Let's get the background details out of the way first thing. I'm 31 years old, and until recently, I was clean shaven. Now, from time to time I might have skipped shaving for a day or five, but when I did shave, I shaved my entire face. Well, the parts that grow hair, anyway. No danger of lycanthropy here; my facial hair has always tended toward thin. I have no fear of ever being mistaken for a member of ZZ Top.
In the past I've taken the notion to go ahead and grow a beard. Once, back in high school, I even tried to grow a mustache. Of course, since my facial hair does not grow all that rapidly, the resultant protobeards looked downright awful. And therefore all of these attempts ended swiftly and abruptly once I got to the point of looking unkempt but yet far from being bearded.
Back before Christmas, I decided to try something. . . different. As it happened, I had the better part of two weeks off from work between holidays and vacation time. This meant I might actually be able to grow something of a beard in that time and have it look something other than pathetic and hideous before going back to work. And since it was never uncommon for me to skip a day or three of shaving anyway, I started, or rather stopped, nearly a week before Christmas break. Of course, this meant that my family would have to put up with a solid three weeks of emerging protobeard.
And put up with it they did. It started with questions of "Are you trying to grow a beard," progressed to "I don't know about this beard," and then to "I kinda like the beard." Of course by that point, it was a beard in about the same sense that a Ford Festiva is a car, but a beard nevertheless. Before long other people began to comment, and to my surprise, the comments were mostly favourable. Maybe the people with negative comments kept them to themselves; I don't know. I do know that I was receiving ample encouragement to retain the beard. And retain it I did. Sure, I made some effort to keep my neck shorn — no need to look all 19th century; and trim some stray straggly hairs — no need to look like a mountain man, either.
Of course, Christmas break passed all too swiftly, and it was soon time to bring my newly-hairy face back to the office and face fresh critics. And my boss, in all his subtlety, hated the beard, and had no qualms in telling me so. He even suggested that he might donate $100 to charity were I to shave. Unable to convince him that TSMBGG (The Society for Marko Buys Gas and Groceries) was a legitimate charitable organization, I kept the beard.
It's funny though, when you have a beard, the temptation to do something with it is strong. And I don't mean to play with the beard while thinking — that temptation is utterly insurmountable. You look at your face in the mirror and while the face looking back may be masculine and hairy, you wonder how that face might look with something different. Maybe a goatee, a Fu Manchu, or maybe a soul patch. Perhaps even a Zappa. And so one day I fitted the long hair trimmer attachment onto my trusted Phillishave and took the beard down to the goatee.
On some level, I miss the full beard. Almost no one wears one anymore, at least not in this culture, and so a beard makes a man look like he's going against the grain. It's so rare that I find myself filling the role of the maverick, and frankly, I rather enjoyed it.
What's more, the full beard now fills the role formerly occupied by the goatee — it makes the wearer look like a tough guy. Back in the day, that was exactly what a goatee did. Remember the characters Hawk on Spencer: for Hire or Captain Sisko on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine? Those guys wore goatees and it made them look dangerous.
These days the goatee has become so. . . conventional. You see it on everyone from college kids to grandfathers. And while it may work fairly well on a lots of guys, making it an easy and popular choice, that popularity has made it common, and therefore not the least bit intimidating or tough.
And so I find myself part of the crowd once again. No longer the full-bearded maverick, but not so scruffy-looking as before. It's reassuring that the majority of men aren't wearing any beard at all, so at least having facial hair makes me stand out a little. And I still get a few compliments on the goatee, which is a nice bonus, almost as nice as being able to go a little longer between shaves. Now if only I could decide what to do with my sideburns. . .