The first week of November found me dog and house-sitting for my daughter while she and her husband visited Walt Disney World. What does that have to do with anything about Broadening Horizons? Please, allow me to continue, because I had no idea that week would lead to a new journey and life adventure of sorts for me, as well.
Since they were on vacation I decided to also give my razor a break and didn’t shave for the week, just for the heck of it. No other intentions or plans at the time. Just tired of shaving every morning all my life, to be honest, and wouldn’t be seeing or be seen by anyone other than two German Shepherds for the week and they certainly wouldn’t be complaining about stray hairs. Didn’t bother to pack the razor, shaving cream, or aftershave.
When I got back home, I texted my three sons just for fun, saying “You should see me, I’m rocking a seven-day-old beard!” with the “Ha, ha, ha’s!” in parentheses. Before I could set the phone back down I received three immediate replies (most unusual, I hasten to add) saying –
- “Keep it!”
- “Keep it going!”
- “You can’t shave it off, it’s No-Shave November. You have to keep it!”
I hadn’t given any thought about it being No-Shave November, never having participated in it before. According to the site – “The goal of No-Shave November is to grow awareness by embracing our hair, which many cancer patients lose, and letting it grow wild and free. Donate the money you typically spend on shaving and grooming to educate about cancer prevention, save lives, and aid those fighting the battle.”
Well, that seemed like something I could and should support, so decided to go ahead and let my seven-day stubble keep on growing until the end of the month.
I had never tried to grow a real beard before except for a week at a time celebrating St. Patrick’s Day each March in college many years ago, and back then it could only be described as “patchy” at best. And, not that I missed shaving every morning, anyway. So, kept it was – a three-week extension to the end of the month. My razor was granted an extended vacation. Something new, something to do.
But, I was then soon informed that I had to keep it going for TWO months, because it supposedly takes that long growing a new beard in to see what you have to work with before trimming, shaping, or making the decision it was a misconceived, failed, and doomed project from the start and shaving it off all together. Letting it go at the end of November then became holding onto it until the end of December and thru the holiday season. Why not? “Razor, take a break and enjoy the holidays!”
Shortly after though, several others advised that a two-month period is really inadequate to base such a weighty, life-changing, keep or shave decision, and I must leave it alone to grow for a minimum of THREE months. Do you see where this is going?
Well, now I am about nine weeks into it and still growing, looking at the end of January now to be the end of the three-month analysis and all important Keep or Shave review.
Some family members seem to have formed opinions already, a few negatives right away, truth be told. But then, some in life are always resistant to any changes around them or affecting their lives, so not totally unexpected, that.
My own opinion varies thru the day, being much higher in the morning when fresh out of the shower and glimpsing the hinted suggestion of a distinguished college professor look in the mirror, than late at night appearing more of a tired and disheveled, ragged and worn, old wino reaching for his half-empty bottle of Mad Dog 20/20.
As I tell anyone who asks about it, the beard does not yet have a long-term contract and is here on a day-to-day, tryout basis only. It seems to comfort a few while worrying others.
Nevertheless, despite the beard’s uncertain status, I received a rushed early Christmas gift delivered by Priority Mail, an electric beard trimming razor kit from one supportive son who felt that I definitely should and would keep the beard. Followed by a steady stream of advice about beard oils, beard balms, moustache wax, and other such things I had never heard of, from another.
And then I was surprised by a 1 oz. vial of pine-scented beard oil in the mail from an unknown source, perhaps not wanting to be publicly numbered in the “keep the beard” camp. And yes, there are periods during the day when I smell as though I rubbed my face in a pine tree. Walking to the mailbox each afternoon, the birds seem to enjoy it.
Overall, it is turning out to be quite the learning experience. I learned right away that one is not supposed to use normal shampoos or conditioners made for head hair on a beard. Nope – too strong and they strip out the oils from facial whiskers, making whiskers tough and brittle. Head hair and whiskers are two entirely different things, it turns out, along with the composition of the scalp and facial skin.
One needs to purchase special, gentler shampoos and conditioners made specifically for beards. Who knew? At this point, I am guessing that the famously bearded Vikings may have used seal oil for their grooming regimens, but again – just a guess. The list of beard items seems much longer than my old shaving supplies list. And this all for a fellow who has never been into styling gels or sprays for my hair, never taking the time or liking the feel of all that gunk and muck in my hair. Towel dry, comb and go, that’s the way.
Beard Oils. Beard Balms. Moustache Wax. Beard Wash. Beard Softeners. Utility and Styling Balms. Most all in different scents and flavors. Not to mention the wide variety of Specialty Combs and Beard Brushes.
Did you know that plastic-toothed combs are not advised for beards because they may cause split ends? Split ends are bad because they must be trimmed. Trimming means bye-bye to beard length! Recommended – wooden combs with the teeth handcrafted to be perfectly round not to tear into the whisker cells. Whoever would have guessed that they actually make handcrafted wooden combs? Guess which is more expensive. And a hint – it ain’t even close.
I have yet to take the step of purchasing and investing in specialty beard products. Again – here on a tryout basis only. And let’s just say the specialty products do not qualify for the “inexpensive” category in my budget.
One can use vegetable or olive oils in place of specialty beard oils for the same effect of keeping the underlying skin moistened. But who really wants to go around smelling like a salad all day? You can also use Coconut Butter, Shea Butter, or Cacao Butter as the base to make your own homemade beard balm at home. But the first batch will set you back about $50 in starter supplies.
What about baby shampoos? They are gentle. – “Well, yes,” they reply. “But the beard shampoos do not taste bad when you get them in your mouth, which is likely to happen since it is located right where you are shampooing.” Well, that makes sense. And, I don’t know if they make hair conditioners or softeners for babies, anyway. I tend to doubt it.
I do know that shampoos and conditioners made for dogs are formulated to be much gentler than those for humans, but that may be opening me up for more “scruffy” and “mangy” look comments. Attracting birds with a pine-scented beard oil is one thing, but attracting stray dog packs and coyotes with dog shampoos and conditioners would be another. I don’t really run that fast anymore.
Some use Mane and Tail shampoo made for horses on their beards, probably cowboys I’m guessing. But how would I honestly answer or reply if the friendly sales cashier at the store inquired while purchasing – “Oh, what kind of dog/horse do you have, sir?” Having neither, I will probably not be shopping in the dog and horse care aisles, even if they are cheaper than the specialty beard products.
Out in the West, it is an unwritten but well-known rule – “You don’t touch another man’s hat.” Apparently, there is the same rule governing beards – “Don’t touch my beard!” It is considered very rude, and after all the time and effort that some put into growing, trimming, shaping, and maintaining their beards, well – just please don’t do it. But, as for every good rule, there seem to be exceptions, in this case for ladies. But, by all means, don’t do it if you’re another dude, bearded or not. Just sayin’.
Other beard-growing advice and tips abound on the internet on just about any topic one searches for –
- “My beard itches.” – Use beard oil to lubricate the skin beneath your beard and to prevent Beardruff, the bane of beardsmen everywhere it seems. (Beardruff — Think Dandruff but from the beard. Another new word learned and added to my vocabulary.)
- “My beard still itches.” – Use more beard oil. Down deep. Work it in. It’s the skin itching. Whiskers don’t itch.
- “My beard still itches.” – Use more beard oil, and keep it from drying out overnight.
- “My head slipped off the pillow from all the oil.” – Try a beard balm. Balm it up good before going to bed and sleep on your back to give your beard air and to allow it to breathe.
- “My girlfriend left because I was snoring while sleeping on my back.” – Find another girlfriend, keep the beard.
And other salient points –
- “Growing a beard builds character. It teaches the art of patience.” – I already consider myself a fairly patient fellow, so that’s a non-sell.
- “Help your beard grow faster by eating healthy, exercising, getting enough sleep, and losing weight.” – I think I may have heard that same advice from my doctor last year, but I don’t recall him mentioning beards at the time. Interesting.
- “Growing a beard, you become a member of the Beard Community, a Bearded Brother — a Beardsman.” – Not much of a joiner here, best left by myself with the bears. Hold the brotherhood club card and save the postage. I am a member of AARP only because they force me to in order to get the supplement health insurance. But wait — does the brotherhood offer Beard Insurance? Wondering about a fire hazard with all this oil and pine resin in it, to be honest.
- “Keeping a beard helps your skin to look younger in the long run because it protects and shelters your facial skin if you shave it off when older.” – I am much closer to seventy than sixty and quit caring about what I will look like when I get old quite a while ago because I’m already there. The younger-looking skin ship already sailed. And sunk.
- “Do not trim or cut anything, including your moustache, until the initial three-month grow-in period is over.” – Not sure I will ever get used to hairs in my mouth. Some mornings I wake up feeling like I kissed a Golden Retriever.
- “Beards are warmer in winter and cooler in summer.” – Taking that summer part under advisement, with a good deal of skepticism. But, must add that the sensation of the wind blowing thru your whiskers on a chilly, breezy day is pretty cool. I’ll give you that one.
- “To get an award-winning, competition quality handlebar moustache use a glue stick heated with a blow dryer to cement and hold the whiskers firmly in place.” – Seriously? A glue stick?
- “With a white beard (which mine 98% is) you can make extra money during the holiday season playing Santa Claus.” – If I would have any goals about growing a beard, it would not be to grow a Santa Claus length beard, although fill-in work during the Christmas season might come in handy next year for a little extra pocket cash to pay for all the beard stuff. I always wondered why those gentlemen do it each year, spending all day with other people’s screaming kids in their lap. Now I know – they’re in it for the beard supplies money. What is the going rate for department store Santas these days? I may actually have to look into that as there may be an opportunity there. Making a note. I’m hard of hearing already anyway.
Eating and drinking apparently can be problematic with a bushy moustache or full beard. Experiencing a bit of that already, I must say.
- “Learn to carefully lift and hold your moustache and beard out of the way when eating, not to mess them up. Always eat with plenty of napkins at hand. And cut your burgers and sandwiches into bite-sized pieces.” – There are videos showing how to artfully, albeit not gracefully, hold your moustache up and out of the way of food while eating, using one or two fingers of the opposite hand. I don’t know if I am that coordinated with the capacity of forethought when really hungry with a juicy hamburger in front of me to remember to lift and separate before each bite. That could be a problem. And as they say, it takes both hands to handle a Whopper. Cutting up a hamburger or other sandwich into tiny bits might raise some eyebrows around the table and restaurant, too.
- “Learn to carefully lift your moustache up and out of the way when drinking from an open cup or glass. Always use a straw whenever possible, carrying one with you at all times. Or, use “To Go” cups with lids, sipping out of the little opening.” – Again, videos are available to show you how to lift up your moustache before taking a drink of coffee from a cup or a sudsy brew from a glass. I cannot imagine how any of this would be impressive on a date or on a dinner interview. Nor can I imagine sipping a cup of beer from a “To Go” cup or drinking it thru a straw. But, not to worry, there are moustache-saving specialty devices to carry along with you, if you choose. It appears there are specialty products for nearly every circumstance and occasion a beardsman might encounter. Men have obviously been at this beard game and problem-solving work for a long time. I do not ever recall seeing Gandalf, the Vikings, or dwarves struggle with these drinking and dining issues onscreen. So much for reality TV. Well, Tolkien’s dwarves, though – never mind. I don’t think Gimli and the others really cared. But for the rest of us who do, there are ‘Mustache Guard Drink Attachments’ and ‘Whisker Dams’. You don’t have to take my word for it, just Google it. Go to Amazon. And they aren’t cheap, so don’t get drunk and leave them behind at the bar or on the table when you leave.
- “Soups and such should be eaten only at home, preferably alone.” – Think lobster bibs if you have a full or long beard, to shield and protect it from staining (especially if white!), together with the pesky lifting the long moustache up out of the way of the soup spoon issue. Soups and the like seem to be pretty much a banned food group, at least in public. I wonder if the Campbell Soup Company knows about this and if so, why haven’t they come up with a solution yet? Possibly missing a large market segment here, it would appear. Beard-staining tomato soup thru a sippy cup, anyone?
I don’t know what happened between senior year of college and “almost-seventy”, but “patchy and sparse” back then seemed to have changed into “seeing a noticeable difference daily” over the years. And no patches, much fuller. So, if you are of young age reading this and disheartened dealing with open, bare spots and patches trying to grow a beard, or can only grow one of those scruffy and shaggy throat-beard things, have hope. Just wait until you are old and couldn’t care less about growing a beard in the first place, and then give it a week or two. I suppose the whisker-growing change probably happened around the same time that my nose and ears became involved in the hair-growth business. Just a guess.
Reaching the seven-week mark at Christmas, I was awarded the new nickname of “Grizzly” from two different people at holiday gatherings, both for my grizzled appearance at the time and for the obvious comparison to Dan Haggerty who played Grizzly Adams years back in the late 1970s, with my own affinity for bears and writing about them with Little Red Bear. I took it as a compliment and am honored to “bear” the name, having always been a fan of both the character and the actor. So, just call me “Grizzly”, folks.
And did you ever notice that the words “Bear” and “Beard” are identical in English, with only the extra “d” being the difference? Another of the English language idiosyncrasies. If “bear” is pronounced “bare”, then why is “beard” not pronounced “bared”? I don’t think it would be a problem to be consistent because I have never heard or seen the sentence – “The man was arrested and taken into custody after drinking all night when he later bared his beard in public” on an evening news report. No serious risk of confusion, I don’t believe.
More than exceptional beard length which I don’t care about and see only as problematic and likely more work trying to maintain than shaving ever was, my only “Holy Cow!” objective would be to grow an honest-to-goodness handlebar moustache. But not a Snidely Whiplash, curled up at the ends, “tie-someone-to-the-railroad tracks” type, or a Salvador Dali, not at all.
More of a bushy Texas Longhorn look. If I could pull off a Sam Elliott stache, that would be a keeper! Or perhaps a walrus moustache as a nod to one of my favorite authors and guiding examples, Mark Twain. Or William Farnsworth from “Anne of Green Gables”. Or Grandpa Walton, Will Geer. Pretty good company, those.
Admittedly at nine weeks right now, there is only a hint of a possible handlebar in the future. The beginning of a bushy longhorn, perhaps. At the least a good effort and hopeful indication of future possibilities, but nonetheless merely a start. And we all know that not all “prospects” make the big leagues.
I must add, that trying to train a baby handlebar moustache so far is about as easy as herding cats. Although despite the oft-used expression, I have never seen anyone really try to herd a mess of cats, even on video, so it’s all left pretty much to the imagination, I suppose.
But it sounds tough, and maybe that also explains why I’ve never seen anyone actually trying to do it. Regardless, you get the idea. It’s training time for the stache to separate it from the beard growth and guide it out to the sides into a brave new world. Hold the glue sticks, though. That’s not happening.
Some have tried to talk me into a Yeard (another new word), letting my beard go totally untrimmed for twelve months, a year’s length. Not going to be doing that, either. If I would end up keeping the beard at all, I would most likely end up with what they call a short, one to three-inch beard. Maybe in the style of Ernest Hemingway. He’s another writer I have always greatly admired. But with a full, bushy moustache borrowed from Sam Elliott or the others. That shouldn’t precipitate any sideways glances or comments, should it? I never was much at conforming. Might need the fellowship of that bearded brotherhood, after all.
As I keep pointing out, the beard and moustache are still trying to earn spots on the team and only here on a day-to-day tryout basis, anyway. I still catch myself wondering who that strange, seedy-looking character in the mirror looking back at me is occasionally.
Clearly, a mantra to keep repeating — “Time and Length Will Solve All Problems.”
The plan at this time, being just under a month away from the noted Three Month Benchmark, is to keep it all going until then, trying to guide, grow out, and train an unruly baby stache into a full and bushy handlebar moustache along the way. Herding whiskers trying to rope in a Longhorn.
Please do not write in and ask for any pictures yet. I do not do selfies and Little Red Bear’s paws are too large to work the tiny camera buttons. Just imagine Santa Claus on vacation at the seaside on a 104-degree day, beard trimmed shorter for summer, after a non-stop, three-day bender at The Shattered Shanty Beach Bar, and you’ll be close.
Maybe a picture later provided the beard, moustache, or both land a permanent appearance contract. In the meantime, here’s a picture of Sam Elliott. If the beard goes in the end but the stache stays and ends up anywhere close to Sam Elliott, well – I can live well with that. I already have a hat and boots. We can all dream.
Perhaps the most illuminating point of all this is how we so frequently make random, off-the-top-of-the-head decisions every day, never giving thought to how they could be possibly life-altering down the road. Even in a small way. I simply decided to stop shaving for a week, just for the heck of it and ended up being introduced to a new bearded brotherhood culture that I never knew existed, and developing a whole new level of respect for people with well-cared-for moustaches and beards. And although admittedly a slight change in the big picture view, possibly a different way of life for me. We never stop growing, changing, and evolving as we go along thru life. Nor should we.
Nor should we live our lives confined within the limits of the familiar and comfortable boxes we unconsciously seem to fashion for ourselves over time. Venture outside and go with the flow. I think it especially important to keep expanding our horizons as we grow older. Even if the beard goes away and is history come the first of February, I will have developed an appreciation for and learned a great deal about things and people I never knew before. And that’s always a good thing.
Thanks for visiting and spending part of your day with us! Is someone around you working on a change in their life, too? Maybe they could use a kind word, gesture, or encouraging support. Will you do that for them today? Maybe send them an anonymous vial of beard oil or a Whisker Dam, if appropriate.
‘Til next time! Happy Trails! – “Grizzly” Jim (and Red!)
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