A man’s beard is a personal statement.
One of my loud mouth friends kicked off our get together shouting: “What’s this mean?” gesturing with his hand, pulling on an imaginary beard on the end of his chin in mock confrontation. If I’d walked into a pack of rambunctious apes he might have come running at me baring his teeth and genitals as I joined the group. But In the backyard of his tidy little craftsman house with its well-manicured garden of civility on a warm autumn evening, he greeted me with good natured verbal hazing instead. I was several weeks into my beard and hadn’t seen the group of baboons I call friends in a while.
“What the fuck do you think it means? I shouted back as I approached the table. “What does that mean? I said pointing at his permanent goatee.
What do you think it means? He queried.
“You’re the therapist.” I said. “What do I know? But then again, you’re the therapist a guy would call in an emergency and get your answering machine telling him to dial 911 and wait for operator assistance. Or it might as well say, ‘Call someone who cares.’” I paused.”And that’s what I like about you.”
To which we all laughed, relieving ourselves of further mockery for the moment.
I now know more fully what I only suspected he was getting at.
“What does this mean?” What am I saying with this beard I have? And by that what could I mean except what might others take it to mean? I have a beard. It’s hair on my face. But to others it has been a whole lot more throughout recorded history.
Sometimes I grow a beard. Unfortunately, my wife has never liked it, which means she tries for a while to dissuade me from traveling down my hairy facial path. Sometimes, she calls in the special forces of friends and loved ones.
This time, after a barrage of friendly fire in my recent unshaven campaign I felt like I needed to issue a memo:
“I am aware of and am convinced that the underground resistance of diehard forces who continue to actively oppose what they see as my follicular folly are destined to fail. While I understand my beard is not safe from attack at the present, I look forward to the day when I will not have to tread forward threatened by further unrest. Thank you, and may God continue to bless the United Faces of hair.”
When a couple of love bird friends I hadn’t seen in a while first saw me with a beard at a party, they were consumed with a fervor I imagined was like a pagan’s joy at the annual fertility festival. I was starting to feel like I had an inkling of what it must be like to be hounded by papparazzi or being the guy who’d lost a lot of weight but still saw himself as fat and uncomfortable in a crowd. All eyes were on me. The people in the circle I was sitting in were now all asking questions or making comments on my beard “Is it Movember?” “I like your beard, it makes your face look full.” “How long have you had it?” “What does your wife think?”
I’m no psychoanalyst, but it seemed that my beard was drawing more than just a little interest. Sometimes it was surprise, maybe at what used to be brown but now was grey, a sign of age, a shock, and sometimes a pleasant compliment, but whatever the reaction, it hardly went unnoticed. Maybe more unconsciously than consciously but sometimes but the questions and reactions seemed not so much an imperial “how dare you appear like this before me ?” but not without a tinge of suspicion or of some unspoken, hidden desire.
After a good month I’ve pretty much exhausted my resource of reasonable time consulting the search engine oracle and have learned from the received wisdom of the universe that whether we should or should not shave our faces has been seriously considered since even before rough marble was carved by hands into the bearded faces of Greek gods.
The reasons not surprisingly for or against our facial fur relates back to sex and God, pagans and cults. If women were cursed to bleed, men were destined to have hair. “Look, the lion has a furry face and chest so men should too, that’s how God wanted it,” according to St. Clement of Alexandria. Who a man was, or was not and what he was telling the world, what he believed—was as plain as the hair on his face for much of the world
Philosophers were growing beards, and cleaning them or not, and cutting them, or not depending on their particular view of the world. “Look at that crazy ass wild man beard those Epicureans are sporting compared to the clean cut whiskers of that Aristotelian!” Or something like that. The point is you did or did not have a beard and if you did, it related to a reason of why and how you lived your life and what you believed mattered in the world. The matted nest of hair or twisted locks on your face was not a fashion statement. Your beard marked your social standing, your political power and your virility. You were shamed by having it cut off and rewarded with acceptance for having one. Your beard was an acknowledgement of eternal salvation and today a means of great profit from selling men razors for life.
Hair is grotesque at times. Knotted up in clots stuck in the elbows of bathroom sinks and shower floors, covered in scum, it’s nauseating. Falling on the face of your lover, just so, like a shade from behind which peek seductive eyes, it’s beautiful. Growing from your face it is right for any reason, or none at all.
Full, goateed or Van Dyke pointed and hanging off the end of your chin, in someone’s opinion it has been and remains right or wrong and meaningful beyond belief. We have been fascinated with beards forever and really when I think about it, I’m not that surprised. I’m willing to bet each of us men reading this was in awe when our glorious arrival into manhood sprouted up in patches under our arms, on our legs, balls and faces.
Our hair will grow from thick to thin, from solid, to grey. To bald or scraggly, some of us are destined. Along the way some of us are going to shape our beards into the form of a Dutch windmill and appear in a documentary called Mansome and travel around the world in competitive beard contests. Dude … it’s crazy.
So the next time you look in the mirror to shave, remember: growing a beard is far from a meaningless habit.
We are by our very face, highlighting our sex in no uncertain terms. We are calling to someone’s mind the days when we were ruled by the bearded gods of sky and thunder.
We with our beards are anarchists, revolutionaries, intellectuals, losers and lovers; we are the accumulated notions of humanity reminding ourselves and others who and what we are.
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