Facial Hair and the Retiring Warrior—a Critical Decision

by | 9 Nov, 2017 | 2 comments

A multitude of decisions confront me as I approach retirement. Do I want to buy into Tricare Prime? What about life insurance? Do I sign up for VA healthcare? Where will I work? What will I do with my GI Bill?

Another decision has been keeping me up at night.

What kind of facial hair will I cultivate in retirement?

As I’ve observed with increasing interest the actions of post-retirement soldiers, I’ve noted that this decision oftentimes shapes the very nature of the retirement itself. The lengths to which many go to grow the correct facial hair speak to the importance of the decision.

A Chromed Dome

Thankfully the good Lord removed one aspect of my decision-making. Years ago, He forced me into a corner as my receding follicles necessitated first a buzz cut, followed by a full-on shave.

This hurt. I mustn’t lie. For years I sported a slightly-out-of-regulations do, slicked back with copious amounts of product. I used hair gel—literally molding my hair into a brittle wave—as I cultivated my rebellious image, rebellious as long as I wouldn’t get into actual trouble. Think James Dean minus the attitude.

Annually, as more of my scalp began to appear, I came to grips with reality and transitioned, via a Lloyd Christmas bowl-cut, to my current coif. At some point, I began to covet what I previously had and attempted a re-grow. Ami quickly put the kibosh on that.

Today, my only decision in this regard is razor or clippers. I went with the clean shave for a few months but always felt I looked a little like the cyborg version of Peter Weller in RoboCop without his metallic helmet. I’ve settled on the trusty #1 all over for now.

The Lord also blessed me with a fairly normal looking melon, a curse tempered by a blessing as it were. Some poor dudes lose their hair only to reveal a lumpy or strangely shaped skull.

Which brings me to my dilemma. With expanded options comes additional stress.

The Beard

Maybe I’ll just do it, go full lumberjack, or full operator, depending upon your context. I think I qualify in either regard.

I can change a tire, the oil in my car. Last year, I learned from YouTube how to notch a tree and I subsequently felled a large oak in my backyard that had been struck by lightning. The surrounding situation required it fall in a very specific area. Nailed it. I own a red, wheeled toolbox and possess not one, but two pick-up trucks. All I need is a table saw to complete my qualifications. I’ve always felt the bearded, millennial with minimal man-skills was a slightly pretentious creature.

I’m no operator though, but for years I’ve admired their beards around the gym, TOC, or the back of my helicopter. There’s something satisfying about a fully-kitted dude sporting Viking-like facial hair getting ready to deliver some death and destruction.

Last year, I deployed with the unit for the first time in a few years, having spent some time in Division. As I sat in my first meeting with some of the ground force, reveling in their beards and tats I made a strange observation. I looked, and more than a few of them had their heads down, eyes fixed, thumbs banging on, you guessed it, smart phones. The characteristic posture, they were millennials! I chuckled and wondered if they could drive a stick. Their beards were glorious.

The beard brims with manliness.

I’ve always cultivated at least the appearance of toughness. Ever since this kid shoved me in 7th grade home room, I’ve hit the weight pile in an attempt to generate the appearance of formidability and I must say, I’ve been fairly successful. Since 7th grade, not even a shove or a push. I’m no Arnold—I thought to update the reference but do kids even lift these days?—but I have come a long way since I tipped the scales at 98 pounds in 9th grade. 

But the beard. The beard trumpets toughness. My son-in-law is a large man with a great beard and fairly long hair on top that he pulls back into a samurai-looking type thing. He looks like a big, tough dude. I’m not sure if he actually is tough; he is a millennial.

But the beard even provides some options. I could keep it trimmed up a bit, think Arn Anderson—I know, dating myself again—or I could go full ZZ Top with this thing. Could I one day put a braid in it?

Would the chicks dig it?

Aside from cultivating the appearance of toughness, this is always a consideration. Allow me to contextualize.

Would Ami dig it?

I’ve always wondered about food though, and snot. As much as I liked the way a beard makes a man look, would Ami be more apt to rub her face and hands across my smoother cheek. And what about food and snot? That must be dealt with.

Another concern, could I even grow a beard? The longest I’ve been without shaving has been a week and let’s just say the results didn’t inspire confidence.

The Not-so-Great Compromise

The goatee speaks to constrained recklessness tempered by a cultivated civility. The versatility of the goatee makes it an entirely attractive option. The goatee performs admirably under a myriad of conditions. With it, I could join a biker gang as readily as I could a barbershop quartet. I could get in a fistfight as readily as I could attend a PTA meeting.

A man sets his gaze upon me and he must move on because he just doesn’t know. “Guy’s got a goatee. He could be tough or, he could be a soccer dad. I don’t wanna find out.”

Stone Cold Steve Austin. What else must be said.

Yet, I am bound by associations. At my church, one of the other pastors is also a middle-aged bald white man…who sports a goatee. I haven’t approached him about changing up his routine to accommodate my decision, but I do believe that having two of us on staff might be untenable. Additionally, our other pastor sports a goatee with hair. I feel that three goatees on staff would be asking for trouble.

A Troubling Option

In considering the mustache, we delve deep into some risk analysis and really, risk avoidance issues.

Very few men can pull off the mustache without looking like a douche.

Let’s clarify. The Army mustache is a truly horrid affair. Bound by regulation, it can neither encroach upon the upper lip nor the surface area outside a vertical line drawn upward from the corner of the mouth. (AR 670-1, Paragraph 3-2a2(b)) What that translates into is an utter catastrophe. The only service-members I’ve seen with acceptable mustaches consistently flirted with the regulations. Think Warrant Officer.

Years ago, the DAP pilots all sported out-of-regulation mustaches. At one point, they convinced their platoon leader to grow out his own. As he wasn’t a Warrant Officer, he had to keep it within regulations and it was horrible, one of the worst things I’ve seen. A friend intervened and demanded he remove the offending follicles.

Now though, I’ll not be constrained in such a fashion.

I could go George Hackenschmidt or Dan Severn. Classy, but dangerous. I could even go Fu Manchu, that bastardization between a goatee and a mustache. Is it a goatee with a shaved chin or an out of control mustache? Paul Teutulesque.

With so many options, one thing is becoming clear. I had best make a decision soon.

Status Quo

Maybe I should just stick with what I’ve got. I don’t mind how I look clean-shaven. I’m just tired of shaving every single day for the last 26 years. It’s like Buffalo Wild Wings stress. I like the Teriyaki wings and stick with them, but the innumerable other options consistently murmur that there might be something I like better. Yet, I don’t want to waste a shot at wings on an unknown entity. So, I stick with what I know and like.

The Answer?

In my fledgling dalliance with facial hair, I consulted the source of all wisdom, Google. I googled, “cool facial hair for men,” and Google didn’t let me down as I happened upon an interesting option.

The #1 all over…hmmm.

Maybe this is it. As I’ve run the #1 over my scalp for all these years and I don’t desire to shave every, single day, what if I just applied the same procedure to my face as I do to my head. Hmmm. Simple. Easy.

The bit of scruff coupled with the no-nonsense up top speaks to a man to be reckoned with. I could go troubled-dreamer or blue-collar, David Beckham or Bruce Willis. As I’ve only another few weeks until I start terminal leave, I need to decide soon. The gravity of this decision is truly starting to weight on me.


  1. Bri

    Really well written! Love it. I can’t grow my own facial hair but I do have an affinity for it.

  2. Derek Robertson


    If you recall I too am follically challenged. I have been shaving my head since 1996. The good Lord took some and I gave Him the rest. Like my dad said to console my ego, ” the good Lord made only a few perfect heads…. He put hair on the rest.”

    When I retired from the Army I too contemplated the beard. Being bald I have to have facial hair to “balance” the bald head. I like so many others that retired grew the goatee. I sported it for quite sometime.

    The generation of my dad and his pastor believed in clean shaven faces. This of course was due to their hey day of the sixities and both being Vietnam vets attributed full beards with that of the hippies.

    I always heard and belive you can find all answers in the Bible. Since my dad, a devout Christian man and his pastor were anti-beard I’d see what God said about it.

    Seems to me that all the men or at least the great majority had beards. There were even rules (Leviticus) of how to wear the beard. Even our King Jesus had a beard. But no where could I find it a sin to have or not have a beard. But there definitely was a pattern for biblical men to wear beards.

    I am not suggesting a person with a beard serves God better or is even closer to God. But hey if the men of God wore them I felt like I should as well. I decided to grow a full beard. After all now when I see a goatee on a man I want to tell the wearer of the goatee, ” you know they make that beard in man size.”

    The church I attend is a small country church, very conservative, KJV only and women all wear dresses in service. I heard a woman once say if the women are expected to wear dresses then why don’t the men grow their beards? Mmmmm food for thought.

    I did a little more digging in the Bible and came across this scripture,

    2 Samuel 10:4-5
    Wherefore Hanun took David’s servants, and shaved off the one half of their beards, and cut off their garments in the middle, even to their buttocks, and sent them away. When they told it unto David, he sent to meet them, because the men were greatly ashamed: and the king said, Tarry at Jericho until your beards be grown, and then return.

    Yes!!!! My answer was given to me. At least for my own personal satisfaction. Though I still hold true a man is no better as a servant of God with or without a beard I still want to wear one to remind me of those saints and truthfully because I like my beard.

    Notice what is said in the scripture. David told his servants to tarry at Jericho until their bears grew back then return. Why didn’t David just say shave off the other half so you don’t look silly? Nope, he said grow your beards then return. Seems like it was important.

    Grow it. My wife hated it at first but has come around to accept it. Some will like it some won’t. Just remember as long as you like it that’s all that really matters. Tons of ways to take care of it too. Do a little reading up on taking care of a beard.

    And if the thought ever comes up concerning preacher/pastor… Charles Spurgeon the prince of preachers wore a beard. He once said, “Growing a beard is a habit most natural, Scriptural, manly and beneficial.”
    — Charles H. Spurgeon

    Why would a man want to make his face smooth like a woman?

    Hope this helps you in your decision. If it sounds like I am persuading or even challenging you… well I am.

    In Christ,

    Derek “Bama” Robertson
    Roll Tide!


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Bradford Smith

Bradford Smith

Author - Founder

Soldier, Pastor, Author – Bradford stays busy, with his wife Ami, raising their 9 children, serving the nation, pastoring, preaching, and writing books (#3 is due out October ’17).


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