Beard

WIKIPEDIA:

Beard is a slang term describing a person who is used, knowingly or unknowingly, as a date, romantic partner (boyfriend or girlfriend), or spouse… to conceal one’s sexual orientation… especially used within LGBT culture…

I’ve been feeling conceited about my beard lately. This post will only serve to bring my shallowness to light, but vanity has long defeated me.

Ah, vanity. In this universe of the written word, it is a favorite of mine. For those who followed along as I made my way across the undulating lowlands, through the muggy fens, and over the treacherous ridges of kaddish, they may recall a quote, which I was fortunate enough to chance upon (‘Skeptic’s Kaddish’ #30, Feb. 11, 2019):

I grieve yet know the vanity of grief.

Robert Hayden (1913-80)

As I noted in that same blog post, vanity can mean:

  1. Pride;
  2. Futility

* * *

Anyway, back to my personal vanity.

I’d been sporting facial hair since 2010, not long after I moved to Israel, but it wasn’t until Papa died that my beard grew particularly bushy, per the Jewish tradition of men not shaving or getting haircuts during the first month after the death of a close relative. I had already been due for a haircut when I first learned of Papa’s death, and even when I finally went for that first haircut one month after burying him, I was unready to wear my beard short (‘Skeptic’s Kaddish’ #1, Aug. 9, 2018)

Tomorrow, I am getting a haircut, but I am not emotionally ready to cut my beard short – I’ve decided to trim it but keep it long. My thirty days are over, but my beard makes me think of my father, and I am not ready to get rid of it.

Eventually, I did have it shortened but kept it longer than before. My beard made me look and feel older; Papa’s departure from this world had made me, undeniably, the oldest Bogomolny, as the death of my grandfather had once made Papa (‘Skeptic’s Kaddish’ #6, Sept. 14, 2018):

My father and I were at the hospice in Maryland together when my grandfather passed away… On the car ride back to New Jersey, my father mused, “Now I am the oldest generation of Bogomolny.” Yes, I thought, that’s the way it works. My father didn’t say anything else to me then or afterwards about his father’s death.

To be honest, and this is something that I didn’t want to admit publicly at first, I took pleasure in the look of having a full beard (since my earliest college days, I’ve gravitated towards outwardly Jewish expression); and while I didn’t quite know how to maintain it myself, my barber would trim it for me every month or so, making it presentable. Then, more than a year and half after Papa’s death, the Coronavirus crisis hit Israel just when I was due for a haircut, and the salons were temporarily shuttered.

After nearly three months of not having a haircut, and not knowing when my barber would be available again, I caved and pulled out my clippers and scissors. My mustache had literally grown into my mouth, and my patience was swiftly depleting. How is it that some men can stand to never trim their facial hair?! ‘Uncomfortable’ doesn’t come close to describing it.

Gingerly, I snipped and clipped over the bathroom sink.

The results were encouraging. I could see my upper lip again, and my beard looked… even.

* * *

I don’t know what my father would have looked like with a beard because he deliberately never grew one for two reasons that he shared with me.

Firstly, Papa told me that his facial hair did not grow in evenly; he had some hairless patches. This was the less evident reason. I could never quite imagine what he meant by it until my own beard began growing out. In fact, this is one of the primary reasons why I have to come prefer a longer beard – it looks more uniform.

Secondly, Papa was a minimalist when it came to maintaining his appearance. He would shave daily with a razor, apply his Old Spice aftershave, dab the nicks on his neck with torn bits of toilet paper, and that would be it. Trimming his nose hair, ear hair, or eyebrows was an anathema to him; and since he was mostly bald, he didn’t have much need of combing his hair either.

Several years ago, we went together to my salon in Jerusalem. The woman who cut Papa’s hair that afternoon offered to trim his eyebrows, a standard service they offer, and he, of course, categorically refused. He had absolutely no patience for vanity and simply preferred to keep his appearance – simple.

My Papa would have considered the very idea of writing an entire blog post on the subject of facial hair to be nothing more than sheer and shallow verbal masturbation, and he surely would have let me know it.

* * *

So I have finally figured out how to keep my beard and mustache presentable, despite my hairless patches, and I am self-consciously vain about my Jewish, male, not-so-young aesthetic.

Every single day that I trim my facial hair, I think of Papa, and I understand why he never, ever would have bothered.

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