About a year ago, I did something I’ve never done in my 30 years of shaving.
I grew a beard.
I work in a profession where beards are frowned upon. They were considered unprofessional and inappropriate for my white-collar job. Then, Movember gave me a reprieve. In an act of charity, my boss decided to allow several of us to grow beards to raise money for men’s health. It was as if each follicle on my face stood up and shouted, “Let’s do this!” Since that day in November 2015, my face has not been the same.
Some of you may be wondering why this is a big deal. It’s just a beard, right? I could shave it at any time and go back to being the same, clean-shaven, anti-hirsute guy I always was. But for a guy, a beard is a big deal. First, not everyone can grow one. Second, they take work. I cannot allow my beard to go all Grizzly Adams with food crumbs and milk stains and nests gathering in it. In fact, it takes much more delicate work to maintain a beard than it does to shave everyday.
Keeping a beard looking work-worthy is a daily, 3-step process. There’s the scissors to trim around the mustache. There’s the trimmer to keep the beard looking tight. And there’s the shaving of the underneath and the sides, lest the beard grow to Santa-like proportions.
Having a beard is also a state of mind. After being fresh-faced my entire life, sporting a beard is like wearing a disguise. People who’ve known me tangentially didn’t recognize me initially. And recently my wife told me that she’s forgotten what I look like without a beard. This facial hair has given me an opportunity to become someone else in a sense. This isn’t the “me” that my family and close friends have known forever. It’s like another being is lurking inside me, sort of like that character in “Aliens,” without all the stomach ripping open and stuff.
The beard also afforded me a chance to prove that even though I’m receding on top, I can grow thick, full hair just a few inches away. That’s also a way to reinforce a feeling or manhood. That’s the unexpected thing that I learned from growing a beard — it does empower a guy to embrace the outdoors, camping and flannel. Those are all good things.
I keep my razor sharp but I have no interest or plans to shave lose the beard. It feels like this facial hair is a natural extension of me and something that lay dormant for 3 decades.