Over the past year I have decided to grow a beard. I have made this decision many times, but after dealing with the itchy phase for a month or so I have always given up on it. This time has been different. I let it grow for about six months and it was coming in nicely when one morning I looked in the mirror and said to myself, “Self, I’m not sure I like this beard”. So, I got out the scissors and razor and within a few minutes, no more beard. I looked back in the mirror and addressed myself once again, “What have I done?!” That was five months ago. I haven’t shaved since and I don’t plan to.
I now find myself faced with the decision of how to control this facial fur? How do I sculpt it into the look I’m after? What is the look I’m after or better yet, am I even after a look? There are so many styles of beards that I have been overwhelmed in trying to make my choices. Do I let it grow wild and simply never do anything with it? I could keep it short for that rugged 5 o’clock shadow look that so many are sporting today. Then there is the meticulously trimmed and gelled look of the hipster. I examined this option a bit and found that you can actually purchase beard grooming templates to get those perfect lines. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.
A major problem that I am confronted with when considering the hipster look is that my hair is way too curly to grow it out and do the man-bun thing. It would look more like a puff-ball stuck to my head. For some of the same reasons the undercut would simply look ridiculous. In my late teens and early twenties, I let my hair get fairly long. Well, allow me to correct that. My hair really doesn’t get long, it gets big. I’m talking afro looking big. It was out to there and below my shoulders. I could even walk around with a hair pick stuck in it. Since I was much thinner in those days I kind of looked like a Brillo pad with legs.
Then there is the perfectly styled wild and unkempt look. A bit of an oxymoron I realize, but there it is. This seems to be the style for those who want to look like a wild man of the wood but not actually be one. The kind of look that says I spend my days out in the yard chopping wood or hunting deer without ever getting my boots dirty. I can’t imagine how much time and effort it takes to perfect this one.
There is always the Duck Dynasty look. You know the one. Let it grow long, scraggly and wild. The kind of beard that sasquatch would be proud of. While I don’t want to spend the better part of my morning tending to my beard I also don’t want it to be too extreme. Somewhere in there I must find the bearded middle way.
To add to my dilemma there is a plethora of men’s grooming products. All the gels, balms and goos are as much a mystery to me as women’s grooming products. So, I really have been at a loss. The internet doesn’t do much good as everyone is trying to sell their own product. They often tout how theirs will end all of my hairy woes and bring peace to the Middle East. I tried a few creams and lotions that helped through the itchy phase which was worth the effort it. Then a friend suggested a beard balm. Blissfully ignorant I purchased said balm and matching beard comb, rubbed a bit in the palm of my hand and smushed it into my beard. I then manipulated the oddly shaped comb to shape my facial growth into the perfect beard. Once the waxy substance hardened in place my beard was set. I mean really set, like concrete it wouldn’t move. Much to my dismay I soon discovered that every time I touched it I ended up with the balm all over my hands and like a wayward booger nowhere to wipe it off. What was worse is that my beloved wouldn’t come near me for fear of being balmed herself.
While I’m on the subject of grooming products, I’d like to digress for a moment and pose a question to you dear reader. There are so many things in this world that don’t seem to make sense to me. Take for instance perfumes, aftershaves and the other smelly stuff we splash all over ourselves to attract the opposite sex. If we assume that stereotypes are true and that men are into manly things like carpentry, machines and diesel engines why do women wear perfumes that smell like flowers? Wouldn’t something like eau de motor oil or fragrance of chainsaw make more sense? In the same vein shouldn’t men be wearing frilly and flowery eau de toilette? I’m not sure, but this may be a marketing strategy for some clever perfumery.
Back to the beard quandary. With all of my musing and research on this subject I have found some helpful guidance with the old school barber shop here in town. This is the kind of barber shop where, along with a good haircut for 16 bucks, you can catch up on the local news and get a fairly accurate fishing or hunting report. The lone barber chair in the shop is well worn from many years of use. The cushioned metal framed waiting chairs are lined up against a paneled wall. The 70’s style wood panel has a broad darkened shadow where thousands of heads have brushed against it over the long years. I’ve been going to this place for a long time now and prefer it over the many sport cut and discount places that have popped up. I have found that TV’s and sports themes don’t provide a better haircut and the conversation is often a bit forced. On my last visit to the City Barber Shop I mentioned to Donny the barber my dilemma and asked his opinion. His answer was quite simple. “Let’s give it a trim and shape it a bit then see where it goes.” Pretty sound advice I thought.
My beard dilemma is just like so many things in life. We have a tendency to overthink and stress about things when often the simplest solution is staring us in the face. I’ll let the beard go and keep it trimmed, but not fanatically. I’ll skip the goo, gel and balm and keep it clean using a bit of lotion now and then. It turns out that for me the bearded middle way is finding the balance between wild-man and hipster.
The reasons a man grows a beard are as varied as the beards themselves. It is literally and figuratively the face we choose show to the world. Just like how we dress, style our hair and speak; it tells those we meet a little bit about us. So perhaps it’s an identity thing, a means of projecting how we see ourselves and want to be seen. When my teenage niece said to me recently, “I like it. It makes you look like a world traveler.” I knew that I would keep it for a while.
I’ll let you know how it grows.
William C. Judge 2018