A few days ago, I shaved off my facial hair, which I’ve had since the winter of 2006. It was getting scraggly, had become hopelessly asymmetrical, and I kept nicking my mustache in the same spot with my razor, creating a divot. So, with two weeks until summer classes start, I’m now growing my Fifth Beard.
I grew my First Beard in July 1993, while I was backpacking at Philmont Scout Ranch. When we got back to Base Camp, I shaved off everything but the mustache and goatee. I then had to talk my dad into letting me keep it, which he did, provided I was clean-shaven when school started. I had it during my last Band Camp with my high school marching band, and I was glad that I was able to grow it, but didn’t mind getting rid of it all that much, because there was a diagonal red stripe below my lower lip that didn’t match the rest. I have a picture from the last day of Band Camp of me with the beard, where I’m playing a trombone solo, looking sharp in my aviator-style prescription sunglasses (which I still use!), and that year’s band t-shirt, which had a Where the Wild Things Are theme, and which I sadly no longer own, as it got trashed at the mulch sale the next spring.
My Second Beard came about two years later, in June or July of 1995. I was at Brevard Music Center in North Carolina, and my girlfriend asked me to grow it. After a few days, she trimmed it up into a mustache and goatee, and a few days after that, decided she didn’t like it, so I cut it off. The whole second beard couldn’t have lasted much more than two weeks or so. Sometimes things are fleeting.
The Third Beard was also fleeting. I was living in Macon, Georgia, and over the Christmas holidays in 1998 and 1999, I grew it out, thinking to make a more mature look during my first year of teaching school. The day before school was to start again, I was convinced to shave it. Thinking back, that was probably the right move, because I don’t remember any of the other teachers (male teachers, that is) having a goatee, and my principal, Mr. Sheftall, was the kind of guy who would tell one of his teachers to shave it off.
Then there was a pretty long spell of being clean-shaven while some big stuff happened in my life–I moved back to Ohio, taught in Springfield, then in Elyria, met and married Becky, the love of my life, and got started on graduate school. I probably *should* have grown my beard out at some point, because I think I look better with it when I keep up with it, for one thing, and also because shaving around my mouth plus playing trombone really irritated that area, and I would get pimples right where my lips met the skin of the rest of my face, often right in the spot where the rim of my mouthpiece lands. It never really occurred to me, though. For whatever reason, even though I had tried it three times, two at my own instigation, it never crossed my mind.
Then, in December 2005, came the Fourth Beard, and it has really become a part of my image. I grew it because one of my fellow students at Ohio State grew one, and Becky said it looked good. Only half-joking, I told her that I had better grow mine out, too, and she liked the idea, and the results. I kept it until last Saturday, May 25, which means that it saw me through the second half of grad school, my first college teaching gig in Oklahoma, the birth of both of my children, some good things, some bad things. I’ve had it the entire time I’ve been on Facebook and the entire time I’ve had my own website. No one at my current job has ever seen me without it, and neither had Noah and Melia, or my neice Emma (or her dad Steve, for that matter), until last Saturday. Noah had seen pictures of Becky and me from our wedding, when I was clean-shaven, and since then, he’s been pointing at the picture we have in the living room saying, “Daddy, you shaved off your mustache before the wedding.” Yes, and no, Noah. Yes and no.
One reason I kept the beard was that my dermatologist told me that keeping any skin covered reduces the chance of my skin cancer recurring, and I’m all in favor of that, so I’m growing it back. I wasn’t sure what would be under there–would nine years show unpleasantly? Becky says I look younger without it, but that I look better with it, so it’s coming back. I think it’s the Will Riker effect–Jonathan Frakes looked much better in subsequent seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation, not just because his uniform had been redesigned, but because of his excellent facial hair. To wit:
(Although did they also change his eye color, or is it just the lighting?)
Anyway, I should have known as early as 1989 or so what a beard could do for a trombone player (whether or not he happens to be first officer of a Galaxy-class starship). Clearly, I have learned something in all those years.
So… what will the Fifth Beard hold? How long will it last? Until tenure? Full professor? Until Melia is in elementary school, or Noah is in middle school? Perhaps it will be the beard I wear to the premiere of my first symphony. Maybe I will get better at taking care of it and it will be the beard I have the rest of my life. Only three days in, I’m still in the growth stage, and I’m considering whether to go with the full beard (a la Number One) or stick with the goatee (I could do that, then shave my head and have a Benjamin Sisko thing… nah…).