I’ve grown a beard. Becoming or not, that’s still a debate in my household – and with some friends.
I’ve always shaved once a week, a perk of working for myself as a writer. Now it’s been more than six months since using a razor, and I’ve come to think that the beard makes me look rather rustic. Or maybe a bit like the Scottish-born American naturalist John Muir, a childhood hero.
My wife found it adventurous at first, whatever that meant.
I’m still, well, scratching my beard as I ponder my new look and whether it is cutting it or not. My older brother has a thick and multicolored beard, and my uncle has a long white beard. They both look good. And me? Well, it’s a plain brown beard. And it has brought a few downers. First came the inevitable and nagging itchiness. Then came the appearance of my first white hairs after years of saying, “Hey, I still look so young. I’ve got no gray hairs at 44!”
Now the white hairs stick straight out of my beard.
I was still debating the bearded look the other day when I went to interview a CEO in Buenos Aires for an assignment. I had interviewed him before and he walked right by me in the reception area. He hadn’t noticed me. But I hadn’t noticed him either because, to my surprise, he was sporting a beard of his own. He said it is a summer tradition. He looked rather dashing, elegant and handsome even, a young and successful entrepreneur.
I’ve got a lot of remarks, but none of these.
Indeed, after the interview I went back to Pinamar, where we are spending the summer, and I went surfing on the best day of the season, with 6- to 10-foot waves roaring in and few people out. I surfed for two-and-a-half hours and then caught three long and screamingly fast waves before calling it quits and heading in. Near the shore, a random guy out for a swim said something to me. I thought he might have said something appreciative about my rides but I couldn’t hear him properly so I said, “What was that?” He looked at me with my long beard and wide-brimmed beach hat (yeah, I often wear a hat when surfing to avoid the sun burning my shortly shaven head), and he repeated rather amusedly, “You look like a pirate.”
I said, “Oh.”
And kept going.
But then I thought while walking down the beach, what if I look like Jack Sparrow of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” films or, better yet, the actual actor, Johnny Depp. That would please my wife tremendously.
But, alas, not many have associated my new look with him. I’ve become more attached to the Tom Hanks character in “Cast Away,” the film when he is stranded for years on an uninhabited island. The comparison seems to bring tremendous satisfaction to those who finally figure it out for themselves with a string of “I know, I know, I know” followed by a delighted declaration of the comparison, hearty laughs and then some uproarious – to them – impersonations of the Tom Hanks character saying “Wilson.”
My three children have been more direct and simple in their appreciation of my beard in saying that they think it’s pretty cool. And the youngest has taken this facial-hair experiment as an educational opportunity. She’s learning new words. And the latest is moustache. Her brother has just told her the word.
The four-year-old ponders this for a second and then says, “But what’s the beard?”
Her brother, who is seven and wiser, says the beard is that bit, pointing to the chin and jaws and just below the cheeks.
“And the moustache?”
“Ah,” he tells his sister, “That’s the part just above the mouth and below the nose.”
Her sister then looks more carefully at my face and then points up and says to me, “So what do you call the hairs coming out of your nose?”
“Ah, well…” I stutter before adding, “Right, who wants to go for a walk?”