A fictional story with a powerful message:
When I was a young boy, I was repeatedly told I could not grow a beard. Most people told me it was impossible, my parents said it wasn’t allowed. It was heartbreaking. Some of my biggest heroes wore a beard: Jeremiah Johnson, Abraham Lincoln, the wolf-version of Michael J. Fox in the movie Teen Wolf, Jesus, Bill Walton.
Time and time again the same arguments and insults were thrown in my face to break my spirits—you’re 9-years-old, rubbing your chin won’t make the hair grow, you’re not manly enough, you don’t have what it takes, your heroes have gone through puberty, you haven’t—and yet, no claim or insult changed my mind, I knew what I wanted and I would work hard, as long as it took, to make it a reality.
Mom said I was being ridiculous. Uncle Randy told me I was too anxious to grow up and twisted my arm until I repeated after him that, “being an adult is dumb.” But I wasn’t being silly, and I didn’t want to be 17 or 57 for that matter, I just wanted what so many took for granted: facial hair.
My friend Art wants to play major league ball, my cousin Nedward plans to win best stamp collection at the annual competition. Art and Nedward aren’t heckled, laughed at, or thrown up on, they’re encouraged. Where is my cheering section?
It didn’t take long for me to learn that a fool’s journey ends when no one will go with him—or split the gas costs. A dreamers journey never ends, even if he has to go at it alone, in someone else’s shoes, or no shoes at all.
A bit of background.
It all started in the fourth grade. I was in Miss Kelly’s class (or Miss Kill Me as she was popularly known) and we had to give a historical presentation. Points were given for creativity. I’d seen the movie Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure and I agreed that the best way to make a history report come to life was to go back in time and kidnap the historical figures you’re studying, time travel with them to the present day, and then ask them to talk about how much things have changed, but, since I didn’t have a time machine, or enough money to build one, I decided to dress up like Charles Darwin instead.
Here’s me dressed up and ready for my presentation (sorry about the lighting, my mom took the picture in our garage!):
I borrowed my dad’s rain coat, my neighbor Tilly’s former husband’s bowler, and I bought a Santa Clause beard (made from real Peruvian alpaca hair) at a thrift store. At first I was hesitant to be dressed up and in character but that faded as soon as I walked down the halls of Grover Elementary. Not once did anyone giggle or mock or puke on me. There were a lot of stares but aside from that, people were polite: one student opened a door for me, another addressed me as “sir.” At first I assumed it was because I was wearing an adult rain coat and a grown up bowler, but no, I removed them to go to the restroom and was treated with the same degree of respect to and from the john—a student even complimented my beard as I washed my hands. It was then that I realized people respected me because of the Peruvian alpaca hair glued to my face. Discovery: beards demand reverence and respect. People take you serious when you have a beard and I wanted to be taken seriously.
Some might ask, “Why not continue wearing the alpaca hair?” Two reasons: 1.) I didn’t want to be an imitation, some cheap knockoff, I wanted to be the real deal, and 2.) the alpaca beard slowly disintegrated and I couldn’t find or afford another one.
I got a C on the presentation but won best costume. But let’s get serious, who cares about all that, I had found what I wanted in life, something that most people don’t realize until they are much older.
For the most part, the rest of elementary school was fine. None of my peers could grow beards either, so I looked like everyone else (ugh!).
Junior high was tougher. My friend Eriberto had a crustrache and my friend Rod grew six inches over the summer simply by telling himself he was tall—everywhere he went, he thought tall, everyone he met, he looked down on, every door he entered, he ducked through—and it worked, he went from 4’9 to 5’3 practically over night. Apparently the method only works with height because no matter how hard I convinced myself, my uncle still teased and called me Little Miss Peach Fuzz (a double diss since I’m a boy and I really want to grow a beard, but am struggling).
High school was hell (sorry, there’s no other word to describe it). Half the football team and most of the girl’s softball team had nice facial hair. People who could care less, who were just lazy, were living my dream. I won’t lie, one day, after staring and screaming at the mirror for almost 3 hours, I slumped on to the floor and almost gave up. But something whispered, “No, not yet, not before proper inspection.” I wiped the tears from my eyes and did what I’d done every day for 11 years, I checked my face.
On the lower east side of my neck, right above the adam’s apple was a 2 inch hair. To most, that is nothing, an anomaly, something to be plucked and disregarded; to me it was a ray of hope in a dark and dreary wilderness. It kept me going.
Over the next 5 years that hair grew to be 8 inches. Girlfriends hated it, my mom didn’t understand it, and my uncle once tried to cut it off while I slept, so I stabbed him in the armpit. I didn’t let any of it bother me, I didn’t quit. I slapped the naysayers and the dreamkillers in the face. I worked hard, I kept on keeping on, I pushed forward.
I’m 27-years-old-now and have a full (well pretty full, all except a little patch under my chin) red beard. I wear it and don’t trim it with pride. Once in a while I’ll show up at my old elementary school and offer to do an assembly on success, but they always say no and then escort me off the property. No matter. I never leave without pleading that they share my one word secret with their students: perseverance. That’s right, perseverance, against all odds, perseverance.
If you happen to see a starry-eyed white kid with a ratty, not-so-full-beard, don’t judge. It could be his external demonstration of success, his way of saying to the world, “I made it, I beat the odds, I proved the haters wrong, I do have what it takes, I am manly enough, I have hit puberty (like my heroes), and I came out with a trophy, a hairy one, attached to my face.”
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- ‘Put Your Beard In My Mouth’ (huffingtonpost.com)
- From The A Year of Love Jar: Beard (voxjournaljarexile.wordpress.com)
- Read Ke$ha’s Beard Blog, Watch Stalley’s New Video (spin.com)
- Interview: The Beards (therange.wordpress.com)