Professor graybeard, old age on line one

Note: This column appears in the 8/20 issue of The Glendale Star and the 8/21 issue of the Peoria Times

Ever since I could grow it, I have had facial hair. In one form or another.

As a young teenager it was the wispy mustache and patchy beard. Later on it was the goatee. In college I rocked the thin-beard plus goatee combination, which I only now realize made me look like a rejected member of the Backstreet Boys. Besides appearing dangerously older to members of the opposite sex, another important attribute of this early facial hair was my increased ability to buy beer.

To this day I sport the facial hair. Currently I am enjoying the beard that is not fully a beard, but more like a “third day on ‘Survivor’” beard. This look was popularized by Don Johnson and Bruce Willis in the 80s, so obviously I am up to date fashion-wise. The irony of it all is that this look is supposed to say, “Hey, I don’t care…shave, don’t shave, whatever, man,” but I actually have to trim it to keep it that way which requires effort and is evidence that I do, in fact, care what I look like.

Which makes it all the more traumatic that I recently discovered some gray hairs mixed in near the chin area.

To be honest, I am not exactly certain that they are, indeed, gray stragglers. My facial hair has a way of, when reflecting in a certain light, looking bleach blonde. This is what I have been telling myself. My wife is convinced they are grays and has not let me forget it.

Scared off by a potential disaster in which I am mistaken for a college professor or an elderly member of the Backstreet Boys, I have, on several occasions over the past few months, shaved completely. They were very uncomfortable days in which I felt facially naked and oddly adolescent. On one occasion I was actually carded while buying beer, which was kinda cool considering I’m over 30, but not really. Without facial hair I am just another white guy walking down the street.

I partly believed that if I shaved completely, my facial hair would grow back normal and grayless, as if the gray was an aberration or a temporary genetic hiccup. As I have restarted my half-beard from scratch, I now realize this is not the case.

Now I am torn. What do I do? For me personally, my facial hair has been a strong indicator –- maybe the only indicator –- of my masculinity. I don’t know anything about cars, I can’t fix or build anything, and I hate AC/DC. My facial hair is my only defense mechanism, the only thing that says, “Hey, you might not want to mess with this guy. He doesn’t care about shaving, so who knows what he’s capable of.”

Yet I am certainly not ready for grayville and a life of buying Just For Men beard formula at Walgreens. I’m only 31, for crying out loud! My wife tried to comfort me the other day by informing me that George Clooney has a graying beard. This was unconvincing, as the rest of George Clooney’s features look like George Clooney, and also George Clooney is 48.

I also do not think it is a coincidence that I noticed this a month into our latest foster placement. I have aged seven years in the past four months. That is why I am buying so much beer.

Inside he is crying. Trust me.