My knee has been hurting me for some time now. I tell people that it has been bothering me since June, but if I were completely honest, the bothersome pain goes back to the spring of 2020. I first noticed it after a short run in April. While I didn’t feel any pain during the run, my knee was tender and swollen for a couple days. I let it calm down before I went out for another run and followed this pattern of run, limp, recover, run for a full year. Until I stopped running altogether this summer. In predictable fashion, I have yet to make an appointment to talk with a doctor.
I know, I know. This is a problem. And I’m in good company with my problem. Speaking stereotypically, about half the population shares my reluctance to see a doctor.
If we’re going to unpack stereotypes, we might as well go back to some of my earliest impressions of what it was to be ‘a man’. In my case, that modelling came from my father. My dad is first generation Canadian, with family roots in Eastern Europe. He grew up in a traditional Ukrainian household. He and his brothers were all welders by trade, loved repairing and restoring cars, and watched a lot of hockey. And, to my young self, he was the hairiest man I knew. It seemed he could grow a beard overnight, thick and full and black like my crayons.
When he didn’t have a beard, he shaved each day – in the evening, when he got home from work – using a chunky brush to foam a cake of soap in a mug. He’d jut out his chin and lather his thick beard with this rich foam that looked like whipped cream. Then he would use his single blade safety razor to cleanly remove the soap and hair with confident, skillful strokes. It was like colouring in reverse to my young imagination, the blade erasing his beard shadow beneath the soap. I wanted to shave, too, but dad was always careful to put his blades out of reach. Our upstairs neighbours, however, were not this careful.
It was Klondike Days, and I wasn’t much more than four years old when we dropped in to see these neighbours before heading to the fairgrounds. While my parents visited, I went to the bathroom on my own; I was a big boy and didn’t need help anymore. This new bathroom had so many different things to look at and to touch. I remember standing on a low stool, and being able to see my own face in the bottom portion of the mirror. In this position, I could see the sink and the whole countertop. And, on this counter, our neighbour kept a safety razor just like my dad’s.
I’m pretty sure the screams turned my mom’s blood cold.
The nick was small, and I cannot remember feeling any pain; however, the sight of blood – even a few drops – was enough to send my four-year-old self into a crying fit. A bandage and some ‘kiss it better’ dried my tears. Yet this episode did nothing to dampen my wish to grow up and shave just like my dad. Just a little more than ten years later, I was at the mirror again with a razor in my hand. This time, I didn’t need a stool and I held a Bic twin blade at the ready. To say I needed a shave would be generous. There were collections of facial hair along my jawbone, a few on my chin, and the darker, thicker patch on my upper lip. I did look untidy, so I decided the time had come. Instead of a brush and cake of soap, I used shaving foam from a can and applied it liberally to my face, taking care to avoid my flourishing moustache. It made me look at least 16!
And so began a morning routine I have followed almost every day since. And apparently this daily ritual may date back to a time when sharp stones or shells served as technology. Alexander the Great is said to have preferred the clean-shaven look over the traditional Greek beard, which was deemed “dangerous in combat” as it could be grabbed by an opponent. There is powerful meaning associated with hair and grooming for many cultures. One’s hair may signify health, vitality, spirituality, pride, esteem, power, humility… the significance of hair may be deeply personal and bound to cultural identity.
It was for no reason as meaningful as these that I grew long hair at one point in my life. Suffice it to say It was the 90s. I have also sported the occasional beard, and there was that unfortunate moustache of 1988. The moustache itself was not unfortunate; rather, the moustache on me was unfortunate, and the photographic reminders confirm this every time I look at them. November’s arrival, however, always tempts me to revisit our photo album and reconsider this look.
Born from what may be an amalgamation of inspiration in Adelaide and Melbourne, Australia, the concept of growing a moustache for charity has taken up residence in popular culture. While its origins may not be profound nor ancient, the motivation which launched Movember has noble purpose. Since its recognition with charitable status, the Movember Foundation has raised $174 million globally, and has put a face – a mustachioed face – on issues of men’s health that include prostate and testicular cancer, and mental wellness.
Forgive me for returning to a stereotype here at the end as I suggest that men may need a good, strong push to prioritize their own mental and physical health and wellness. And wrapping this push up in a friendly competition to grow the best ‘stache appears to be the sugared pill we need.
So: I’m five days into Movember, and almost past the itchy stages. My strategy is to grow a full beard that gives me a larger canvas out of which I can carve the best moustache. And maybe this year, with a bit more grey creeping in, the look will suit me better and make me more distinguished. I am also a week into enjoying an extra ten minutes each morning, precious time recovered to do something else… like, perhaps, making an appointment with my doctor.