|A soft beard, a sweet baby - put them together...what's not to love?|
(First appeared in Orlando Sentinel February 13, 2011)
Today is Valentine's Day. On this day of love, my heart belongs to a man whose face I've never seen.
Not all of it, anyway.
My husband, Ralph, is my amour. He also happens to be a person with a beard. It's a full beard, wild and untamed. It covers most of his cheeks, all of his chin and that narrow space above his lips. Ralph had a beard when we met in 1970. I've seen his entire face only in photographs of him as a teenager.
It's a good thing I like beards. I like the way they look and the way they feel. Many people find facial hair unappealing, but I'm not among them. I'm attracted to bearded men the way some men are attracted to women with long (or short) hair. It's a hard-wired part of my persona.
Like many men of his generation, Ralph's hair fell below his shoulders when he was in college and he had a full, untrimmed beard. Although he looked the part of a hippie, he wore a beard then for the same reason he wears one now — he doesn't like to shave. I can't fault him for that. I don't like shaving either.
Over time, Ralph's thick, brown locks have become grayer and a bit thinner on top. His beard, however, is just as big and wild as ever. Occasionally, I take out shears and hack it back a bit, but that's akin to trimming a hedge. Within a few weeks, a fuzzy fringe has returned, as thick and full as ever.
Choosing to go through life with an unruly swirl of facial hair has had its downside. Some people just don't get it. My parents felt that way. They could never understand why their son-in-law didn't shave. If he must have a beard, they reasoned, why not have one that's neatly trimmed?
But my husband has never been the manicured type. He's a casual person who's more concerned with how things work than how they look. He thinks independently and questions social norms. When he believes in something, he sticks with it. I've always admired him for that.
There have been times when I've wondered how Ralph would look without a beard, but I've never taken the next step and asked him to shave. If I insisted, he'd probably cut off his beard to please me. When you love someone, you want that person to be happy. But that's also why I haven't (and probably never will) ask him to shave. I wouldn't want to make my husband do something he doesn't want to do just to satisfy my fickle curiosity.
There is no secret formula for attractiveness. No one look is right or wrong. Fur may cover my husband's face, but no amount of facial hair can hide a person's compassion, kindness, gentle nature and intelligence. For 40-plus years, my husband's words and actions have demonstrated his feelings for me and for our children. We are secure in his love and support.
Actions, not appearances, define a person's heart.
My heart belongs to a person whose entire face I've never seen, and I like it that way. In any marriage, a bit of mystery never hurts.