George Carlin used to do a bit about "whiskers" versus "beards". It was his contention that good, clean, upstanding members of American society did not sport beards. Facial hair was strictly for the miscreants and troublemakers: Castro, Marx, Stalin, Lenin, and just about any communist you might care to name. Real Americans would never wear a beard. Abraham Lincoln? He had whiskers.
I thought of this as I reflected on Santa's visit last night. It really is the rare exception for a bearded man to gain trust and acceptance from all the children of the world. My father, however, would probably have found reason to keep an eye on Mister Claus. He claimed that anyone who covered his face with hair was hiding something. I heard this diatribe dozens of times throughout my youth. I heard it so many times that, for a time, I too ascribed to it. This was partly out of my unfortunate inability to grow much more than patchy stubble, and partly out of respect for my father.
For several years, I maintained a rather prolific moustache. I have very visceral memories of ice forming on it as I wandered through the sub-zero patches of many Colorado winters. I assume that, because I never heard about it from my father, moustaches don't hide much but your upper lip, and are therefore an acceptable outward symbol of manhood. As my hairline made a fast retreat in my mid-twenties, my "cookie-duster" was a nice stopgap for my eventual surrender to hair loss.
But when I moved to California, I became more convinced that I could maintain a beard, away from the watchful eye of my father. All the other guys at the warehouse where I worked sported all manner of facial hair, the most popular being the goatee, a kind of badge of polite hippiedom. And so for a few more years, I went in and out of phases where parts of my jaw and chin were covered with fur. My wife tolerated it, but always sighed with relief when I cut it all off to start again.
Then my son was born, and I can remember vividly how he recoiled from my scruffy face when I bent down to kiss him goodnight. That was reason enough for me. I've been essentially clean-shaven since, including a shearing of my entire head every three months. It is amazing how quick my showers are these days, but now I have two weeks off, and it's tempting to just let my freak flag fly one more time. Just to see what I'm trying to hide, aside from my aversion to shaving, that is.