For about as long as I’ve been able to grow a reasonable amount of facial hair, I’ve rarely gone longer than several months without letting my beard come in. For a long time, I would let it sprout then trim it back close, or I would shave clean for months and then let the beard flourish for a little while before shearing myself again.
So for the last 25 years, I’ve probably sported a beard at least as much if not more than I’ve been smooth. This particular iteration has been on the face for four or five years now. It’s been full, but kept to a reasonable half inch or so for most of that time. I find that it does wonders to mask the slowly expanding space between my chin and my Adam’s apple.
I had always wanted to see just what I was capable of growing if I really let it run wild. A few times in college I had gone without grooming for a couple months at a time before taming it again, but that was the beard of a much younger man. What could I do as a well-seasoned husband and father of two?
Without consciously intending to do so, I went a few weeks longer than I usually do between trims. In November of last year, the beard was in full foliage, even as the trees were not. By Thanksgiving I seemed manly enough.
A week or two after the Thanksgiving holiday I lightly trimmed what had been growing, leaving me with the equivalent of three or four weeks’ growth.
That would be the last time I would trim it for 11 months.
By Christmas the beard was filling in to a fairly full state again.
Around this time (I can’t remember exactly when) I was asked to play the part of Kit Carson in the William Saroyan play The Time of Your Life. Seemed the perfect chance: I could let the beard grow for the part, then see what happens. The play was a few months off, so I was certain that I could reach an impressive length by then. Molly wasn’t particularly excited about the beginnings of a fuller beard, but was enthusiastically on board for the acting bit, so she gracefully allowed it.
In February we saw more snow and cold than we’ve seen in a long time in Knoxville. With temperatures dropping into and remaining in the single digits, I was glad to be more furry. The fuzzy face with the fuzzy hat kept me plenty cozy.
By March and the time of the play, the beard had reached an unprecedented length. People would comment on it, but I insisted that “it was gettin’ there.”
Spring had rolled around by that point, and the beard had started taking on a life of its own. I had come that far with it, why not a little longer? We took it to visit Biltmore, which is a slightly more impressive structure, I will admit. Still, I was building something that would turn out grand in its own right.
Either the beard had taken on philosophical lengths or the visit to the early spring gardens at Biltmore prompted deeper thoughts. Whatever the case, during March I was reflective in a manner befitting a beard of that scale. You can read some of my thoughts here and here.
As nature came to life during April, with shoots and leaves appearing everywhere, the beard continued to grow as well. I’m fairly certain that it imparted enough manliness for Finn and I to build a working Pinewood Derby Car. I also took the beard along as Molly and I hosted a travel writer across East Tennessee.
The big event in May was the wedding of Molly’s sister Amy. I harbored genuine concerns that my beard might detract from the proceedings, might distract from the bride and groom. Fortunately my misgivings were unfounded, as both bride and groom remained squarely and solely in the spotlight. A few folks noticed the beard, but nary a fuss was made. Of course, that was well before it had taken on massive proportions. I mean…I was less than six months in at that point. Had they been married in September, I might have needed an excuse to forgo the event.
At around the six-month mark, the beard had taken on a life of its own. Clearly I couldn’t cut it back at that point…I had to see if I could make it to a year. I needed a new summer hat, as my typical baseball cap didn’t look quite right with the beard length, so I got a breezy straw fedora that, combined with my sunglasses, made me look distinctly like someone trying to be incognito. I enjoyed the irony.
By the middle of summer the beard was attracting plenty of attention. When we went to the White Lightning Festival in Cumberland Gap, TN (a fun little excursion and well worth a day trip or two), Abraham Lincoln called me Stonewall Jackson. My reaction was conflicted: I was glad that my beard so clearly trumped Lincoln’s, but I certainly don’t want to be confused for a Confederate, even if he did have some military savvy.
August, and the dog days of summer, should have meant a measure of misery for me, but I stayed surprisingly cool, given my pelt. Granted, I needed to shake like a sheepdog when I came out of the pool, but it wasn’t so bad.
I also trekked across the state of Tennessee with the beard in August, stopping first in Nashville for a couple of days to visit Belle Meade Plantation’s Homeschool Day. As I walked around the various folks in character, I briefly considered the historical re-enactor trade.
We moved on west to Memphis, where we did what became a musical tour of the city. I’ve learned that the history of rock and soul music is decidedly thin when it comes to men with magnificent beards.
I actually started to get a little tired of the beard by mid-September. It needed constant tending, not unlike another child in the family. Indeed, it had started taking on a life of its own, garnering attention from all manner of strangers everywhere we went. The inevitable question: How did you grow it? What am I supposed to say to a question like that? “Inaction” is the most accurate response. I simply did nothing. The beard did all the real work.
Finn and I have the beard to thank for getting us through the first real over-night hiking trip. Three miles up and back is a long way without a burly beard to pull us through. As we got closer and closer to the trailhead on the second day, we encounter several day-hikers who looked askance at me. I suppose I did look mildly dangerous, maybe even slightly crazed.
Had I not committed to being Zeus for Halloween, I would have trimmed the growing monstrosity back several weeks sooner. Nearly a year without cutting more than a few loose mustache ends, however, had left me with a face fit for a deity. A couple of cans of white spray later, and I emerged into the role quite nicely. At any rate, I was easily recognizable.
My duties as Zeus having been fulfilled in fine form, I whacked the mess back the day after Halloween. In truth the trim was much easier than I had anticipated, although I nearly burned out the motor on the clippers a couple of times. How quickly a year’s worth of beard becomes a slightly gross pile of hair in the sink. I’ll spare you that picture.
Now all that’s left is to shape up this shaggy mane that’s been growing on the top of my head for the past few months and I’ll be back to fighting weight.
If you can, if you’re a man capable of growing a respectable beard, do it. Be hirsute. Embrace it. If you can’t, if your cheeks are patchy or your upper lip thin, then don’t. Not at all. But don’t feel bad about it. Not everyone can be as magnificent as I was for a year. Then again, I’m not sure I would want to do it again. Not that Molly would allow it anyway…
Have a question about growing beards? Ask away!