Sunday, 10 April 2011

B is for BEARD

Since kicking off my Gentlemen’s A-Z with Anton’s sanctuary of style, the letter B has been a hot contender for subjects. There has been a jostling of ideas in my feverish mind, from an exposition on my favourite pomade, Black Diamond, to my many thoughts on the nature of barbers today, but all these ideas have been pipped to the post by the beard (never fear, barbers and pomade shall be covered in future missives).

Men have worn the beard as a facial adornment that men since the dawn of time, it’s one of the parts of our outward appearance that obviously sets us apart from woman. Thus, the beard is in itself a manly thing. I have long been the bearer of a shaved face. I did dally with some unique facial growth in my youth, including a bushy neck beard (it had folks thinking I was from an obscure religious sect); a half beard and half moustache (my own Da Da statement); and a flirtation with the moustache and goatee combination (combined with very long hair as I sought out my inner rock’n’roll beast). Since those early experiments, I have been content to be a man who shaves. To be honest, I have quite a large block-like head and a wide face, and a beard could likely draw even more attention to this.

I have watched with interest as men around me have been sprouting more and more hair from their faces in recent times. From the impressive bushranger-styled chin mane, to the bohemian dandy complete with curled moustache, to the manicured lawn growth look, men are definitely more bearded today than they were a few years ago. I wanted to know more about the curious world of the beard. Rather than embarrass young fellows who are striving to find their identity in the world through their facial hair, I thought I would turn to an old hand, my dear father, who has sported an impressive beard for most of his adult life. On the eve of his 74th birthday I thought I have a chat with Vinko about the mysterious ways of the beard.

My father arrived in Australia as a clean-shaven young man in 1961, after a long and arduous journey from his homeland. Looking at pictures of him from the time, he was a dashing chap, vital and handsome, with slick black hair, a generous smile and an open, expressive face. So when was it that he made the choice that made him cover his face with a big bushy beard and moustache?

I asked Vinko about this and he couldn’t recollect what started him on this path:

“I don’t know! I was too lazy to shave!” He says with a laugh: “ If you work and you are very busy and have a life and children, can’t shave everyday.”

Well, the beginnings of Vinko’s beard may not have been a eureka moment, but now here is no denying that it is an essential part of his striking physical presence, and has been for well over forty years. He started growing it not long after my elder brother was born, thus it’s almost impossible for me to imagine Dad without a beard, for me, he has always had it.

 Funnily enough, there was a brief time when we were children that we badgered him to shave off his beard. We had only seen him clean shaven in wedding photos, where he and our mother looked like 60’s movie stars. Vinko rallied against the suggestion, but we wore him down with our perseverance to see what he would look like. Eventually he succumbed and shaved off his long cherished beard off only to have us all demand that he grow it back again! It seems that seeing his true face was too much for us…

Now, I see my father’s beard as a distinct part of his personality, an extension of his exuberant self, and definitely adding him a distinguished dignity as he continues into his 7th decade, still more strapping and impressive than most men half his age. Vinko says his secret is that he does not shave every day. He endorses trimming the beard line, saying in his rich Croatian accented English:

“I don’t use a machine or shave electric, I use only scissors. I trim around the saggy lines of the cheeks, to cover the lines, I wish I could grow a beard on my forehead to cover the lines there!”

He vehemently tells me that you must not let the beard get oily or dusty or it will get itchy. He shampoos his beard most days, but never dries it, merely patting it down a little with a towel and letting it dry in the atmosphere so that it naturally curls.

“My beard is very strong, I’m lucky. I don’t comb, if I comb it would get straight. I don’t like it too short or long. Don’t go over the cheeks because it’s the most expressive part, the cheeks and the eyes. When you trim, go around the neck to look a few years younger. I don’t use a machine, I’m a pretty conservative old bastard. I don’t change my hair or beard much. But some women and girls they stop me in street and say Wow! Some people call me Santa Claus, but I don’t care.”

In the right light, Vinko looks like an idealized Poseidon or a demigod from Greek mythology. Not a bad way for your father to look. I took some photos of Vinko but due a lost camera cord I can't post them now, but this will hopefully be solved soon. 

I also have to admit that his fashion style has influenced me. Though I am not bearded, his taste for good suits and shoes has passed on to me. Both of us love good natural fabrics and feel comfortable to be well turned out in public life. We also both have an eye for a bargain and know how to turn a second hand suit into our own.

My mother and father married on January 8th 1966 the same date as Elvis Presley’s birthday (though they didn’t know that at the time). They are still together 45 years later, and perhaps my father’s beard has played some role in keeping their love alive.

When we talk he wants to talk more about my mother than about his beard, and that is a good sign. Vinko has a healthy sense of ego, and is not afraid to poke fun of himself, another useful lesson he has taught me. So, with respect from son to father, I’ll give him the final word:

“ I have hair and a beard but not enough brain. If you could learn how to grow the brain then you would be a top man.“


  1. my dad had a beard when i was growing up, a dark beard. we asked him to shave it off also and he did. my brother cried.

    he didn't grow it back after that but over the last few years he has participated in movember and grown a moustache. i thought he looked horrible with it ... like Dr. Phil and told him to shave it off as soon as December hit but he'd always keep it a bit longer.

    Last November he grew the moustache again and to my horror has now also grown a beard to go along with it. i hate it! it is speckled with white and grey hairs and not kept tidy. he looks homeless!

  2. As a three year old and used to the ways of the strange world it wss a shock when a man garbed in strange red costume and white beard wanted to hold me at Christmas. How I screamed to escape the clutches of the this strange bear/man creature. I was scarred for life.

    My father who was in the merchant navy grew a beard during one of his many overseas voyages. When my mother brother and sisters an I saw this man who looked much like our father descending the gang plank.

    It was an awkward momemnt for the beard did not befit the man. The hairs were long and jutted at a sharp angles. This was confirmed when at the hug and kiss stage of greeting where our soft downy cheeks were impaled by the multitude of bristles.

    My attempts at growing a beard proved as fruitless as my fathers. It can be said that Nature has been unkind to the male line of our family in the region of beards.