Tales of the Mighty Goatee

01/30/2011 By Shawn Burns

One of my Lurkers, E Ben, asked “What’s it going to take to get you to shave that goat?”

Ah…the Mighty Goatee.

I’m not allowed to shave my goatee.

Emily and I both had fathers who, in the late 70s and early 80s thought facial hair was awesome. So while their kids weren’t looking they snuck in a moustache. My dad came home from some maneuvers (army brat reporting for duty, sah!) with a pornstache you wouldn’t believe. I couldn’t believe it myself, and I didn’t recognize the man. Emily had similar experiences. Our fathers would also just shave the damned things off as soon as we were used to them. More than once I woke up and went downstairs to find a barefaced stranger in the living room watching both the little tv (which had sound but no picture) and the big tv (which had picture but no sound) it was sitting on top of, in the room that by rights ought to have been occupied by my Freddie Mercury lookalike father.

I was never a very hairy guy, myself. It’s the Mohawk in me. We’re just not good at growing facial hair. I first grew the goatee during the 1996 Stanley Cup playoffs. I was eighteen years old, Canadian, engrossed in the Detroit Red Wings; 62-win season and subsequent playoff collapse, and I was finally able to grow more than a whisper of fuzz on my face. I grew some “playoff scruff”. This time of year happened to coincide with the final exam period at the University of Toronto, and ever since then I’ve simply stopped shaving when I’ve had a long bout of studying or writing to do. I still call it “playoff scruff” even when it’s unrelated to hockey. Anyway, that first scruff turned into a pretty sparse goatee. I kept that one throughout the summer as I lounged around my mother’s house on the reservation, trying to sort out what I was going to do with my life.

What I was going to do with my life was move to California and live with Emily. She was…not a fan of the Mighty Goatee, and I shaved it off for a while after I arrived in California.

But, perhaps defiantly, perhaps to assert control over a life that was spinning (dropping out of school, leaving the country, moving in with a girl, working at a hotel to pay bills) I grew it back after a while.

It would come and go over the years before Emily and I were married in 1999. I was barefaced when I proposed, for instance. But I kept it long enough before the wedding that it was actually a bit of a dilemma: Should I keep it or shave it off for the wedding pictures? Emily had grown to actually like it, by that point, and was in favour of me keeping it. But my mother was unequivocal: she had seen me with this strange facial hair when I was eighteen and moping around her house, and there was no way she was going to put up with me keeping it for my wedding day. My Best Man promised to hold me down and shave my face himself if I didn’t do it.

So the Mighty Goatee came off for the wedding. But soon after I grew it back again.

Part of the reason I like it is because I was always uncomfortable with the dimple on my chin. I have a butt-chin. I was assured by everyone else’s mom when I was a kid that this was something handsome men had, but to me it looked like a butt, and to every one of my peers it looked like a butt, so I developed a bit of a complex about it. Hiding it under a goatee helped a lot.

I also like it because without it I think I look twelve. The Mighty Goatee, in those early years, was a sign of maturity when I wanted maturity instead of youth.

Over the years, shaving the goatee has been a way to annoy Emily when I’ve wanted to annoy her. Or it has been an expression of anxiety or imbalance, as when I shaved it off while trying to quit smoking.The last time I was without it was the day after my father and I landed in Ireland for a father-son trip in the summer of 2006.

The reason I’ve had it continuously since that trip, however, is that Erin was born in the spring of 2007, and I had the Mighty Goatee when she was born. Now, because of the childhood shock of witnessing a father experimenting with his facial hair, I am very reluctant to shave it off again until both kids are old enough to understand what is going on. Having Adrian in 2009 extended that time out for a couple of more years.

I expect I’ll shave it off again sometime in 2012 or 2013. With the kids watching the entire time, so they aren’t shocked like I was.

However, 1996 called and it wants its goatee back. Apparently it was wondering where it had been for the last 15 years. So there’s some pressure to return it to its rightful owner.

Where’s my razor?