Posted on February 28, 2019
by Steve Janowick

I remember being a bit confused.

“You wouldn’t go outside after taking a dump without wiping your ass, would ya?”

Oh, the poetic musings of my late, great, crazy Uncle.  God rest his soul. He was answering the question from his nine-year old nephew.  He had been staying with us for a while after getting the boot from his latest squeeze. One morning he was shaving in front of the bathroom mirror. In his boxers, with a Marlboro red hanging from his lips, he was humming a tune with not a care in the world.  I happen to be passing by and seeing him sparked a pondering in me. I guess in my young mind I was confused why he, and all men, even shaved in the first place.

So, I inquired…and I got my answer.  He didn’t offer up any follow up, so I walked away-still perplexed.

Facial hair, specifically the full beard, is one of the physical features that separates men from women.  It is masculine. It signifies strength and courage and ruggedness. It gives off a “I live life on my terms” vibe.  Even I knew this in my prepubescent mind. So, why was it that the only men I ever saw sporting real, badass beards in 1980 were professors, carry-over hippies or Dan “Grizzly” Adams himself?

Well, I don’t know the actual scientific or sociological answer to that question.  But I do know that there was a time in our recent history when the beard wasn’t thought of as such a manly attribute.  Watch any movie from the time of cinema’s genesis to around the mid-60’s and the only male characters you’ll ever see donning the beard are cavemen and vagrant types.  Never would the dashing, leading man be caught dead with significant facial hair.  At that time, a man with a beard was dirty, unkempt, less civilized and plain-old less attractive.  He was relegated to the steerage deck. He got his hands messy for a living. He may even have nefarious intentions and even criminal tendencies.

Attitudes about the beard started to relax a bit in the 70’s.  But it wasn’t until 1984, when a certain cool Miami cop started walking around in Versace suits and three-day stubble, that it all changed.  It was around that time that beards became cool and edgy. After all, Sonny Crockett was a man on the edge. He was dangerous. He was intense.  But he was also a huge hit with the ladies. And what man didn’t want to be all those things?

Fast forward to today and the beard has lost its mojo again.  Not because of being unpopular-just the opposite. I implore you to find me a single hipster type without a beard.  Find me a construction worker without a beard.  Even professionals and self-described nerds grow them out in 2019.  The beard is ubiquitous. It’s watered down and played out.

But for many who’ve worn one for decades, like myself, they’ve become so ingrained in our identities, so part of who we are, that there’s no way we can rid ourselves of them.  They are our masks. Our hairy security blankets. I shaved mine completely off a few years ago and never felt more anxiety and loss of self.

You can bet it was back within a week.

I’m hoping one day my young nephew will ask me why I have hair on my face.  He’ll look at me perplexed and wonder why I don’t shave it off. And I’ll probably look back at him with a shit-eating, cockeyed grin and say, “would you go outside without your beans under your frank?”

…because that’s what crazy Uncles do.

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