When I was a kid, I couldn’t wait until the day I could shave. Let me rephrase that: I couldn’t wait until the day I had to shave. Shaving has always been a sign of manhood, and every boy looks forward to the day that he becomes a man. For me, that day (shaving, mind you) came decades ago, and after a few years of having to shave, I realized that it’s just another pain in the day-to-day arse, like mowing the lawn (although admittedly I’ve gotten some of my best ideas while mowing the lawn).

P.E. Werner circa 1870's

The simple presence of the “Y” chromosome does not guarantee that one will develop a thick beard, and exceptionally dense whiskers do not run in my family (although I believe my grandmother had some impressive chin hairs that she did her best to manage). Some of my German ancestors had some impressive mustaches, but I’ve never seen a full beard in any of the old photos. My dad grew a beard back in the 70’s, and if I recall it wasn’t a bad looking beard but it was never allowed to manifest into a thick beard; a real beard. My brother, Hal, has sported a neatly-trimmed beard for years, but he prunes it regularly so I’m not sure what potential lies within his chin follicles. I think he ought to show what he’s capable of by letting that thing go fallow…

Round about the time I was 14 or 15–if the lighting was just right–a faint trace of dark peach fuzz was visible on my upper lip. By the time I was in college, I was capable of growing a very poor mustache, and in fact I did just that. I reckon it made me feel like more of a man: a rugged, manly, virile man. What it really amounted to was a pathetic patch of immature whiskers attempting to be cultivated on a youthful baby-faced college boy. No amount of ridicule could convince me of that, although eventually I would come to see things objectively and hence the growth was removed.

That wasn’t the end of my dabbling in less-than-impressive facial hair experiments, however. There would be other times over the years, and each time I would eventually come to my senses and acknowledge that some guys look good with facial hair, while others do not. Those that can grow a thick beard are the ones that look good with a beard. Those that cannot grow a thick beard, like me, shouldn’t try. Particularly if they have any self-respect, which apparently I do not.

My first, and last beard.

Bobby Ayala circa 1993

UA circa 1993

The first, and last time I attempted a full beard was a little more than 20 years ago. It didn’t go particularly well, although my dog never rarely judged me. After deciding that the beard wasn’t working out quite as I’d hoped, it was reduced to a goatee of sorts.  At the time, every major league basbeball player was sporting this particular look, so why not me? That actually lasted for a period of nearly a year. When my daughter was born, one of the first things she saw was her father with a bad goatee, and there ensued much crying. Not wanting her to grow up with a false impression of what real facial hair should be, the goatee gave way to a clean-shaven face, and in the nearly 20 years since then that’s how I’ve remained. Yes, I’ve gone several days at a time without shaving, but it has always been with the intent of taking a razor to the whiskers sooner than later.

Now, at age 49, I’m coming to grips with the fact  that I may never be able to grow the beard of my fancy– certainly not The Beard, which is an enviable display of testosterone adorning the face of a man by the name of Marc Crapo. The Beard lives and breaths in Ashton, Idaho, where trout live in fear of such facial hair. I passed through that general area last summer and caught a few trout, but the trout did not fear me, nor did I stay long. Had I a proper beard, and the confidence that would surely have accompanied it, who’s to say how long I might have stuck around and how many more trout–trout that feared me–I might have caught?

THE Beard

Some things in life just weren’t mean to be, and being incapable of ever playing the guitar the way I want to is not the only thing preventing me from being more like The Reverend Billy Gibbons. One would think that I could accept this and ease into a clean-shaven middle age, complete with Dockers and sweater vests. One would think I’d have learned by now. But the fact of the matter is that Mrs. UA loves facial hair and lately has been urging me to grow a beard, which is something I’ve resisted. Until 7 days ago.

The beginnings of an unaccomplished beard.

I realize that the growth of hair which is currently spreading slowly across my jawline does not yet constitue a beard–I’ve a good long ways to go before it can be called that. I also realize that real men, with real beards, can probably grow more than this in a 24-hour period. But I have to give this thing time. In fact, patience is key in growing a thick beard, as pointed out in these instructions:  How To Grow a Thick Beard. According to these helpful guidelines, in 5 more weeks I should have a thick beard.

I remain skeptical of those lofty claims, but only time will tell. Maybe this time will be different, because I never before had guidelines.  As I sit here watching paint dry facial hair grow, my head is filled with both wonder and self doubt: Will a beard make me a better fisherman?  Will a shoddy beard make me an even worse fisherman? With all the white hairs sprouting in my beard, will I resemble a skunk?

There is so much yet unanswered, including whether or not this “thing” will last more than another week before I’m reminded that I cannot grow The Beard. Until then, damn does this thing itch…