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 Sunday, 19 December 2004
Sunday, 19 December 2004 00:25:14 (Central Standard Time, UTC-06:00) ( )

I’ve had a beard for at least 14 years, maybe more like 16. Way back there in time I grew the beard for a costume. My friend Rick and I went to Minicon as Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and Gray Mouser characters.

 

The stories of these characters are part of the swords-and-sorcery bedrock on which fantasy literature is based. Fafhrd is a huge barbarian and a legendary swordsman. The Gray Mouser is a thief, and is lethal with his rapier. Rick and I made a good pair, as I am quite tall and he is quite short in comparison. My wife made my costume, and I borrowed a sword (which I later bought and now own) from my friend Will.

 

But if you are going to be a 7 foot tall (well 6’5” ) barbarian swordsman of legendary stature you need a beard. You really should have long hair too, but I couldn’t easily reconcile that with my professional life… The beard wasn’t a problem in that regard though, so I grew a full beard.

 

And it grew out well. So well in fact that I decided to keep it.

 

Better still, it enhanced my career. I’ve always looked on the youngish side, and it was often hard to get people in business to take me seriously. The beard added years to my appearance, and all of a sudden I got more respect in the workplace. That’s the odd thing about the computer industry (at least to date). When you are young (in your 20’s or so), no one listens to you because they figure you are a cocky young upstart with no experience. When you are in your 30’s or so then you are experienced and are worth listening too. By the time you get somewhere into your 40’s you had better get into management, because it is obvious that your technical skills come from the stone age and you are useless for any “real” work.

 

Anyway, a few years back, during the height of the dot-com bubble, I switched from a full beard to a smaller version. This dropped some years off in appearance, but I still had the beard. It was a subtle change (many people didn't even notice). On the whole I prefer the smaller beard to the full one.

 

Now I’ve gone the rest of the way, dropping the whole thing. And I must say that it is cold. Seriously. It is around 4 degrees F, or -13 C. It is cold. And it is amazing how much a beard insulates your face!

 

It has been fun to watch the kids too. I’ve had the beard longer than I’ve had either of them. They literally have never seen me without it. The older one (at 11) thinks I look downright strange without it and keeps stealing sideways looks at my face trying to puzzle it out. The younger one is 7 and seems to be handling it better, though at least twice how he’s had to touch my face where the beard used to be.

 

So what drove me to do this you ask? As with most momentous changes in life, this was driven by my wife :-)  Every now and then she’s said something along the lines of “I wonder what you look like under there”. I’d ask if she wanted me to shave it and she’d say “No, just wondering”.

 

I should point out that these were not officially hints. My wife absolutely didn’t hint that I should shave the beard, she just expressed her idle curiosity. No pressure, no expectation.

 

Now I’m pretty slow on the whole idea of taking a hint. That’s just not my strong suit. But being the doting husband, I thought it only fitting that I should take the non-hint. It took me months, if not years, to actually get the non-hint. But that’s just a guy thing I think.

 

So there I am, standing in front of the mirror. Beard trimmer and now to be beard remover in hand, staring at myself. It took me three tries before I touched blades to hair. Ultimately I did it only because I know that I can grow it back in just a couple weeks. That is, after all, the great thing about a beard (as opposed to something like a tattoo) – it isn’t permanent either way so you can always change your mind.

 

It has now been just a few hours, and I am still undecided. I find myself looking in the mirror to see who’s there. And after all these years I don’t recognize myself. Which indicates to me that it is about time I shaved it off, since it seems like a bad idea to be unable to recognize your own face… Otherwise the Queensryche lyrics from Eyes of a Stranger run through my head:

 

And I raise my head and stare

Into the eyes of a stranger

I've always known that the mirror never lies

 

Not that the rest of the song applies to me overmuch at this point in my life, but that bit of the refrain seems a bit appropriate just now.

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