COLUMN: To Beard or Not to Beard

Harry Caines contributes a weekly column to CacheValleyDaily.com. His column is a work of opinion, and does not reflect the views of Cache Valley Daily, the Cache Valley Media Group, or its employees.

<em>“He that hath a beard is more than a youth, and he that hath no beard is less than a man. He that is more than a youth is not for me; and he that is less than a man, I am not for him.”</em>

—Beatrice, from “Much Ado About Nothing”

It can be a terrible thing to have a mirror directly over your bathroom sink. My guess is that is the way most of us live. We wash our hands or brush our teeth right there, with our handsome mugs staring right back at us. We get used to staring at our own faces in the mirror many times a day. We talk to ourselves in the mirror. We notice imperfections. We are recognized by other thinking creatures by our face. It fascinates us to gaze at our own image. It is the thing that gives us our identity.

Over the past few months I have stared at my bathroom mirror with my head slightly tilted like a bemused dog. I barely recognize the man staring back at me. The reason for this is that I have mainly stayed clean-shaven since March. As my daughter has said me to me on many occasions this summer, I look weird without a beard.

I concur.

In the 11 years I have lived in Utah I have, for the most part, worn a beard. I always wanted to grow out whiskers. In my previous life, I worked in the hospitality business. I was required to be freshly shaven every day I showed up for work. It was safe, neat. When you deal with tourists on a daily basis, less is more.

It was not just my chosen profession that prevented me from embracing the gruff. The culture I was raised in suggested that men should have frictionless faces. The word that was often used to describe a man with a beard where I come from was “scuzzy.” To this day, my closest friends back home all have cheeks as smooth as the day they were born. It’s just how we do things back there.

So, when I moved out West I told myself I was going to do what I had always wanted. I let the beard break free from its epidemic prison and kiss the Rocky Mountain wind. And, if allowed a slight tinge of vanity, I think I looked considerably better with a furry face.

I have shaved a few times when out here. Sometimes it was due to meeting with people who still had an embedded, subliminal belief that clean-shaven equated to professionalism. Other times, I just got tired of looking at the damned thing, and I wanted to start over. Beards can be like a clump of clay…you can mold them many times over.

This spring, I decided to cut the beard off completely and leave it off. I have been attempting to shed (pun intended) some of my recent bad habits. Changing my appearance was a part of my metamorphosis. Those pesky white hairs that protrude from my chin like an obtrusive neon sign on Times Square would go kaput. I can start anew as Harry, the Clean.

Problem: I have a fat, round face.

I know, I know, I have a fat everything! Despite losing close to 50 lbs. in the past two years, I am still a big guy. Stop sniggering at me. Fact is, even when I was young and rail thin, I had a “Charlie Brown” head. I had to call NASA to figure out my hat size. (COLUMNIST’S NOTE: It is 7 ⅞) If you wanted to sketch my face, all you would need is a protractor and a golf pencil. Near to sunset, I can cause solar eclipses. Billiard balls envy my cranial roundness. If I ever caught jaundice, the guy who invented the Have A Nice Day t-shirt could sue me for copyright infringement.

What am I to do? If I grow in my beard, I look 75 years old. If I shave, <a href=”http://www.cachevalleydaily.com/opinion/article_f7850836-25fb-11e5-a322-5399f8532b61.html” target=”_blank”>I look like Mr. Met</a>.

The positive argument for growing back the whiskers is that there is a certain distinction and intellectual breadth I exude when bearded. If some wish to judge me as a creepy old guy or a misguided Hipster (REDUNDANCY ALERT!) I will rely on my powers of conversation to alter their perception.

The negative argument is beards really are not a symbol of power in America. Only five U.S. Presidents wore beards—and that was in a 40 year span of the 19th Century. The last POTUS to have a mustache was William Howard Taft. The trauma of that reign still haunts America to this day. It may be an apocryphal revisionist story, but it has been said former presidential candidate Thomas Dewey lost the elections of 1944 and 1948 in part because his mustache gave women voters the willies.

Living in Utah, it is hard to not see the influence of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in all things. The last Mormon Church president with facial hair was George Albert Smith, who died in 1951. He had a goatee. His predecessor, Heber J. Grant, was the last fully bearded head of the Mormon church. He passed in 1945.

In current-day Utah, being clean shaven with a white dress shirt is the encouraged “brand” for LDS men. It is to a point that wearing a beard is a subtle, polite way to tell other Utahns, “I am not Mormon.”

Of course, some Mormon men wear beards; but, the majority of those with facial hair are older and prefer goatees. When I am out on my Sunday walks I see them walking in and out of church—nearly all wearing boots and a bolo tie. My own nickname for these men is Old West Mormons. Their great-great grandfathers came to Utah standing right next to Brigham Young…or Jim Bridger. They will gleefully testify to the authenticity of the Church, but they ain’t shavin’ for nobody!

Yes, the decision is made. I will bring back the beard. The potpourri of white, blonde and brown hair will hypnotise the myopic. When I stand outside of Wal-Mart, I will thank those who hand me spare change. I will budget monthly for the shampoo and conditioner needed to wash my face. I will try not to take it personally when police cars follow behind me during my walks.

How much does it cost to get a chin tuck?

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