I’ve always thought throughout my life beards carried with them more than just a fuzzy face. The last U.S. president to have a beard was Taft, and with that great power and responsibility came a series of great beards (and moustaches).
Growing up my father had a thick black and gray beard until I started high school, when he surprised us on vacation with a clean face and has kept it ever since. Yet, I never witnessed the untapped potential of my father’s facial hair genes, as his father never kept a beard throughout his life.
I was born with bright blonde hair like my brother. Neither of my parents have blonde hair though; my mother was also born blonde but her hair turned brown over the years. It didn’t take long for this to happen to me.
I was about 10 years old when I first started to notice the tell-tale signs of puberty, including armpit hair. As quickly as I grew three inches in one year, my hair went from blonde to brown. It wasn’t too long after that, in middle school, mind you, my first beard hairs started to come in.
I wasn’t really sure what to do about it. I was clearly the first one in my grade to rocket up in height and have more hair. The term “pedo-stache” was very popular to make fun of people’s early beards and moustaches. So I just shaved.
My parents were pretty shocked when I asked them what kind of razor I should get. I wasn’t very comfortable using shaving cream and a razor, and my father never used them either. We decided on an electric three-blade rotating razor which had a flip-up beard trimmer on the back of it. I abused that razor all through middle school.
The summer before high school started I basically said “screw it” when I noticed how aggressively the beard was starting to come in. It grew and grew and grew, quickly covering my face and head in brown hair. Looking for something to do when I entered high school, I signed up for the ultimate Frisbee team. In the fun-loving spirit of a high school Frisbee team in Vermont, the older team members quickly took me in.
Surprisingly, we were pretty good that season and lost to the state capital in the finals to earn second overall. There was another player on our team who had a sizable beard and throughout the season mine grew to match his. This quickly earned me the nickname on the team of “Beardz.” The name caught on so much so that teammates and coaches began to forget my real name.
Sophomore year came around and the name started to grow in popularity among my friends and others at school. Yet I felt the need for a small change and my girlfriend at the time agreed. I broke out the trusted spiral blade razor and took down my cheeks to leave a goatee and moustache. It was a nice change that I kept for only a few months as it was pretty hard to keep up with the need to trim my cheeks.
With the changing seasons, the length and thickness of my beard would change and I welcomed that. It’s great not having to cover my face when I go snowboarding, but when trying to snorkel at the lake back home, my goggles would fill up with water if I kept it at winter’s length.
When I first came to UNH I had the beard and intended to keep it through college, as I have. Despite the promises I made to some people that I would shave before graduation, sorry to disappoint, but I just can’t. It really does take years off a man’s face when they lose their hard-earned beard.
I ended up in a cycle of letting my beard rage during the fall in preparation for winter where it came in handy having to walk across campus for classes over the last four years, then shaving down for spring and summer to cool myself. It does make quite a difference in the temperature, believe it or not.
“Beardz” never stayed with me after senior year in high school, but as college progressed the common, “Oh, that kid with the big beard?” question, or similar statements, became synonymous with yours truly. I never joined the Frisbee team here but my time at Wildcat Productions, The New Hampshire, WUNH and Lambda Chi Alpha have brought their own beardy experiences.
While college passed and the beard grew, I think its popularity grew with it. My boss at Wildcat Productions once remarked, “You have quite the head of hair, my friend.” “You must initiate The Beard!” an alumni of Lambda Chi wrote on our Facebook page when a picture was posted introducing my rush class in the spring of 2017. The spring of 2017 would prove more influential in the life of my beard than one would think, and that came in the form of a contest unlike any other.
My mother had sent me a link to the Vermont Beardies, a contest throughout my home state to find the best beard and “turn whiskers into wishes.” The contest partnered with the Make-A-Wish chapter in Vermont to raise money and grant a wish to a sick child. In order to compete in the contest, you had to register and raise a certain amount of money for Make-A-Wish.
The Beardies were being judged over spring break which timed out perfectly with my full beard coming out of a brutal winter. I quickly gathered donations north of $300 and was eligible to be judged in the contest with about 20 others. The real kicker was getting to meet Jonathan Goldsmith. You probably know him as “The most interesting man in the world,” from the Dos Equis beer commercials; he actually lives in Vermont and was co-sponsoring the event.
The event was held at a funky art and music venue in downtown Burlington. First, a pediatrician from the local hospital looked at my beard and remarked on its length and color. Second, I had to fit as many clothespins into my beard as I could with the help of two kids. I got second place in that with 49. Lastly, I had to explain to Goldsmith why I have the best beard in Vermont.
I started this by telling him I was only 20 years old at the time and there were people older than me at the contest with lesser beards. Not only that, Make-A-Wish granted a wish for one of my good friend’s brothers when he was diagnosed with Leukemia. My hair was also a comparable length at the time and I was growing it out to donate it to a program Pantene runs where they make wigs for people going through chemotherapy. I had to cram all this explaining into 60 seconds.
I tied for second place overall in the contest and together we raised over $30,000, which was enough to grant two wishes. I entered the contest again this past March but wasn’t as successful in my overall ranking. However, the contest itself has grown so much that we raised over $52,000 this year. After spring break and a couple exams, I had to shave it off and it felt amazing, albeit I’m pretty cold right now.
I look forward to the rest of my life as a bearded man but there are a couple things people need to understand. Don’t pull on it, it really hurts. I can’t tell you how many times this happened to me at UNH but it never feels any better. I also can’t tell you how many times drunk people have said “wow, your beard is amazing,” or something along those lines. Don’t ask how it got so big because I have no idea. I don’t do anything special to it besides shampoo and combing when it’s long enough. It’s all in the genes. No, I’m not a fan of so called “hipsters” with beards. You’re not wearing it for the right reason and stop decorating it for your Instagram.
Beards do carry a symbol of power, of responsibility and of maturity. There is something awe inspiring about a great beard that ironically is hard for me to understand. I’ve become so used to hair hanging off my chin I forget it’s there. So beard on you crazy diamond, because those hairs mean a lot to the people around you. They show your experiences, your personality and your fantastic genes.