Friday, June 27, 2008

Beards N' Roses

“He that hath a beard is more than a youth,
and he that hath no beard is less than a man.”
-William Shakespeare

“How can you let him grow that beard?” she asked.

I rolled my eyes. She was just a clerk at the Albertsons that my boyfriend and I shopped at, but she was the third person that day to ask me the same question. I’m not sure when his choice of facial hair became my responsibility. Truthfully, if it had been up to me, it would have been shaved several months earlier. I was as surprised as the clerk was to find myself involved with such a hairy man.

I had begged, pleaded and threatened to end the relationship, but still the beard remained and even worse, it continued to grow. It was starting to come between the two of us, literally.

When I say beard, I’m not talking about one of those wimpy looking goatees that high school boys can grow. I’m not even talking about a trim, professor-ish intellectual type of facial hair that pops up on college campuses. I’m talking about a Real Man’s Beard. As far as I was concerned, this man’s beard was out of control. It was thick and coarse and made up of a variety of browns, reds and blondes that blended together to cover both cheeks and chin. Brandon’s naturally curly hair fell in ringlets past his ears, and the beard completed the circle forming a lion-like mane. The natural curl extended itself to the beard, which wasn’t quite as tight but enough that each hair curved back toward its roots. This phenomenon made the beard grow bushier instead of longer. The hairs poked out in all directions off Brandon’s face in a wild bush. Believe me, people noticed.

“Hey man, sweet beard!” yelled a stranger from his car window as he passed us on the street.
“It’s about time to shave young man,” was the disdainful advice from a church leader.
“My girlfriend would never let me have one of those,” said a friend we ran into on campus, who winked in my direction. I think he was trying to be complimentary, but I wanted to punch him in his clean-shaven face.

“What can I say?” was always Brandon’s proud response…And what else could he say, really? He didn’t need to comment because the beard spoke for itself. It boasted of manliness, the type that goes back hundreds of years to the first cave-men who killed saber tooth tigers with their bare hands. It bragged of freedom and independence. A man with a beard this bold was not shackled by the chains of an oppressive relationship or burdened with the norms of society. He set his own rules for style and it drove me crazy. I wanted him to be sensitive and to make me look good - not proclaim to the world the magnitude of his man-power. I didn’t want casual observers deciding that he had a beard because I allowed it.

“What’s so wrong with having a beard?” Brandon would ask me. I could think of about 100 reasons. It covered up his adorable smile, it scratched my face when we kissed, it accumulated a collection of icicles when we went snowboarding and possibly the greatest evil of all, it was weird. The rules for beards are quite clear. A person with a long beard is one of the following: a mountain man, a hermit, a biker, an Amish cheese-maker, a Taliban member, Santa Claus or the Uni-bomber; NO EXCEPTIONS. People are going to think I’m dating a psychopath! I worried. I hated the attention his appearance brought to both of us, which, I suspected, was the very reason he continued his fast from shaving.

I tried to get over my irritation numerous times. What is the big deal anyway? Beards have been around since the beginning of man. With all that facial hair throughout history some women must have learned to deal with it. Brigham Young, who wore perhaps one of the most famous beards in history, had at least 50 wives. If they could see past the fuzz, why couldn’t I?

“You’ve got some cheese in your beard,” I said trying to pick a fight.
“I know,” he smiled. “I’m saving it for later.”
I gagged. “That’s nasty!”
“I’ll get some more and save a bit for you too, if you want.”
“No thanks.” I had to giggle despite my disgust at the image. I paused, “I don’t get you.”
“Why do you keep growing that mess? It drives everyone crazy.”
He thought for a moment, “It’s the principle of the thing.”
“What principle?”
He just shrugged his shoulders. “Growing hair is one of my only talents. I need to embrace what I’m good at. Some people can sing or paint, I grow hair.”

The light-hearted way he joked about the situation only added to my gravity. He wasn’t taking me seriously. I was tempted to give him an ultimatum right then, but I had a strong suspicion that if he had to choose between the two of us, he would keep the beard.

I looked across the table at him. His broad shoulders and strong arms amplified a large chest that narrowed neatly into a trim waist. The red T-shirt he wore was tight in all the right places but as my eyes moved upward they were accosted with the sight of the hair-covered face which was slightly hidden by the brim of a trucker-style baseball cap. The hat boldly blazed the symbol of the Thundercats, a cartoon which had been popular in the 80s. The combination of the hat and the hair gave him a hippie-ish look. It was more than I could handle.

Something needed to change.

The moment came just a few days later when a clean-cut business major in my class asked me out. David seemed to be everything Brandon was not and I was intrigued. He picked me up in a nice car as soon as he got off work at the bank. Now that’s a real job, I thought to myself, somehow implying that Brandon’s job working at an after-school program wasn’t. David wore attractive clothes and his appearance fit the social criteria that I had been worried about. In fact, he looked so average that not a single stranger even noticed us. We went to dinner and ice skated outside under the stars. Sipping hot chocolate, we strolled through the streets which were lighted for the season. It had all the charm of a Hallmark Hall of Fame Christmas Special.

I hated it.

He did everything he was supposed to by following all the rules of dating etiquette, and by every standard of society the evening was perfect. Why then wasn’t I impressed? I guess it was because it reminded me too much of red roses.

Let me explain.

I used to fill in on busy days at a local flower shop and while there I learned to enjoy the variety of colors and the shapes of the blossoms that were offered. Tulips, daisies, orchids, lilies and many other lovely choices were stocked in the cooler. Yet, daily, men flocked to the shop for roses. “Give me red roses!” they would cry. Each Valentine’s Day these prospective Don Juans paid through the nose because the price of a rose tripled during February. But, stoically, they would open their wallets claiming, “There is no limit on the price of love.” Time after time I returned to the cooler searching for yet more roses and could almost hear the other flowers beg, “Take me, I want to profess love too.” Instead of designing a colorful mix like I would have liked, I was forced to arrange the same mass-produced vase over and over again.

Roses, like beards, have a significant place in history. Evidence of their existence has been found as far back as 35 million years ago, and they have been used as symbols of love, beauty, politics and war. Red roses have become popular because they are supposed to imply romance. Woe to the foolish man who purchases a pink rose for his beloved and accidentally gives her the message of gratitude, or worse yet, the yellow of friendship.

According to any self proclaimed, “Hopeless Romantic,” red roses are the ultimate symbol of true love. That is the rule and all men are required to dutifully follow it. Right? Unfortunately, often in my flower-selling experience, I saw several less than sincere men purchasing the crimson buds. Often the gift was a necessary penance after the man had really screwed up. It didn’t have anything to do with feelings. Before long the roses took on a new, less romantic symbolism. Sometimes the “ultimate symbol of love” became, instead, an easy way to woo a girl without really putting forth much effort. A vase full of expensive long stems, in this case, was an illusion of happiness hiding a multitude of sins. Once I even saw a billboard with three sizes of arranged roses and the caption, “How mad is she?” I think the advertisement captured the essence of what roses often mean. Of course, there are some romantic men that are merely trying to impress a girl, but why couldn’t they choose another flower once in awhile? While I was working at the shop I decided that I wasn’t interested in enjoying the symbols of love. I wanted the real, day-to-day thing.

I guess that’s why the cheesy atmosphere of the date didn’t do it for me. It was the perfect Seventeen Magazine scenario, without the feeling that would have made it worthwhile. The date was too much, too soon, and felt obligatory, scripted and a little reminiscent of the quick, easy dozen that required neither creativity nor sincerity.

When David asked if he could call me again, I politely declined. There was really nothing wrong with him, but he wasn’t my style. He needed a girl who would swoon over his illusions and fall in love with his romantic notions. I wanted someone who was bold, frank, and unconcerned about the whims of society.

I wanted the beard back.

There is nothing innately wrong with beards, I began to realize. There have been several upstanding citizens who have sported healthy facial hair. The image of the Uni-bomber was replaced with one of Moses, who performed enough miracles to liberate an entire people. The hobo switched to Abraham Lincoln, who, although gruff looking, freed the slaves. My list continued to grow including Noah, Dumbledore and of course, Bob Ross. Each one of these men has had an important, perhaps even vital impact on the world.

I saw Brandon the next day on campus. When I looked up into his face, instead of merely seeing an unruly patch of overgrown hair, I saw a man that was happy to be who he was. This man didn’t need to rebel against society and didn’t feel pressure to conform either. His sincerity was the exact thing that made me love him. He didn’t need to scan GQ Magazine trying to find ways to impress the world. He didn’t worry how many old ladies shook their heads in his direction. He wanted a beard and didn’t care what anyone else thought about it.

Brandon, now my husband, is still a bearded man. He is handsome even with half of his face covered with hair and he isn’t making a bomb in the basement – at least not that I know of. He has never once brought me roses, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.


Adam and Cara Rigby said... have such an awesome way with words :) That is one of the reasons I love you, and why you and Brandon are so good for respect who eachother is and that is hard to find.

Cory said...

I just found your blog and decided this post deserves more than a single comment.

Beards, they grow on you.

Aynna banahna said...

I'm glad you chose the hairy guy instead of the boring banker. Because if you hadn't, I wouldn't know you and I'm really happy I do. And I miss you now you're away in Oregon. But I feel like I'm getting to know you a little better by reading this.

Micha said...

I adore you Marci. This is such an awesome post.