When I was a teenager I had trouble getting served in bars or liquor stores. This was because I looked younger than I actually was and no amount of ID, real or faked, could overcome that youthful appearance. I credit my Dad who among a host of other precious gifts gave me some excellent genes. He, too, in his 90s seemed not a day over 70. To address the non-drinking problem and the young women who refused to take me seriously, I decided to grow a beard.
I believe I was about 18 when I grew the first one. It was far from impressive. So much so that a few years later when I was in pre-meds a crotchety chemistry teacher remarked: “Tis a fine and manly thing that you do. I recommend trying some extract of bulls’ testes.” I was not sure how to interpret this or how to proceed but did not accept this advice. My beard remained straggly and small.
Between the third and final year of medical school another good friend and I spent the summer hitchhiking around Europe. After we split up and went our own ways, I found myself in Ireland simply because a lift took me to the port in Wales from which the ferry sailed for the Emerald Isle. Seemed a good idea. The day after I arrived I proceeded to begin the hitching ritual despite the relatively few cars on the road. I was taken through a series of small villages. In one, as I was proceeding on foot through the town, I was followed by a group of children. Apparently they had not seen a real person who was bearded before and concluded that I had to be Jesus.
There followed a few naked chin years. Then, right after graduation, a classmate and I went to work at a summer camp readying it for occupancy while we awaited our graduation ceremony. During that time, we both grew beards and when the time came to return to medical school for the big event, we agreed we would show up at graduation with our beards. Note that this was 1958 and, apart from Fidel Castro, beards were far from fashionable. When we gathered for the occasion I discovered that my buddy did not have a beard but I did. Too late to do anything about it, My appearance prompted the Dean to ad lib something along the lines of, ‘over the years we have all changed, Most of you have lost some hair while one other has acquired some in a strange place.’ Much laughter and fingers pointed at the target of this comment.
On to residency with beard firmly in place. The custom in those days was to move up the ranks from intern, to junior, then senior resident (and for the creme de la creme, only one, to chief resident). At each step the chair of the department sent a letter at the end of the year inviting those who had not ‘blotted their copy books’, to join the ranks of those being promoted. When the time came for me to graduate from junior to senior resident many letters had been received but mine failed to come. Worried and anxious I asked the chief resident if I had failed to do the job well. He said that was not the case but mused that maybe I should try shaving my beard. I did. The letter came almost immediately. I am too good an epidemiologist to conclude a cause and effect relationship, but one cannot help but wonder.
All of that was over 60 years ago. The beard has remained ‘on’ for most of that time. It is now grey, or white, but still straggly and, apparently, somewhat uneven. Consequently, many ‘admirers‘- family, friends, and even occasional strangers – offer to trim it. So far I have resisted because I am determined to eventually achieve the high standard set by the friend shown below. I shall blog again if I succeed. Wish me luck.
The High Standard to Which I Aspire
PS.. I have a can of shaving cream that I use when I shave the bare bit of each cheek. So far it has lasted over 20 years. This is another, perhaps much better, reason for keeping my eard.