Beards have been so hot in recent years that they’ve gone way beyond hip to become cultural wallpaper. If you can stand it, watch a few hours of TV commercials any given evening and start counting how many bearded men you see, with anything from Sexy Scruff to a Full Brooklyn and on to Viking Bold.
But they’ve never been out in my family. I grew up with a redheaded Dad who sported a stylish goatee. My hippie brother had shoulder-length long hair and a gnarly matching beard—all of it coal black. As soon as I could, I grew a goatee in college to look older, to look more like them, and to up my self-perceived masculinity quotient. From that point on, my chin was never bare except for one or two times when I accidentally trimmed one side so much that I shaved the whole damned thing off out of frustration.
The lopsided beard would have been a better choice mostly because I oscillated between shock and shame for days. There was one more time when I desecrated my face: it was in graduate school when I found out the woman I thought I loved had been seeing her ex-boyfriend. My response? I shaved my beard off because she liked it so much.
This didn’t make much sense since I was in New York at the time and she was in Michigan and it happened before Skype. But hey, I was proactive, right? The results were shocking. I didn’t have an ugly chin, but my face is long, and as much beard as I had back then kept me from looking like a portrait by Modigliani.
My beard’s length and fullness come and go depending on my mood (and sometimes even the weather). Weirdly, sometimes people have asked to touch it as if I was a pregnant woman harassed by folks who want to feel her belly. This has even happened at my gym, and once, a trainer I know who couldn’t produce much facial hair said that he envied how thick my beard was. He actually reached forward and stroked my “bad boy” as he put it.
Looking back, I suspect there was more going on there than beard envy.
Those few times that I was beard-free still sometimes haunt me. I can’t imagine ever getting rid of this face companion again, even if I somehow manage to have a trimming malfunction. This beard isn’t just a part of me. It feels good. Those few times I was beardless, the air on my cheeks and chin was beyond annoying: it was bizarre. Waiting for my beard to grow back seemed endless.
I’m married to a bearded man and often when meeting new people together, I note “He’s the one with the beard, that’s how you can tell us apart.”
Most people get it.
Masking these last two years has been a challenge because they’re not designed for men with beards. But even after all these years, I still have to remind myself that trimming is an art and a beard is not a hedge. At least mine isn’t. And that the perfect is the enemy of the good, even when it comes to beard work.
Lev Raphael dreamed of being a writer in second grade but never imagined he would be homework. His work has been taught in universities, widely anthologized, and translated into fifteen languages. He speaks two of them.
© 2022, Lev Raphael