Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Bearded Male

The Look

My Bearded Self: This is me when I had a beard, before I decided, a few weeks ago, to become
clean-shaven.
Photo Credit©Sheldon L. Levy; 2012

An article, by Donald Hall (b: 1928), in The New Yorker looks at the serious relationship between beards and men. The American poet laureate (2006-2007) reviews his long life of both having a beard and shaving it off.

Hall, who is now 84, writes:
When I was bearded and my mother visited me, she stared at the floor, addressing me without making eye contact. Why did she hate beards so intensely? She adored her hairy grandfathers and her cousin Freeman. Her father, Wesley, of the next generation, shaved once or twice a week. On Saturday night before Sunday’s church, Wesley perched on a set tub. Looking into the mirror of a clock, he scraped his chin with a straight razor.
In 1967, my marriage, which had faltered for years, splintered and fell apart. As Vietnam conquered American campuses, I hung out with students who weaned me from cigars to cigar joints. “Make love not war” brought chicks and dudes together, raising everyone’s political consciousness. Middle-class boys from Bloomfield Hills proved they belonged to the movement by begging on the streets for spare change. A professor of physics told a well-dressed panhandler, “Get it from your mother.” When the student said, “She won’t give it to me,” the physicist answered, “That’s funny, she gave it to me this morning.”
I signed the last divorce papers while anesthetized for a biopsy of my left testicle. It was benign, but divorces aren’t. I shaved because the world had altered. Although my mother fretted about the divorce, she looked at my face again. My sudden singleness and my naked skin confused my friends. I was still invited to dinner parties, and therefore gave dinner parties back. I invited eight people for dinner. When I noticed that I had no placemats, I substituted used but laundered diapers, which I had bought for drying dishes. For dinner I served two entrées, Turkey Salad Amaryllis and Miracle Beans. I bought three turkey rolls, cooked them and chopped them up with onions and celery, then added basil and two jars of Hellmann’s Real. It was delicious, and so were Miracle Beans. Warm ten cans of B&Ms, add basil again, add dry mustard, stir, and serve. My friends enjoyed my dinner parties. I served eight bottles of chilled Louis Latour Chassagne-Montrachet Cailleret.
[…]
After sporting my beard for thirteen years, I would shave it off in secret on Christmas Day. I bought a can of Barbasol shaving cream and a packet of disposable razors, which I hid in the bathroom with a sharp pair of scissors.
I can understand this relationship with the beard that Hall so eloquently writes about; I too have gone from having a beard to one day shaving it off—a decision made by standing in front of the mirror, and then quickly lathering one’s face with shaving lotion and quickly grabbing some sharp scissors and then a disposable razor (or two). After the first razor pull, it’s too late to change one’s mind, and off we go.

It’s hard to explain such decisions, which often seem rash, to those who have never worn a beard; it is sort of a private-member’s club, but by no means exclusive.  A few weeks ago I shaved off my beard, deciding that I needed a clean-shaven look and feel for summer. It is also related to my fight with cancer; the beard being my cancer look; clean-shaven otherwise. My wife, who met me when I had a goatee, finds my look somewhat strange. But I am sure that she’ll eventually get used to it, as will my two boys.

That is, until I decide one day to grow a beard again.

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You can read the rest of the article at [New Yorker]