Beards and the Essence of Man

Our society is obsessed with facial hair.  It is an obsession that consumes our televisions, our blogs, and our sidewalks.  We have “No-Shave November” and beard growing and sculpting competitions.  We are told that, to be a ‘real’ man, you must be able to grow a beard.

I was once (jokingly) told by a friend that a boy is just a man without a beard.  It sounds ridiculous, but too many young men (and women) believe this to be true.

I’ll be honest, I’ve sported facial hair since the time I could grow it out.  From the goatee to the full-blown beard.  I’ve gone months without trimming before (record is just shy of 6 months).   Part of it is that I’m lazy and don’t like to shave, but the real reason that I’ve constantly kept my facial hair is the fact that without it, I look much younger than I really am.

It has nothing to do with being a man.  I know that.

A year ago, after a discussion very similar to these current words, one of the guys I was talking with asked the question that every young man has asked over the ages: “What makes you a man?”

The answer isn’t that simple.  It never is.

Legally, you reach adulthood and become a man at the age of 18 (or 21 if you want to be extremely picky and obnoxious).  In the Jewish tradition, a boy became a man when he offered up the sacrifice for his family upon the altar during the yearly festival in Jerusalem.  In some tribal cultures, you become a man after you kill a rival, specific rival, or overcome some extreme feat of endurance.

I believe that, to be a man, you must make the decision to live as one.

We’ve all seen the billboards that read “Real Men Follow Jesus.”  Or “Real Men Love Unborn Babies.”  Or “… Go Hunting.”  “… Walk Old Ladies Across the Street.”  “… Volunteer.”  “… Rescue Puppies from Burning Buildings.”  Yes, some men do these things, but not all men are ‘good.’

When a boy becomes a man, he decides what he is going to live for.  He decides what is important to him.  He finds love.  And he discovers how far he is willing to go before standing his ground with his beliefs.

A man knows where he stands in his Faith (be it Christian, Atheism, Agnostic, etc.).  A man is conscious of how his actions relate to the world around him.  A man is aware of who he is at each moment and takes responsibility for who he has become.

And of course, a man must be able to grow a beard (note the sarcasm).


I don’t know if it is just a status symbol or a sign of rebellion, but beards are becoming quite popular again.  Maybe people just want to connect with nature more.  Or look like lumberjacks.  It’s becoming the popular fashion and I’m not sure if I like it.

It’s tradition to grow a beard while working outdoors (mainly because you don’t have time to shave) and many wildland firefighters sport beards during fire season to help keep their faces insulated from the heat.  In the winter, facial hair keeps our chins warm and it has saved me on several occasions.

While I like to think that just because I have a beard means I should be treated as a man, I know that that is not the case.  Men have to earn that right through both their words and their actions.

Just some thoughts…

1 Comment »

  1. invadermoody Said:

    While I totally and completely agree with everything you said, quite well by the way, I really wish my job let me grow one. That may or may not have been one of the reasons I looked into Wild Land firefighting vs Structural. So I’m jealous.

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