Pulling a small piece of coagulated porridge from the scruffy tangles of my morning beard I reflected on a few strange conversations of the previous few days and how much this facial furriness had become part of ‘me’.
Beards. They’re everywhere. They’ll be on ladies next, probably removed from some poor Russian male in exchange for a few dollars only to end up on the face of a rich westerner with a need for ‘real’ beard extensions.
I’ve had mine for a couple of years now and it feels like it enters the room before I do and therefore sets the agenda on peoples perceptions of my personality. Or at least I thought it did.
I’d been at a party, the kind of party attended by friends and family and only a few outsiders of which I was one. In these occasions small talk is required. ‘Oh God’ I think to myself ‘what am I going to talk about?’
Normally I am relaxed and conversational but in this instance I realise that I don't want to discuss topics such as my health, my retirement or indeed my age. Even the weather has let me down the only commentary needed is that it’s been remarkably inclement.
Fortunately I have found a table where there is already a chatty person amongst us, happy to regale me with stories of various wonder ranging from the survival of automobile shunts to the various tricks of dirty old men. Barely a pause goes by until at least a full 15 minutes into the conversation (although ‘conversation’ suggests a two way interaction, which this was not.)
‘Oh you have a beard!’ says my table companion, with a degree of surprise that surprised me even more.
‘What did you think this was? Some sort of strange scarf?’ I respond slightly alarmed.
How could she not have spotted the main focus of my face? What has she been looking at since I got here? Has my beard lost its power and I’m now just an empty husk of a man with a non-noticeable face of fluffiness?
I’m left feeling confused and disoriented. In the past I’ve been called ‘monkey’ and ‘beardy’ for my hairy growth and yet somehow I’ve become just another face in the crowd. Maybe we’ve tired of the beard? You see so many that they start to become invisible. It makes me sad.
The evening draws on and I begin to enjoy my night, my self-obsessed vanity taking second place to the celebrations going on around me. After a couple of drinks I excuse myself and decide to head to the toilet which fortunately doesn’t have the usual quirky names denoting which entrance I should use for my gender.
As I walk in the small space is taken up with three men, two in the process of flushing out some fluid and one who is about to leave through the door. As he does so he looks at me and with a big smile says ‘great beard mate, man you need to show me how to grow one!’
His smooth, baby-like face looks at me in wonder as though expecting some mystical advice from the wise old man in front of him. I feel there is not much I can suggest in the short time that we have available to us and in many ways the mens lavatories seems to be the wrong place for a full beard consultancy.
‘Cheers mate’ I respond whilst making my way in-between my two new urinal colleagues. They look at me. I give them an all knowing look, respect is in the air and for a small moment I am the alpha male. I would let out a little roar but that could be construed as a little weird so I suppress it.
My beard. It’s my one expression of my manliness. It doesn’t define me but it shows that despite my general sensitive and caring nature that I am still very much a man.
For the young, beards are a recent phenomenon but my love of facial fur has been long in its history and it’s that reflection of manliness that always drew me towards it.
The 70’s was the last time that men were really proud to show their growth and as I grew up all the tough guys sported an impressive moustache or beard the most iconic of which was the ‘tache on the face of the legendary Tom Selleck famous for his role in Magnum P.I.
We all have our heroes and I had my own Tom Selleck in the form of my Uncle Tony. Tony wore a ‘tache that Selleck would have been proud of and just like the Magnum P.I. character my uncle was everything that I thought a man should be. Tough, strong and smoking a cigarette.
I wanted to be like my uncle, I wanted to be seen a tough and strong and I wanted him to be proud of me. All our heroes have their faults and Tony was no different but it was what I saw in him that was important to me.
Sadly my uncle passed away after his own battle with ill heath but he did it in a way that reinforced my image of him as a tough character. Sitting with him I knew that he respected my own battles with health and that made me feel proud. A ‘tache now gone but never forgotten.
The porridge still isn't fully out of my whiskers but I’m starting to enjoy the fact it’s there, after all only real men get to pull their food from their hairy face.
My beard is a big part of me, it not only reflects who I am now but it also is a nod to my past and the influences that made me who I am.
I just wish my uncle could see my bushy beard now. I’m sure he’d love it.