”
“Shaving is for quitters.”
“How long will you let it grow?”
“Until it’s finished.”
Yes, these comments will evoke eye rolling guffaws. But they will be among the most satisfying eye rolling guffaws you will have ever inspired. Revel in them.
Maybe it’s because I’ve been shaving my head since my sophomore year in high school and it’s nice to have something to brush in the morning. It’s also nice to have something to stroke when I’m thinking.
Maybe it’s because it’s the coolest thing I own. I’ve never been into cars. I wear jeans and Doc Martens to work and have always instinctively felt that a man shouldn’t own any jewelry other than a watch and (if applicable) wedding ring. A beard is a little bit of masculine vanity that isn’t really; frankly, a lot of women can’t stand it. And that too makes a beard great—you are consciously telling everyone, “This is who I am. All natural. Deal with it.”
One thing is sure: When you’re growing a beard you spend an inordinate amount of time comparing your whiskers to the great beards of the past and present. I like to think of my beard as somewhere between Kimbo Slice’s warrior chops scented with the blood of his opponents and Ernest Hemingway’s rugged vermouth stained grizzle.
To truly delve into this beard thing I’ve got to go farther back than Big Poppa and Kimbo, to my first bearded heroes —none of whom actually existed. Still they were important to me; fictitious characters have always been a little too important for me. I wish I could defend Obamacare with half the passion and conviction with which I defended Drizzt D’ourden against my Legolas centric friends. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about you probably got laid in high school.) So with a hat tip to my friend Kirk Macleod (a bearded warrior-poet of the first order), here are my five all-time favorite fictitious bearded guys:
Thor. I was raised Baptist. As a kid I spent a lot of time imagining what God looked like. As an adult I realized the guy I was picturing was actually Marvel Comic’s incarnation of the Norse “All Father” – Odin. Comic book Thor swore by his old man’s beard all the time and why not? Odin’s beard was at once noble, fierce and intellectual. But it was also too much: the comic book “All Father’s” beard easily cleared his mid-riff. This worked in Asgard—where your beard was always caught in a slight (but persistent) Nordic breeze. The grand beard is difficult to pull off down here on Midgard though–where the comic book Thor spent most of his time. Maybe that’s why Stan Lee had Thor start his career ultra-clean-shaven and straight laced. When the Thunder God finally went rough neck his transformation was dramatic; the best fictional example of the badass upgrade one receives by growing some grizzle. Thor immediately went from looking like a ‘roided up drummer in a ‘80s hair metal band, to looking like a former Vietnam vet turned lumberjack.
Obi Wan Kenobi. “These are not the droids you’re looking for.” More than Yoda’s Confucius haikus, it was this line—uttered with a slight wave of old Ben Kenobi’s hand—that made us fully comprehend the understated bad-assery of a seasoned Jedi Knight. But let’s not forget the evolution of Obi’s beard, which (not coincidentally) coincided with his path to immortal Jedi awesomeness. Obi progressed from a baby faced Padiwan in The Phantom Menace to young, bearded maverick in The Attack of Clones and ended up a rugged, wizened mentor in A New Hope. Make no mistake, the Jedi Council didn’t just hand out shaving wavers—you had to earn that shit.
Sergeant Bosco Albert (B.A.) Baracus. If you were in an American grade school in the 1980s you kind of wanted to either be or hang out with B.A. Baracus, a “soldier of fortune” who sported a good 25 pounds of jewelry, a Mandingo warrior hairstyle and a beard which did not suggest a friendly disposition. What you might not remember is that there were a lot of things about B.A. Baracus that weren’t all that macho. The hardest thing the guy ever drank was milk and he was terrified of flying. As 1980s action heroes went these quirks qualified B.A. as a well-rounded human being. The best thing about Mr. Baracus though was his ability to build awesome weapons of war in scenes that featured the best theme music of any 1980s American network television show (the competition was stiff: remember the opening theme from Greatest American Hero?). B.A. Baracus also wore a weight lifting belt. All the time.
Lieutenant Worf. The Klingons Captain Kirk’s crew faced were less than impressive. Aside from the 1960s limitations in makeup and special effects, those early chumps just couldn’t match the sheer warrior ferocity of the Klingons that Jean-Luc Picard’s crew dealt with: Zulu-Viking space warriors with a strict, complicated bushido like code of honor. In a time of phasers and photon torpedoes, Klingons continued to wield elaborate, scary edged weapons. Do you remember when Spock deadpanned, “Klingons lack tear ducts.” He wasn’t joking. Spock never joked. As the first Klingon to be commissioned an officer in Starfleet, Worf was kind of a like an alien Jackie Robinson. Straddling Klingon and human culture, Worf’s major conflict was that he was torn between being a badass and being too much of a badass. That was it. There were probably a couple guys on the U.S.S. Enterprise who wanted to make fun of Worf’s Genghis Khan style half-moustache beard thing—but they never did. Why not? Fear, that’s why not.
Hadji Murat. Okay. Hadji Murat actually existed. But as everything I know about the separatist guerrilla comes from Tolstoy’s fictionalized account, I’m including him in my list. The black bearded mountain warrior’s story is one of heroism, violence, long standing ethnic conflict and, ultimately, betrayal. It’s Tolstoy’s final work, one of his shortest and (in my opinion) his best. In Tolstoy’s description of his bloody last stand, Hadji Murat literally refused to die. In the end the Russians beheaded him; just to be sure the job was done. It’s the type of story that is dangerous for a teenager of a certain disposition to read because it has a way of leaking into the rest of his life. Almost twenty years after stumbling across “Hadji Murat” in my high school library I found myself in the North Caucasus as a UN Field Security Officer.
Someone (I think Jerry Seinfield) said that there’s a point when baseball cards stop being mementos of your childhood heroes, and start just being pictures of other men. Maybe. Still, there are some childhood heroes I hope I never outgrow. And that, I think, has been the greatest thing about growing this beard: looking in the mirror every morning and being vaguely reminded of Obi Wan Kenobe, B.A. Baracus and Hadji Murat.
If you’re like me there’s a good chance that you’re rolling your eyes right now. That’s all right: I’m reveling in it.
 Including this zinger which I hope Luke never tried on the ladies, “Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by size do you?”
 How great would it be to list this as your occupation on a tax return?