A Man in Full (Beard)

Mick Jagger goes unkempt in 1978.

Every man should grow a beard at least once in his adult life. I specify man and adult because college beards don’t count. That scruff we sprout in late adolescence is to real beards what drunken college sex is to experienced adult sex. The point being, you should grow a beard at an age when it does more than simply prove you have the hormonal ability to do so.

I grew mine about a year ago, at the age of 33. On vacation, I simply stopped shaving for a week. One day it occurred to me that since I’d come so far, why stop? Like Madonna’s baby in “Papa Don’t Preach,” my beard may not have been planned, but the decision to keep it was unilateral. Friends were dubious. My girlfriend vowed never to kiss me again. My mother wondered if it would get me stopped by airport security.

The truth is, I grew a beard because my life was suddenly changing—some might call it “falling apart”—and I needed the face I saw in the mirror to reflect that altered reality. In a way, my follicles were way ahead of my brain. They knew the full extent of what was to come: breakup, new job, months of crashing on friends’ couches, a $1,300-per-month shrink habit.

I suspect this is why so many actors, from James Gandolfini to Ryan Gosling, use facial hair to either get in character or get out of it. (There are always a lot of beards at the Oscars, as if to scream to casting agents, “Look, I’m not the guy I just played!”) We all feel the need to escape from ourselves from time to time. Not shaving is simply the cheapest, easiest way to feel like a different man.

But remember: Leaving your razor on the medicine-cabinet shelf doesn’t mean you get to stop grooming. There are decisions to be made: stubbly or shaggy, cropped at the jawline or creeping down the neck. (Try the latter; going with the former means you could end up looking like Turtle on Entourage.)

Also, your girlfriend will still kiss you. At least mine did, for the remainder of our time together, with a passion that probably shocked her as much as it did me. It’s my immodest impression that certain women are drawn to the old-school manliness of beards in the same way men are to, say, stripper shoes. But maybe I’m flattering myself. Perhaps my beard was just the cheapest, easiest way for her to feel like I was a different man, too.

And maybe I’m just a weak-chinned guy who simply looks better with the definition that a beard gives his face. There are worse things than being in sync with Russell Crowe and Dave Grohl (go ahead and turn to page 226). Perhaps someday I’ll need to make a change again. Then it will only be a matter of reaching for the razor. But for now, I’ve made up my mind: I’m keeping my baby.