I was 23 years old, newly married, lean and fit, and standing in my living room without a shirt. It was early June, and I was about to go for a run. Mel, my wife, was 23, too. She came into the room, gave me a kiss, and then said, “Are you growing more chest hair?”
I was still close enough to my teens that her comment filled me with delight. There is something about the long transition between a boy to a man that is arduous and exhausting, and any comment on hair growth, depth of voice, or increase in height, makes a boy going through puberty fill with a sense of hope that maybe, just maybe, they have arrived, and all these pimples, mood swings, and endless erections are behind them. So I will say, that when Mel asked me if I was growing more chest hair, I got a little excited. But it didn’t last long because I was in my early 20s. I assumed I had arrived. According to health textbooks, puberty was over. I was as tall as I would ever be. I wasn’t breaking out with pimples anymore. My voice has settled into a husky baritone. As far as I could tell, I was a grown man.
However, there were a few oddities. A few elements of my self that didn’t seem fully developed. For example, I could only grow facial hair on my neck. I tried growing a beard in my late teens, and sadly it came in half-baked. And, my chest, there wasn’t much hair there either. Just a few spindly curls around my nipples. I assumed this was it. Obviously I would never grow a beard, which was depressing. However, on the bright side, I would also never have a sweater of chest hair.
But after Mel’s comment, I became a little confused. I looked down at my chest, and sure enough there was more hair then I’d remembered. But it wasn’t really filling in the way I expected. The hair was in small splotches, the skin like oceans between continents. And what little hair I had on my chest, well, had gone from a light brown to a dark brown.
Mel examined the hair, placed her hand on it, and said, “You should put a shirt on.”
“Is it really that bad?” I asked.
She made a poopy face and nodded.
I recall being a little offended as I walked into our bedroom to fetch a shirt, until I stopped before the full-length mirror next to our closet and examined myself. And sure enough, it did look kind of strange. Almost like I wasn’t growing hair in new places, but rather losing it from some illness.
About a year later, my chest hair slowly filled in a little more evenly. The blond hair on my legs got a little darker, and my shoulders got a little broader. And at age 25, I tried growing a beard again, and the hair on my face filled in fuller then ever before. I recall examining my face in the bathroom mirror. I rubbed my hand across the full hearty beard, and thought, “You are a man now. You have arrived.” But I never really thought about how strange it was to reach full development so late in life.
Now, at age 31, I work at a university. I hadn’t really thought about all this until a few days ago when I was showing some of my students a side-to-side photo of myself that I posted on my blog. We were in my co-worker’s office. One student was a slender sophomore named Mike, and the other was a bubbly junior named Megan.
The photo on the left was of me at age 20, and the other was of me at age 30. In the photo of me at age 20 I had a ridiculous neck beard, and in the one of me in my 30s I had a full beard. Megan pointed to the neck beard photo and said, “You wouldn’t look so silly in this one if you didn’t shave around your face.”
I said, “I didn’t shave around my face back then. Hair just didn’t grow there, yet.”
She gave me the strangest look that was followed by an awkward giggle. Obviously she was perplexed by the idea that a man would not be able to grow a beard at age 20 but that same man would be able to grow one at age 30.
I thought about the way my body developed in my 20s. I thought about the day Mel found new hair on my chest, and how my shoulders got broader, and then I said, “Men seems to go through a… second 20s puberty… or something. Or at least I did. I started growing hair where there was none before. This is probably why No Shave November is so embarrassing for freshmen. All they can grow is a neck beard. It’s a strange phenomenon that I don’t really know how to explain except by saying that this guy,” I pointed at Mike who was sitting on a sofa across the room, “Is probably going to get a little hairier in the next couple years.”
Megan looked at me with a twisted lip smile that seemed to say, how do boys live in those bodies? And at the same time Mike rubbed his face and nodded. His expression seemed to say, There’s hope.
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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, and a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His essays on parenting and marriage have been featured in New York Times Motherlode, Huffington Post Parents, Huffington Post Weddings, and The Good Men Project. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.
Photo by Lucinda Higley