My mother-in-law had been biting her tongue until the other day. I’ve not said anything yet, she said as a prelude to saying something, but what are you doing with your face? “Why do men do that?” she asked, squinting her disapproval. “It makes you look old.”
“He is old,” said her daughter, never afraid to point out the obvious truth of the matter. Until then she’d been confining herself to deft diplomatic muttering about how it didn’t look too bad this time.
Always one for a parting cuddle, my mother-in-law shook my hand instead, a one-woman protest about one man and his half-grey beard. That beard had a passing resemblance to better beards as worn by my two sons and, occasionally, by a friend whose facial adornment seems to grow twice as thick twice as fast. Although not as fast and thick as an old colleague on Facebook, who’s gone for the full Moses look.
Maybe it was what the mother-in-law said. Perhaps it was the itchiness of a warm day. Whatever the case, the trimmer and razor came out and that beard went down the plughole. Back now to the fresh-faced look, with stubble adornment on mildly rebellious non-shaving days.
The beard fashion has been around for a while, starting apparently with hipster types in London, who weren’t allowed in coffee shops without one, and spreading as far as non-hipster types in York.
Mine wasn’t the most prominent of beards, although both my brothers noticed the other week, as did my mother a week or two before that.
The first beard sprouted in Australia many years ago, fluffing up under my smooth young face, but only growing under the chin and not up the sides or over my top lip. The resemblance to a garden gnome freshly returned from a long holiday was more than passing. But at least there was no grey in that beard.
After that one went, the beard was only ever a theoretical concept to bore on about as something to be grown, you know, one day. Lately the theory has been put into practice twice, ending each time with the soapy shame of a close shave.
The world is divided into men who can grow a good beard and men who cannot; a sub-category is inhabited by men who cannot but give it a go anyway.
Incidentally, son number two grew a bushy below the chin beard when he was a student. It was the product of a no-shaving stand-off bet with friends. His beard-hating grandmother tried to bribe him to have a shave, but he stood firm and hirsute. Nowadays his beard is neatly trimmed.
I think men grow beards because it’s the only option there is to look different. My father wouldn’t grow one when he was younger, as he thought it would make him look old. Perhaps he still thinks that at the age of 87. As for my father-in-law, he has a smooth shave every day, which is probably a wise move.
My squash partner waited until after thrashing me to make his beard observation: “I see the salty old dog look has gone.”