About the beard

I’m not a big fan of television, but it is impossible to escape knowing a little bit about television in our culture. In the first place, television is omnipresent. Waiting rooms from the shop that works on my car to the doctor’s office all have televisions. The pharmacy even has a television. Every living room in every nursing home in town has a television, usually with the volume turned up above my comfort level. There are televisions in hospital rooms and it is common for homes to have more television sets than bedrooms. We still buck the trend with a lone television set in our basement that is not hooked up to cable.

But I do watch a bit of television on my computer from time to time, primarily clips instead of complete programs. And yes, I do know the names of some of the personalities who are famous because of their roles in television.

I learned about the fact that David Letterman has grown a full beard, however, not from television, but from a piece in the New York Times. Judging from the photographs in that piece, he looks considerably different than was the case when he appeared clean-shaven in a suit and a tie for thousands of evenings of late night television. According to the article, Mr. Letterman said, “I just got tired of shaving every day, but then it became something else, and I’m not quite sure what it became. The beard is a good reminder to me that that was a different life. I’m hopeful that I will either find something else, or something else will be presented to me.”

I guess I’d have to do the opposite if I were to go for a completely different look upon retirement. Although I sported a beard on my wedding day 43 years ago, I was clean shaven for the rest of that summer as I worked in a bakery. However, that fall, when I returned to school, I grew the beard again and I have not shaved it off since. My children and grandchildren have never seen me without a beard. The members of the churches I serve have never seen me without a beard. After 43 years, I guess I don’t know what I’d look like without a beard.

It isn’t that I’m opposed to shaving, though I’m sure the skin under that beard is pretty tender and would be irritated by shaving. In fact the style of beard that i wear requires trimming. I keep part of my cheeks and my neck shaved. It has become so much a part of my appearance that I don’t give it much thought.

I remember a couple of factors in my first growing of a beard. I thought that there was a certain academic look to a beard. I was trying to fit into college and a lot of my professors sported beards. I guess I thought that it made them look wise. Then there was the simple fact that I could grow a beard. Shaving isn’t a thing that children have to contemplate. I was college age before I was able to grow a beard and the first beard was a bit thin. I have sported with a longer beard at times, but I prefer the look of my beard trimmed. It really grows fast - at least twice as fast as the hair in my head. If I let it go six weeks between a good trimming I begin to look like Santa Claus. I can trim it myself, but when I go to the barber shop the results are straighter and look better.

There is quite a bit of religious symbolism associated with beards. Sikhism, Islam and some sects of Judaism require men to keep beards. I don’t belong to a group that requires beards and I’m not sure of the religious symbolism of beards but most depictions of Jesus show him with a beard, so I have to admit it is a bit of a factor in my own faith tradition. Historically there have been sects of Christianity where beards were banned, especially among clergy, but those bans have been relaxed during my lifetime. Orthodox Christian priests almost always sport beards.

The beard is a sign of being an adult male. We’re the ones who can grow beards. When I first grew my beard I was working summers for my father delivering machinery and I would get a fair amount of teasing from the men of the Hutterite colony where we often made trips. It seems that in that particular colony men don’t grow beards until they have become a father, but from that point onward they constantly sport a beard.

The truth is that I have trouble associating much deep meaning with a beard. It seems to me to be more of a fashion statement than anything else. It is a choice that has very little social consequence in our society. There are many different styles of facial hair among men.

I have a young friend who likes to sport a wide variety of different looks. Sometimes he will grow out a full beard and often he will grow his hair longer when he is sporting a beard. Then, one day, he’ll shave off the beard and get his hair cut short. He has, at least once, shaved all of the hair off of his head. He just likes having different appearances and getting different reactions from family and friends. I make it a point to comment and react to his sudden changes and he always responds with a smile and a laugh. He enjoys making changes and he enjoys having people notice.

I’m not quite that adventurous. I guess I’m more shaped by habit. I don’t want to be surprised by the image in the mirror first thing in the morning.

So, unlike David Letterman, I have no plans for changing my appearance when I finally decide to retire. I’ll probably keep wearing the same clothes and, other than the slow process of aging, which has already turned my beard white, I doubt that I’ll make many adjustments in appearance.

You never know, however. It would just take me a few minutes to shave it off.

Copyright (c) 2016 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!