By John Addyman
We sat down for a pleasant dinner at Jeremiah’s Tavern in Rochester — my oldest daughter, Amy, her husband, Chad, and my wife, Gayle.
“What do you think of my beard?” I asked Amy. I ran my fingers through it to show how lush it was becoming. The motion was something I copied from the original “Miracle on 34th Street” movie, where Kris Kringle is asked if he sleeps with his whiskers under the covers or on top of them.
“Always sleep with them out,” Kris replies. “Cold air makes them grow.”
And he makes that motion to flourish his whiskers.
My daughter was eyeing — and judging — my beard.
Chad has a tightly trimmed full-face beard.
“Your beard is longer,” she said. “There’s a lot more of it.”
“But still a ways to go,” I said. “And I’m having problems with it.”
“Problems?” Amy asked.
I pulled on the beard so she could see how long it really was, then flipped it up over my nose. “I find I’m chewing my whiskers in the middle of the night.”
And at that moment, we had one of those moments in life you don’t forget.
Right there at the table, in the middle of the dinner hour in a busy restaurant, Amy started to sing. Softly, but quite clearly.
“We have a dear old Daddy, his hair is silver gray. He has a set of whiskers, they’re always in the way,” she sang.
“The cows eat them for hay. They hide the dirt on Daddy’s shirt; they’re always in the way…”
“What?” I asked.
Amy wasn’t done.
“We have a dear old Mommy, she likes his whiskers, too. She uses them for cleaning and stirring up the stew.
“Around the supper we make a merry group, until our Daddy’s whiskers get tangled in the soup.
“His whiskers are always in the way. The cow eats them for hay. It tickles when he giggles, and they’re always in the way.”
Amy had a big smile on her face.
“It’s a camp song,” she explained. “We used to sing that in Girl Scout camp.
I can’t remember the rest of the lyrics.”
Turns out “Daddy’s Whiskers” is a folk tune that has a lot of lyrics. We went to a concert that night and Amy spent time looking up lyrics on her phone — she didn’t have any trouble finding them.
I admitted during dinner that I was planning to prune the verge on my face. I’ve never let a beard go this far and I’ve been surprised and annoyed at how irritating having whiskers go up your nose can be.
But wait a minute, my wife pointed out. There are benefits to this larger set of whiskers. I am a guy who likes to eat stuff with a lot of sauce, and a lot of that sauce ends up on my shirt. Once my beard got to be a certain length, my wife was doing less laundry and I was doing a lot of beard-washing.
When I graduated from college in the 1960s, I was clean-shaven. I was also 5-7 and weighed 140 pounds.
In the first school I taught biology in, I was often mistaken for one of the students, so I decided to grow a beard — a true Fu Manchu with a mustache and hair going down the side of my face in two lines. Nobody took me for a kid after that.
But the Fu Manchu was a little too much for my next flock of students —seventh-graders, one of whom refused to come to school after just one day in my classroom. She must have seen some of those old Fu Manchu movies.
I met with the young lady and the guidance counselor the next morning and I told her if it would make her feel better, she could call me “Dr. Fu Manchu,” which she gladly did. And within two days, so did everyone else, including my principal. It’s in the yearbook.
When I hit 30, I decided I didn’t have enough wild stuff going on in my life, so I bought a motorcycle. Almost immediately I found that the Fu Manchu mustache wasn’t helpful inside a full-face helmet. Many kinds of insects could fly straight up and join me inside the helmet, seeking to party and explore in my nose and eyes. So I let my mustache broaden into a Sigmund Freud-like Van Dyke to catch the creatures before they caught me.
And that’s where I was pretty much up to the point where COVID-19 changed our lives. At that point I figured I could let my beard grow down to my knees if I wanted…we weren’t going anywhere or seeing anyone, so who cared?
But then an old problem surfaced. My whiskers grow very slowly and they’re not straight. They have a mind of their own and they do not cover my face. Having said that, the whiskers are now long enough that they beg some attention.
Should I trim about three inches off the bottom? I told Amy I was thinking about that.
“You should braid it,” she suggested, then adding an Albus Dumbledore-like idea, she said, “You could gather it and put a little chain or jewel in the middle.”
I took that advice seriously and checked out Dumbledore, whose little beard-ring is really effective and his whiskers are a foot longer than mine.
Perhaps that’s my new goal, to have a beard as long as Dumbledore’s. I figure that’s something I could accomplish in 10 more years.
That’s plenty of time to add lyrics to that folk song.