I’m a beard guy—or, as some of us prefer to be called, “whiskered-American.”
And I have been for decades, long before the metrosexuals went lumbersexual. Back in New York, circa 2000, nightclub doormen routinely negged me. Once, while I sat on the stoop of my apartment building sipping coffee, a woman walked by and dropped a fistful of change into my cup. Not only was this insulting; it ruined a perfectly good mocha.
In fact, beard friendliness was a major reason behind relocating to Alaska in the first place. Also, I figured it’d be a good place to be for developing an Alaska-based reality TV show, where I chronicle my life as I do nothing but watch other Alaska-based reality TV shows. I call it “Deadliest Couch.”
Anyway, here are a few reasons why I love beards:
• They make great sunscreen. In fact, I wish I could grow one continuous beard all over my body. Then I could finally wear a G-string to the beach.
• Beards are nature’s balaclava, much like baseball caps are the poor-man’s toupee.
• My parents hate the beard. And for some reason, I still do stuff specifically because my parents hate it—even though I’m 40 now, with my own kids who do stuff specifically because I hate it.
• I can’t stand shaving. Why fight biology, that’s my motto, which also explains my gut. And falcon toenails.
• In the absence of hair on your head, a beard gives you something to twirl. Which brings me to my final bullet-point…
• There’s nothing like a big, fat beard to take the sting out of going bald.
You see, like millions of American men, I suffer from androgenic alopecia, aka male pattern baldness — in my case, full-blown by age 24, coincidentally the same year my beard finally started coming in all the way.
While at 17 I enjoyed a mess of long, flame red dreadlocks — which my parents REALLY hated — the only facial hair I could manage was an incomplete goatee forming two devil’s points on either side of my chin (I kind of looked like a Satanic leprechaun). Seven years later, the dreads disappeared — better to burn out than fade away, I guess. But as a consolation prize, by then I’d cultivated a substantial Van Dyke and a crazy pair of Van Burens (no wonder that woman thought I was homeless).
Turns out, there’s science behind this. Male pattern baldness stems from genetic hypersensitivity to dihydrotestosterone (DHT), the same hormone responsible for beard growth. The more DHT, the better the facial hair; but, for us genetic unfortunates, that same DHT fries the follicles on top of our heads. Essentially, we trade one type of hair for another. Is it fair? No, but a deal’s a deal. And at least I’ve still got all my teeth.
Some beards I admire: Charles Darwin, Jerry Garcia, Santa Claus, Billy Mays, Gandalf, Bob Ross, Walt Whitman, Professor Dumbledore, the dad from “Family Ties,” Al from “Home Improvement,” Grumpy from “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves,” Dallas Keuchel, Rumpelstiltskin, 20th President of the United States James A. Garfield, Moses, “Abby Road”-era John Lennon, “Abby Road”-era George Harrison and “Abby Road”-era Ringo Starr (“Abby Road”-era Paul McCartney wore sideburns only, but his “Let It Be”-era beard may be my all-time fave).
The thing is, in the face of these great beards — not to mention all the magnificent homegrown facial topiary you see around Juneau — I can’t help but feel… well… inadequate. Oh, what I wouldn’t give for just a few more inches….
And so, periodically, I invest myself in growing out the beard: washing my face with Mane ‘n Tail®, blasting ZZ Top, freebasing vitamin E, stuff like that. Indeed, I’ve been at it all winter, and now, like every spring, I stand at a crossroads (well, actually, more like a roundabout). The beard’s going rogue, exactly like my head hair when left to its own devices: it doesn’t grow “down” as much as “out,” a style my people affectionately call a “Jewfro.”
As such, I face the toughest choice in bearding: to trim or not to trim?
Part of me thinks it’s just at an awkward in-between stage, and with patience, all my beard-related dreams can come true. That’s how I dealt with the Jewfro all those years ago. I waited out the Art Garfunkel phase until I wound up at the Robert Plant phase (which, with a little beeswax and a lot of poor hygiene transitioned into the natty dread phase). Similarly, if I can get past the Conan O’Brien I’ve got on my face right now, I’m sure an awesome Leif Erikson awaits me on the other side.
Of course, you can always cover up a bad hair day, or in my case total baldness, which isn’t just a bad hair day, but the worst hair day, every day, until the day you die.
Nope. I’ve got no choice but to grin and bear these bad beard days no matter how long they last. I mean, what else am I going to do? Grow a moustache?
• “Slack Tide” appears every second and fourth Sunday in Neighbors. Geoff Kirsch is currently working on an essay collection based upon this long-running column. The above piece comes from that work-in-progress.