Some people are polite. They just say nothing and try not to stare. Others say things like “If you keep it until December you can cash in on the season, just practice saying ‘Ho ho ho!’” Someone else said to me “I could not shave my beard the 30th day after my father died. It was like saying a final goodbye to him if I did shave.” But, shave his beard he did despite his intense emotional struggle. I will not have the same conflict. I know my father would not care if I kept the beard. He was always clean shaven and I do not associate a beard with love for him.
I do not have any particular religious commitment for or against a beard. I know the rules of shaving and when I shave I use the approved methods. Over the years I have seen and carefully observed my share of well groomed facial accoutrements as well as the scraggly unkempt versions so often sported by that certain breed of devil may care zealot. Sometimes I think I would like to try both approaches on for size. To do that I would have to have the patience of a saint and let the strands grow and cover the remaining bald spots for several more months.
I do have a commitment to trying new things, being a bit adventurous and experiencing what I can reasonably feel comfortable with. OK so do not go getting any crazy ideas about me; I am talking about taking a grandchild on a new ride at Disneyworld or watching a chick flick with my wife just because she suggested it and actually enjoying the movie. I am also referring to experiencing the incredible itch of new facial growth that all men undergo during the first 30 days of sprouting a new mane. For this reason alone maybe it is worthwhile to just retain the hair.
Someone has been circulating research suggesting that a beard on a man is actually a health promoting activity, passive though it may be. A beard protects the skin from harmful UV rays and helps retain healthy oils making the face look and feel younger. In my own personal research I wonder what germs a beard retains. As it is my moustache feels and tastes like it has oatmeal, salmon salad, soup and squash pudding in it accumulated over the last few days - and I wash and brush it after every meal.
I am not yet sure what I will do with my beard. After all when I was a teenager I grew and maintained a true Fu Man Chu moustache. I kept it for many years. It helped me look older when I was an intern and a fellow. In those days too many people thought I was too young to guide them in therapy when I shaved it off. I had a ‘baby face’ back then. When I had the moustache it made me look older, and more distinguished, or so they said. I thought it gave me a hint of the Freudian analyst profile – literally. That was a few years ago, but now I sport a full beard.
The shloshim, the thirty days that will pass to mark my Father’s passing is next week. And I am permitted to shave. Should I shave? I am just not sure what to do.
My research training kicks in and I decide to tally comments about my facial hair. I do not solicit the comments I just record them. Seems that people in their 50’s to early sixties, so far 12 individuals, are mixed on whether I should retain the beard. Those older are uniformly for shaving as soon as I can – all seven of them. The 30 younger folks that have commented, mostly in their 20’s and 30’s, all claim that it is a wonderful addition. They want me to keep it. There are, thus far, only three in their teens who commented but it is hard to record just what a shrug or grunt means. All in all, given popular opinion, it so far appears that the beard should remain.
Then there is the issue of the family or more accurately I should say my wife’s opinion. Two people just this morning, one in the bagel store the other in shul, told me that my wife does not like the beard. Her electioneering counts for a great deal. We’ll see! I will definitely take it under advisement. As Uncle always says – “Yes dear!”