Friday, March 5, 2010

The Bearded Uncle

"I have a good eye, uncle; I can see a church by daylight." Shakespeare in Much Ado About Nothing

Children love their uncles. They’re enough like their fathers to be trusted, but they provide a different perspective on life and manhood.
They’re a little bit of extra fun an excitement.
Joey’s eyes light up when one of his uncles tells a story about when his dad was young. The connection must seem mysterious and delightful to a child. Here’s someone who looks similar to his father, knew his father in that intriguing time where all the stories say his father was young and behaved more like the child himself. The uncle is a witness to his father’s youth and humanity.

Teaching Joey the form of the sonnet was as interesting as a beard

At the moment, Joey and Jack have three bearded uncles and two with occasional scruff. When they talk about their uncles, they distinguish them by the state of their beards... scratchy, big beard, no beard, etc. The beard is the identifying feature.
Hanging out with Uncle Andrew

Surrounded by such a crowd of uncles, Joey came to my house bursting with ideas about when he would someday be grown up.
“When I get to be a man,” he said, with fierce determination, his fist clenched to make sure it happened, “I’m going to have a beard.”
“Why would you want a beard?”
“You can shave it. Or you don’t have to!”
“You look fine now without a beard,” said I who knows how fast children grow up.
Joey shook his head. “I want to be like Uncle Jake. He has a beard.”
“Yes,” he has a nice beard,” I agreed. I happen to know Joey’s Uncle Jake. He is his mother’s sister’s husband and was once a dear student in one of the liveliest, dearest classes I ever taught. Later we were colleagues at the same school.
Jake, Jen and I at the hospital waiting for Joey's birth

“Yeah. Uncle Jake’s got a great beard. I love it!” Joey is enthusiastic if he’s anything. “And when he gets up in the morning,” Joey said, “Uncle Jake looks in the mirror he says, ‘I look good!’”

“Jake says that?” I laughed.
“Because of his beard. He looks good.”

Jack is also fascinated with beards. He was playing with the bubbles in the sink here, which is a sort of tradition for Jack, but this time, he put them on his face. “I be Uncle Andrew,” he said, delighted with himself. Of course the whole family admires Andrew because he can figure anything out and build anything. Like Jack, we think there’s some special strength in his beard.

The boys’ Uncle Karl also has a beard. Once, he had been on a river trip for over a month and came home to surprise us with a beard that would have won a prize. Joey and Jack both remembered this for a long time and when Karl was mentioned, they’d say “beard” or “scratchy” and wrinkle up their noses as they shivered with delight.

I guess it is the novelty also of seeing this extravagant amount of hair on someone’s face. It distinguishes them absolutely from women. It suggests the strongest of animal traits —lions or bears and the sensory memory of its tickle takes the apprehension about it away.
After spending the night at our house last week, we were getting everyone ready to go to church. I came downstairs with three big Velcro curlers in my hair. The boys stared at me with that closed-mouth, suspicious look.
“These help my hair look good,” I explained. “They’re curlers.”
I picked Jack up and he reached to touch one. “They’re really just for girls,” I explained primarily because I didn’t want him to try to pull it out.
“No they’re not,” Joey said.
“Boys and men don’t wear curlers that I know of.”
“Why?” Joey said with the bitter edge of injustice in his voice.
“It’s not done in our culture,” I couldn’t think of anything else to say!
“For good reason,” said my husband.
Not one to give up easily, Joey vowed, “Uncle Jake wears curlers.”

I guess that explains why he looks so good in the mirror in the morning.


  1. Even their GREAT Uncle occasionally sports a beard...they're EVERYWHERE!!!

  2. That is so Funny! I wonder if they where curlers in their beard?