I have grown a beard. No, that simple statement is unsatisfactory; I have re-grown a beard, grown it again. In my late 20s and 30s, I wore a beard, a straggly dark brown thing. The current beard is another beast: grey and strangely less curly. And can I claim to have grown it? All I have done is to stop shaving, to allow my face to become what it wants to be. It was George Orwell who observed that “At 50, everyone has the face he deserves”. In my early 60s, I am allowing mine to go feral.
Why do men grow beards, other than observant Muslims and hipsters? Come to that, what are hipsters? It is a sign of cross-cultural bewilderment that I understand the responsibilities of Muslim men better than I understand the hipster phenomenon. When I were a lad, hipsters were trousers with an inadvisably low-cut waistline. I had a pair in red corduroy. Looking back, I cannot imagine why.
Anyway, beards. Why do some men grow beards? As ‘beard’ is the default condition, it might be more sensible to ask why most men shave. Perhaps the intermediate stubble phase is what puts people off growing a beard? A man with several days’ stubble looks like a trendy design consultant or an itinerant alcoholic. Who may, of course, be one and the same. In a society attuned to instant gratification, perhaps the weeks of stubble and bristle are just too much to bear?
Then there is the small matter of removing the beard should that become necessary or desirable. My previous beard – the straggly brown one – met its end one Sunday morning at the beginning of January in my 40th year. I had my usual Sunday morning run with friends Dave and Simon then decided in the shower that the beard should go. As I left the bathroom, now clean-shaven, our pre-school-age younger son took one wide-eyed look at me then ran downstairs shouting “Daddy’s fur came off!”. At least he noticed. A couple of hours later, I met up for a New Year pint with Dave and Simon having earlier been running with them whilst bearded. Neither of them noticed my shaven condition, which had to be pointed out to them by Viv, Dave’s patiently perceptive wife.
That beard was a failure, in that I became fed up with it and some people failed to notice that it had gone. Now, after more than two decades of shaving, I shall try again. A number of people have noticed. They have said encouraging things such as “Oh, you have grown a beard”, in case I had not noticed, and “Are you becoming a hipster”, whatever that means.
So why am I letting my beard have its grey, bristly way with me? Maybe it has to do with a memory from my teens, of chatting with my father as he sat in bed recovering from major surgery. Unusually for him, he was not clean-shaven. “Are you growing a beard, Dad?” He shook his head. “I haven’t long enough”. Sadly he hadn’t, and cancer took him at about the age I am now. But that is only a memory, not a rationale for beardiness: I am growing this because I can no longer be bothered not to. All being well, it will be some years before Daddy’s fur once more comes off.