I’ve been battling beards since those first unruly whiskers budded out from beneath my nose and upon my chinny chin chin as I was doubly cursed with not only a course beard nearly impossible to shave with anything but a Black & Decker power saw, but skin as sensitive as a baby’s diaper-rashed tuchus.
I started shaving clandestinely at fourteen, locked in my parent’s bathroom with a can of Barbasol and my dad’s cool razor blade razor that as you twisted the base, the two top halves that protected the blade rose in tandem like the Michigan Avenue bridge. I also have many fond memories of the other two men in my life—my maternal grandfather and great-grandfather—who shaved with blades and an electric shaver respectively. Grandpa didn’t have much facial hair and his morning shave was over before it even began while my great-grandfather would spend a little more time in front of the mirror in our apartment’s only bathroom.
When I first started shaving, my grandfather bought me what was then the top of the line Norelco electric shaver, the kind with three floating heads. I used it for a few months and while it gave me a pretty good close shave on my cheeks, it ripped my chin and neck to shreds, leaving my skin badly burned and irritated. Since then I have gone back to try electric shavers at least a dozen times with as many different brands and models—from a ten dollar battery-operated job to a high end Braun that, had it not been for their 30-day money back trial, would have set me back a small fortune—all having the same result of being unable to manage my wiry beard.
My remedy throughout the years has been simply trying to avoid shaving every day, which I’ve surprisingly managed to have pulled off as my five o’clock shadow (two thirty shadow in my case) suits me fairly well in a way similar to Don Johnson’s or George Michael’s as opposed to a skid row bum’s (no offence to skid row bums). And when you’re self-employed, un-employed or a stay at home father (I’ve cornered the market on all three over the years) you can easily afford the luxury of simply not shaving. For days. Weeks even.
I’ve never been fond of facial hair, not mine or anyone else’s. I’ve admired a few beards over the years—actor Brad Pitt’s full face fuzz, major league pitcher Brian Wilson’s black foliage and the flowing beard of Matisyahu, the Orthodox Jewish-American reggae singer who I believe has just recently rid himself of his trademark Chassidic beard, mustache and side locks. And if it were an option to be permanently clean-shaven, I’d probably opt for it and dispose of every razor and shaving product that is crammed into my medicine cabinet.
I read once that many men who wear beards have deep-rooted psychological issues and that their beards serve as masks which they hide their emotional excesses behind. Perhaps that’s why there hasn’t been an American president since William Howard Taft sported his bushy handlebar mustache to wear facial hair in the White House. Some say it’s the reason that side burned mustachioed Jesse Jackson was unsuccessful in his bids for the U.S.’s top political office.
I can half subscribe to the idea of men wearing beards to hide behind—and for as many reasons as one can imagine—but then again there are as many reasons men wear beards in the first place as there are different types of beards, the chin to upper lip Van Dyke, circle beard or doorknocker as it’s sometimes called; the goatee, Garibaldi and Donegal, the Verdi and the nearly microscopic soul patch.
Beards can be as unique as the men who wear them, but if these hair masks do indeed conceal some deep, dark inner workings of a man’s psyche, can we, in turn, justify just a tad of mistrust in these relics of the Pleistocene Age. It also pays to point out that God, Jesus, Mohammed, even Satan himself, are often depicted wearing some form of facial hair or another.
Whether or not I’m trying to conceal any psychological traumas or emotional baggage, can’t hide the fact that I haven’t shaved my face since the final week of 2011, the day I told my children—half in jest—that I wouldn’t shave or cut my hair until I secured a book and or movie deal for my first novel that I had completed writing a few weeks earlier.
So here I am at the beginning of February with an unmanageable head of hair and a growing beard that is so spikey and sharp I’m convinced it could cut crystal or a tin can like a Ginsu knife. It’s not the first beard I’ve worn, but it’s nearing the longest my face has ever been fully covered in barb and it looks as though I might be in it for the long run. Or at least until I sign that big book deal.
Someone asked me what would happen if I didn’t get a book deal, if that would mean I would remain forevermore bushy faced and long-haired. In my eternal optimism I hadn’t really considered never shaving or cutting my hair again as an option, but the more I think about it, the more I like the idea of setting these seemingly impossible goals for myself with consequences that are as unusual as the idea of wearing facial hair in the first place. And while I imagine biology having a pretty good reason for men to sprout this gruff in the first place, to protect the face, ward off enemies, attract the opposite sex, I like to think that beards were invented so that baseball players—and would-be novelists—could wear their victory beards until they brought home their World Series rings or that fat six-figure advance from the publishing company. Either way, it looks like my victory beard’s going to be around for a while but I’m prepared to look at myself each morning in the mirror as long as the face I see behind the mask remains my own.