Face the Truth

A heartfelt farewell to a much-loved beard.

Thank you all so much for coming out today to honor the memory of our friend. He would be touched to know he left such a lasting impression on all of our memories.

I think it’s fair to say I was the one closest to him. Indeed, we were virtually inseparable for my entire adult life — since that backpacking trip when we first met in the summer of 1996, nearly a decade and a half ago. We traveled together across this country and across oceans; we sampled cuisines from around the world. We saw trends and styles come and go. He and I met my future wife on the same day, and he went on to appear prominently in all our wedding photos. Later, he helped me celebrate the beginnings of my family.

And then, in a few strokes of my electric razor, he was gone. And I went from this:

Me, with a beard

To this:

Me, without a beard

Okay — actually, those photos were taken a month apart, and at different times of the day, so the lighting is all different …

In any case, you get the idea.

We were both so young on that trip back in ’96. He almost seemed to come out of nowhere; at first, I was barely aware he was there with me — I had neither a razor nor a mirror crammed into that heavy pack of mine. But when I emerged from the woods after 10 days and stepped into an actual bathroom, I realized he had been with me nearly the whole time.

“I kinda like this,” I thought to myself, rubbing my no-longer-naked chin. “It makes me look older.”

But I’ll also never forget the day our relationship began to die. It wasn’t even his fault — it was those other ones, on top of my head, the ones who BETRAYED me in front of EVERYONE! …

I … I’m sorry. This isn’t the time to cast blame. But I knew something wasn’t right on that Saturday in October. The whole family was at the science center in the town neighboring ours; I happened to be at an exhibit that included a video camera that glared down at me from overhead, relaying that view of my cranium to a nearby monitor.

“That’s funny,” I mused. “I don’t remember being able to see that much of my scalp …”

Realization clobbered me half a beat later. That night, my wife confirmed the sad truth, a fact that had been obvious to her and to anyone else who had seen me sitting down in approximately the past year and a half. My hair was abandoning me.

Suddenly, it came rushing back to me. For as long as I could remember, I had known my mother’s side of the family to be filled with hearty men who survived of the depression, men who carried hearty black hair with them well through their 70s and into their 80s — but only on the sides of their heads.

It had never occurred to me that I would have inherited this same pattern. But now, I became obsessed with the idea that in a matter of years — months? — the top of my head would look pretty much like that of Robert Picardo, the guy who played the holographic doctor on “Star Trek: Voyager.”

Robert Picardo as 'The Doctor'Robert Picardo, with a beard
Images courtesy of Memory Alpha, the Star Trek Wiki, and RobertPicardo.net

I was left grappling with my impulses towards vanity. I knew it would be futile to rage against the dying of the follicles, or to attempt to resurrect or replace them. No, the noblest thing to do would be to gradually move toward a shorter haircut and embrace my pate’s fate.

And while contemplating a new, shorter look for the hairs on top of my head, my gaze turned yet again to my chin. I realized the strength of that 14-year relationship had always been based on an implicit assumption, one that was no longer true.

“This makes me look older,” I thought, rubbing my chin. “I no longer want to look older.”

His passing has been an adjustment for everyone — most notably my wife, who’s only now beginning to recognize me again in crowded rooms. (This led to an awkward moment in a public place a few weeks ago, when it took several seconds for her to realize the creepy, skinny, pale, clean-shaven man walking purposefully towards her was, in fact, her husband.)

But I know, if he were here, he would want us to focus not on the sad end, but on the many good times that came before. The way that, every month, I navigated our little electric trimmer around his twists and turns, or even carefully trimmed his hairs with a small pair of scissors. The way he thoughtfully sampled my soup before I did. The way he’d expand from my chin and cover my cheeks during the week after each of my sons were born, when I was on leave from the office and had no energy even to stand near a razor.

He may not have died for the noblest of reasons, or with the utmost of dignity (for a brief moment near the end, he might have happened to resemble a Hulk Hogan-style “horseshoe”). But I like to think he’d be happy that everything worked out for the best.

Article © 2011 by Michael Duck