Mores, Whiskers And Santa Claus
have long been part of the American image. Some of our most adored icons . . . the statues and images of Abraham Lincoln,
General Robert E. Lee and Uncle Sam . . . are among the best examples.
on American males are not always in style. Lincoln, General Lee and General Ulysses S. Grant lived during a time when beards
were definitely “in.” George Washington, for example, always appeared clean shaven as did Ben Franklin and other
famous figures of that era.
my first beard while attending college in the late 1950s at a time when electric razors were in and beards were definitely
out. I fell in with nonconformists, read Jack Kerouac’s book “On The Road” and declared myself a member
of the Beat Generation. Part of the rebellious spirit was a decision to declare myself an agnostic..
I went home for Easter break I spent the week enjoying the total freedom of not having to shave and I let my whiskers grow.
Near the end of that week I was confronted by the family and our church pastor who urged me to attend church on Easter Sunday.
It wasn’t my soul that was in trouble. It seems my sister and her husband planned to bring their newborn son to the
alter to be baptized. Consequently there was great pressure on me to participate. I agreed to go to church but to keep my
rebel status, I announced that I would not shave.
think anybody thought I would follow through with that boast. In fact, friends around town made bets on it. Thus it was that
I went to church that Easter Sunday with a week’s worth of stubble on my face. I met my pals at a local restaurant after
church to collect. I think I enjoyed the notoriety of the whole affair because after that, I decided to let the whiskers keep
right on growing.
time I was back on campus, the stubble had become a respectable looking beard. As it was in my home town, I discovered that
wearing a beard made me stand out among students on campus. I attracted the attention of a young Detroit girl that I remember
only as Carol. She sent a message via mutual friends that she wanted to meet me. I agreed to a meeting, liked the girl, and
we had a few interesting dates. I had no idea how to behave as a “beatnik” so I made up the role as things went
was a mandate in those days that all freshmen and sophomore males had to attend ROTC classes. Each fall and spring that involved
putting on military uniforms, picking up an M-I rifle, and marching in an open field. Naturally the beard was a problem. Rather
than shave it, I visited the local ROTC commander and asked permission to wear the beard. I told him there was a centennial
planned back home and he bought it. I recall him saying: “Son you are the first person who ever asked for something
like this. Permission granted.” Thus I became the only bearded marching ROTC student on campus that spring. Probably
went off when it came time to compete for summer employment. In fact, I did not bother growing it again until I was working
as a news bureau reporter at South Haven, Michigan, and got involved in a real centennial celebration. In fact, I was chairman
of the local centennial committee. All the men in town grew beards and we had a grand time.
year that beard came off when I changed jobs and went to work as music and religion writer/editor for the Kalamazoo Gazette.
Nobody on staff was wearing a beard and it was clear that if I was going to work there, I was going to have to shave with
the rest of them.
something strange happened. President Lyndon Johnson had just signed the Civil Rights Act into law and employers all over
America were struggling to find qualified blacks to fill vacant positions. Newspaper newsrooms in those days were comprised
of mostly white men and very few women. The Gazette hired its first black reporter shortly after I arrived. The man was given
a desk right next to mine.
I can say about this man was that he was friendly and outgoing, but he didn’t know beans about news reporting and writing
a good news story. Out of sympathy I rewrote a lot of his copy so it passed the editor’s muster. The guy had a lot of
crass because he somehow managed to take a week of vacation shortly after he arrived. And when he returned, he was sporting
a beard. When he refused an order by the managing editor to shave it, they fired him.
affair must have caused a stir somewhere in the bowls of the Booth Newspaper chain that summer. Within a few days a notice
was posted on the bulletin board that beards were now allowed but they must be kept neatly trimmed. Right away, nearly every
male on staff grew a beard. And mine returned for good.
years later during my adventures in Christianity, I became active in a small effort to organize a new church in a rural area.
All went well until the pastor of our little group asked me to shave my beard. He said it would not be proper for a bearded
man to be involved in a church founded on strict fundamentalism. I reminded the man that every picture I have ever seen of
Jesus shows him wearing a full beard. I pointed out that the well-known evangelist D. L. Moody also sported a full beard.
My arguments were to no avail. I ended up leaving the church. Not long after that I gave up on Christianity and started pursuing
other spiritual pathways. But that is another story.
has remained my trademark throughout my career as a writer. Slowly, over the years, as social customs changed, beards have
grown in popularity. Now I find fellow brothers of the brush almost everywhere I go.
has grown white as I have aged. I was suddenly reminded of that when recently sitting on a bench in the local Wal-Mart store
waiting for my wife to finish her shopping chores.
little girl, probably no more than four or five, her hand tightly clasped in that of her mother, passed me by. While the mother
failed to even notice that I was there, the girl could not take her eyes off me. And she was smiling from ear to ear as they
passed. I realized that I was dressed in black slacks and a bright red sweat shirt. With my full white beard, she obviously
thought I was Santa Claus.
accepted at last!