My wife, my mother, and my sister all tell me – to my mind, a little too often – that I look better with a beard. Though I usually just shrug and try to change the subject, I always want to voice a much broader range of responses. So, here, I thought I’d voice them now.
First of all, I think everyone involved, besides me, is overlooking what ought to be the preeminent consideration: it’s my face. Even if I didn’t already have healthy reserves of self-sufficiency, and even if I wasn’t already a big fan of self-determination, I’m pretty sure I would still believe in the rights of faces to look, or not look, how the person they belong to would like them to. Most especially so if nothing on said face is liable to cause offense. (Civil liberties can throw their arms around a great many things – and good for them! But, hey, let’s not bother defending the idiot eager to adorn his credulous mug with a swastika tattoo.)
Second, is there really a great deal of value in keeping on telling me? After all, another way of saying you look better with a beard is you look worse without a beard. It is, I suggest, a classic back-handed compliment: mine, apparently, is just one of those faces you want to cover up substantially with hair. Why, thanks! In any event, the more generic danger of repeating many times a back-handed compliment is the tacit suggestion that some sorry saps need information spoon-fed to them before they’ve any chance of retaining it. (Perhaps if I make a show of writing down the information next time round, I’ll regain the passive upper-hand?)
Third – in truth, my only reason for scratching this itch so long – it is a giant, blundering mistake to think of beards purely and simply as an aesthetic matter. Of course I can’t speak for every man, but as one man typing what may well seem a frivolous – even pointless – blog post, I would very much like to shout from the rooftops the following overlooked observation: by a distance, the best thing about having a beard is shaving the fucking thing off.
Forget the weird razzle-dazzle of cosmology and quantum theory (easy to do when you don’t understand the first thing about them), there is no escaping the forward march of time. The young get older until they’re no longer young anymore. And we don’t need Bruce Springsteen to tell us, Everybody dies/And that’s a fact.
But, boy, shaving off a big old bushy beard so very nearly does make the impossible possible. Shaving feels like you’ve won some time back. Not only does it make you look younger, it – a thousand times better – makes you feel younger. More effectively than getting a half-decent haircut, and in more of a satisfying jolt than losing a few pounds, shaving is a momentary victory in our losing fight against mortality. When you look in the mirror afterwards, you can kid yourself that a slightly younger man meets your eye.
My second daughter, Isla, is three weeks old. She makes me extraordinarily happy, but also wakes up an awful lot overnight. Sometimes at 4 a.m., dog-tired, I sooth her back to sleep by lying her on my chest and letting her suck on my little finger. It works, but rarely quickly. And as 5 a.m. approaches I think to myself, in a fug of weary thoughts, if only I could do all the things I have to do over a longer period of time.
…Anyhow, I shaved about a week ago and meant to write this then. Only, you know, I couldn’t find the time. And it all grew back.
Today’s post soundtracked by: