“I’m gonna do what you’re doin’ Bat.”

“What’s that?”

Lit go, and lit grow.”

Joe First-Gear was my New Zealand friend whom I met in Australia. He decided, like me, that it was time to grow a beard.

When I was overseas, I didn’t shave for seven months. The first month, I started having dreams: someone—usually me—would start shaving half my beard off. I’d wake up with my hands on my face, sure it was gone. Didn’t I mean to grow it?! Why would I—then I’d feel the bristles, realize it was still there, and that I was nuts.

I grew it because I wanted to be unrecognizable to my friends when I got home. “Look at the mountain man! He has returned!” I wanted to prove that I was different and part of that was looking different. At month five, I Skyped with my friend Brian who was away at college (ha!), and as soon as he saw my face, he started laughing hysterically. I knew I was on the right track.

Month six: my friend Elle straightened my hair (which I also didn’t cut) and my beard with a straightener. It was three inches long, red, and accompanied by a mustache that looked like it belonged on an old Italian lady. This was 2007 and beards weren’t cool. They were reserved for pastors, fishermen, and that weird pale kid in eighth grade who only wore sweatpants and a t-shirt every day. Big beards were worse—I was called “homeless,” “vagabond,” “wild man,” and someone told me I looked like that weird pale kid in eighth grade who only wore sweatpants and a t-shirt.

Month seven and a half: I visited my brother in California and shaved my beard off. Put it in a Ziploc bag. Brought it home. Put it in my closet. If you’re thinking: I don’t know if he’s serious. I am serious. If you’re thinking: that’s weird and gross, it is weird and a little gross. But we’d been through a lot together. The beard was my defense. Ever been scared of someone with a big beard? I sure have. It was disarming. Ever been smiled at by someone with a big beard? I don’t know you, sir, but I sure want to.

My senior year of college I decided to do no-shave-NovemberDecemberJanuary. I had a decent mustache, the beard grew thicker, and I started having more anxiety dreams that my beard would be taken in the night. Why was I so afraid of losing this thing? I thought of it as Sampson’s hair—when I grew it, I scored more goals in hockey, hit harder, was a better leader, made better jokes, talked to more girls about how I would maybe look different—in a good way—if I didn’t have it. I felt mysterious. I was like Inigo Montoya: “I know something that you don’t know…I am not left handed!” I know something you don’t know—I could look a lot better, maybe, without this beard! In a moment of inconvenience, I tied myself down with seven fresh cords and shaved it off, and my strength left me.

Now, big beards are cool. There’s a beard culture: best-in-beard competitions, beard oil, beard hats, beard companies, beards.org. It could be as simple as style—beards weren’t in for a long time, now they’re back. But that’s boring: we like them because they are primal. Male creatures need some ornaments in order to attract female creatures. A lion needs his mane, a buck needs his antlers, a peacock needs his feathers, and the male mallard (a drake) needs his green head. Female mallards (hens) see that green head as a green light. Just the way that women see my red beard as a red light. I mean stop sign. I mean a green light.

It’s a statement about the man wearing it. (It’s like hairstyle for women: short hair means they don’t care. Long hair means they don’t care. Medium length hair…apparently means they care. I’m not sure.) Studies show that guys with beards are seen as more aggressive, they are thought by women to make good fathers, and they are widely known to be better river raft guides. It’s science.

Beards make a man look older, wiser, and more masculine. In a generation that’s so noncommittal, so afraid of putting down roots, so scared of the word “settling”, beards are attractive—perhaps because they offer a balance. They have the appearance of adventure and mystique, combined with rare traits of stability and steadfastness. Or maybe they’re just fun to look at.

P.S. Not all guys can grow beards. But if you can, let go and let grow.


  1. Michael Kelly

    If you liked this post, I recommend a documentary that’s on Netflix now called Mansome: http://www.netflix.com/WiMovie/70239469?trkid=13462100. It’s mostly lighthearted and not very academic, but it’s a fun exploration of certain facets of masculinity in American Culture (including beards and mustaches, of course).

    • Bart

      Michael, I just watched that! Would have been a good thing to watch before writing this. Interesting how anything can turn into an idol. I should have mentioned in this — in college I shaved it because I started thinking (obsessing) about it too much.

  2. Will

    I can grow a beard, but it looks like nether-hair on my face. One friend worded it this way: “your trees are strong but the forest is thin.”

  3. Henry Utter

    Thanks, Bart, for your beard musings . . . I think all guys think about it, at least a little bit. And, yeah, beards can really provoke our thinking. Like, they can help us look older, but better? How do you know you’re there, or done? I like your summary – adventure and mystique, stability and steadfastness – all great qualities.


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