A few days ago my sweet daughter posted to her blog about My Dad and His Beard, noting a certain resemblance between me and the bewhiskered leprechaun on a St. Patrick's Day greeting card. I was flattered; the leprechaun seemed to be a most charming and friendly fellow--just like me! Then I thought that this might be the perfect opportunity to reveal to my friends and family those mystical secrets of me and my facial hair that I'm sure they've been dying to know all these years.
I started growing a beard, for the first time in my life, in April of 1998. I had just become a Civil War reenactor, and thought I looked too much like a middle-aged, desk-bound, 20th century schlemiel to make a very convincing 19th century soldier. Beards and mustaches were becoming all the rage just as the Civil War approached; it was the heyday of personal expression through facial hair, and the ranks of both Union and Confederate armies reflected every style imaginable. So, I thought I'd grow some of my own to help me better look the part.
I didn't emulate either Union Gen. Ambrose Burnside (left) or Confederate Gen. J.E.B. Stuart (right), however (Melany wouldn't have stood for either one); instead, I chose the more neatly trimmed and conventional mustache/beard combination shown in my profile photo (below).
My dear Grandma Moran didn't like it at all (though she expressed her disapproval quite gently). This was ironic, for her own maternal grandfather, John Fleischman (pictured at left in the 1870s), sported a whiskered jawline himself. I didn't want to dwell on things that were painful for Grandma, so we never did discuss why it was OK for him but not for me.
About four years later I decided to shave the mustache and leave the fringe, which gave me an appearance more like old John Fleischman's and rather akin to that of the Amish gentleman in the picture immediately to the right of mine above. In fact, I was told by my children, other kids in the neighborhood thought I WAS Amish--maybe the broad-brimmed straw hat I liked to wear around the yard had something to do with that. I thought it was pretty cool in any case, and did nothing to dispel their misimpression. To my delight, spectators and even other reenactors at Civil War living history events repeatedly complimented me on my appearance, especially my beard. I didn't even have to pay them all that much.
However, over the years the role of flaming oddball started to wear on me, and last spring I decided to grow the mustache back (see left). Is it an improvement? You be the judge. I do seem to get fewer stares and quizzical looks, especially when I go into Amish stores. Personally, I think it puts me more in the category of those fine examples of Southern manhood depicted below.