I have a beard. It's covered my face for over thirty years. My daughter when young had never seen me without a beard and my son didn't remember my not having one. Anytime I went home for a visit my mother would say what mothers always say to their sons, "I wish you would shave that thing. I miss your face."
Personally I liked my beard. It covered my face. And there was always the fact that I didn't have to scrape that razor over my face every single morning.
"Why?" she asked. "I'm used to it now."
"What about the kids? Don't they ever wonder what their daddy looks like?"
"They just know you as you have always been to them. A hairy faced man."
"Yeah, but I'm curious what their reaction would be."
"Why would you even care?" she asked.
"I don't know. Maybe I'm tired of looking at it myself. A change would do us all good. I think my mother would especially like the gesture."
"Yeah, well, if that's what you want to do."
"I'll think about it for a while."
Each morning for about a month I looked into the mirror and thought, 'Yeah, it would be a change." But I never actually took out the clippers to start on it. Laziness usually won out.
"Christmas is coming up," she, who must be obeyed, said. "Are we going to your folks' house this year?"
"Yeah, I'd like that."
We began to make plans for the holiday. I considered my face in the mirror as I had for the last month or two but once again shrugged and decided, 'Naah, too lazy.'
The drive to Charleston was long and the kids were getting cranky.
"It won't be too much longer and we'll be at your grandparent's," I said as we turned for Johns Island around 10 in the morning.
The kids jumped from the car and ran to the house. My folks came into the yard to catch a kid apiece. Everyone walked in as I began to unload the car. I opened the screen door to drag in the bags.
"Do you need some help?"
"No thanks, I got it now."
"Oh son we should have helped," said my mother playing with my son.
"It's OK. I got 'em all."
"Granddaddy's going to show me how to play patience," said Kyndall as I toted the bags to the back.
When I got back to the front I hugged my mother hello. It was her chance to say, "That beard is scratchy. How do you stand it, dear?" she said to her daughter-in-law.
"I'm used to it. He'll never shave it."
"He used to be so handsome without it. You sure you won't shave it off?"
"Mmm, I don't think so." That was that moment I decided I would. A Christmas present for my mother and a surprise for the kids. It might brighten up the day, I thought.
While everyone slept that Christmas Eve night I sneeked into the bathroom. I clipped and shaved until my skin was smooth. I looked thinner. Guess the whiskers were fuller than I realized.
That morning while the kids were excited about opening presents I slipped in without being noticed to sit in the small rocker in the corner.
"Look at this mommy!" yelled Kyndall excited about the gift she had just unwrapped. She looked up to see me sitting in the rocker and froze.
"Who's that man, mommy?" She pointed at me and everyone turned.
"That's your daddy," said Derek who had seen me clean shaven before this.
"He's scary," she said crawling into her mother's lap.
"It's OK, Kyndall. I'm still your daddy."
"Nuh uh. you're not my daddy." She seemed a bit afraid. "I know my daddy."
"I just shave off the beard, sweety. You'll get used to it."
The entire time my mother had been looking at my clean shaven face. She hadn't smiled once. This was my gift to her. For months, no, years, she had been telling me she wished I'd shave those whiskers so she could see her son again. Now she was frowning.
"Well, Merry Christmas," I said. "I shaved it off for you. Scared my kids but here's my face again. Your boy, clean shaven."
She didn't speak for almost two minutes. She just studied my face with that frown deepening.
"Maybe you should grow it back."
I am not able to explain the shock I felt at those words coming from my own mother's mouth.
"Maybe you should grow it back." They are burned into my brain.