I recently came to the decision to participate (in my own way) in the Movember Events that focuses attention on men's health issues (prostate cancer, testicular cancer, and mental health issues). In general, Movember involves the growing of a mustache during the month of November. I had never considered participating because I already had a mustache and my wife threatened divorce if I ever shaved it off. I did not come to this decision lightly. It represents a culmination of several things that has taken place over the past year in my life. Let me try and explain that journey.
I was reading my personal journal recently. It had been a long time since I had gone back and reviewed and re-experienced my thoughts from the past. I'm not a daily journal writer. There were large gaps but some general trends emerged.
Looking back, there was definitely a trend. In hindsight I don't really know how I should interpret or think about it in light of the events that occurred subsequently. A year ago my thoughts and feelings centered around some very dark feelings and places. In a nutshell I was feeling unhealthy, unproductive, unsatisfied and quite unhappy about my life. Things weren't terrible by any means yet no matter how much I tried, at the core I was unhappy.
The closing tag line of my shaving videos, SOTD postings, and this blog has for some time been "Good Shaves, Be Happy, Be Safe". Each time I say or write that phrase I'm making not only a statement of encouragement to everyone else, I am making an affirmation to myself. I'm reminding myself that mental attitude matters. A positive outlook can help. Nevertheless, I was still unhappy with my life. I felt trapped and powerless.
Then my world crumbled on March 29, 2014. My wife of 16 years suddenly died without much warning and instantly without any hope of remedy. It was devastating. I was transported back through the decades to my childhood and I fully re-experienced past losses in my life. I had to experience them again and once again place them within the context of my current world and existence.
You could call how I responded to this event as the Hand of God, shock, adrenaline rush, survival instinct, or any number of things, but on so many levels my life turned on a dime and began traveling in a totally different direction and on a completely different pathway.
For some strange reason I felt healthier, stronger, and fully capable of making changes in my life that I had felt totally impotent to change just a few weeks and months earlier. It was very strange. Usually such events devastate both ones health and mental health. But miraculously it supercharged me on so many levels. The only thing I can attribute it to was the prayers and positive support I received from all of my friends from around the world. It should have destroyed me but paradoxically it was my salvation. I began losing weight, eating better and smarter, exercising, becoming stronger mentally and emotionally, and looking for ways to rise from the ashes and forge a new life.
My wife and I had always talked about "what if" situations and she made me promise to not overly mourn her passing if something ever happened to her. That was my kick starter and my recovery pump was fully primed from all the love and support I have received. I couldn't go back on my promise to her in that regard, even though there were days when all I wanted to do was simply miss her and pity myself for that void her absence created.
Much quicker than most would even consider I began exploring on-line dating and looking to see just what were the possibilities out there these days. It was frustrating, depressing, and actually quite anger producing. I was bombarded by a variety of scam artists, immature game players, and the most desperately lonely and unappealing women on the face of the earth. I looked to church as a source of potential love interests. That wasn't working well either. Overall, my level of impatience was growing by the day that I would ever find a life partner again.
I was becoming healthier and stronger physically while my mental strength and attitude was deteriorating into what felt like hopelessness once again. I was lonely. The pressures of once again being a single father, a widower, and being forced to manage the day to day tasks of life were wearing me down. Fighting depression was a daily task. Being a social worker and having gone through individual therapy in the past I knew the things I needed to do to regain my mental health. I was on the borderline of needing to seek out professional mental health services and if I continued to go on that downward spiral I would soon cross the line and need to seek help.
I firmed up the routines of my daily life and new patterns and habits stabilized things enough that the daily tasks weren't so difficult to manage. I began taking time to get away and go on a few dates, to meet new people and to experience "new possibilities" once again. My mental health stabilized a bit and at least I wasn't sinking deeper but I wasn't rising much higher either.
Not too long after Rhonda's death I crossed paths with a young woman I had known for the past ten years but had not seen or talked to her in many months. We had always been able to have good, friendly, pleasant conversations. We were comfortable with one another and had always been open and unreserved talking about our lives and families, hopes, dreams and struggles we each experienced. Pretty unique in many ways I suppose. Getting back in communication with her lifted my spirits and in some small way I felt loved again. It helped. The simple love and support of a friend had revived hope that somewhere out there love could once again grow. That made the future not so grim anymore. It would be weeks before we spoke again, but that spark of human "connection" rekindled in me the fires of the possible that had nearly been snuffed out.
I continued to lose weight and began looking better than I had in many years. It had been decades since I truly felt that I could once again get back into good physical shape. The aches and pains of getting older, a previous back injury and surgery, and other health issues had convinced me that things weren't ever going to get much better. I was wrong. Now that table had been turned. I could now see myself getting back into shape again and as I looked in the mirror every day as I performed my shaving routine what stared back at me was a gray mustache that in no way reflected the way I was coming to feel about who I was and what the future held for me.
Rhonda loved my mustache. Others commented positively about my "fantastic mustache" occasionally on my YouTube channel. My mustache had been an intricate part of me, my sense of self and identity since my Sophomore year in high school. I just couldn't shave it off but maybe I could spruce it up a bit. So out came the beard coloring supplies that had been pushed far back under my bathroom cabinet. I started touching it up, darkening it gradually. I hoped that I could transform it into the proud, bold, strong stache of my youth. In college some of my friends would occasionally call me "Tom" or "Magnum" due to their perception that I resembled Tom Sellick the star of Magnum P.I. one of the most popular TV series of the 1980's. That made me feel good then, so maybe revitalizing the movie star stache of my youth would bring back the "zing" of feeling young again. It didn't.
Keeping the gray out of my fast growing mustache was difficult and the gray whiskers were tough, wiry and no matter how much I conditioned it, it wasn't going to be soft and manageable the way it was decades ago. It was the best I could do, but deep down it wasn't working and I didn't want to admit that to myself.
As time passed my mental status gradually improved but not dramatically. I dated a variety of women - older, younger, gorgeous, plain, simple and refined. No real connections were being made and no real progress in finding that special someone my soul craved. I continued to mourn Rhonda's passing. Some days I missed her terribly and all I could do was weep and pray. My path crossed again with the young woman I had known for years and she became my sounding board on many subjects. We talked as friends and as my British friends would say, we were "good mates" for one another. Nothing romantic. She had just gotten out of a disappointing bad, painful relationship so we encouraged each other as we both worked to rebuild our lives.
Then something happened that once again pivoted my lifepath into another totally unexpected direction. My female friend and I were talking and one of us commented that over the past weeks we had really connected with each other and that felt nice. Then she made the surprising comment that she could see, in time, our friendship growing into something more. It was like a bolt of lightning into my heart, mind and soul, even though it's full impact didn't register at that moment. She was younger than me just enough that the thought of a romantic relationship with her had never crossed my mind. Now that that idea was free and open in my universe and my concept of who I was and what the future held exploded into a million pieces.
A seed was now planted and neither one of us as of yet can predict what kind of plant that seed will produce, but we are caring for it and nurturing it, slowly as it grows bit by bit each day. I've never been a patient person and allowing possible love to grow slowly is a reality and concept very foreign to me. Very challenging for me, but something I truly want to not screw up by being ham handed, impulsive and impatient. This also shot new juice into my desire to be healthy and if possible look and feel younger, better (you can only do so much though with flawed raw material) and to be as healthy as I can possibly be.
Sometime in early October I had seen the early promotions of Movember. Several of my shaving buddies had recently been diagnosed with prostate cancer and possibly I had seen or heard something as an aftermath of those events, but I began thinking about it and pondering the idea of shaving my mustache and participating this year...the first year I could possibly participate and the result not be a divorce. I mentioned that I was thinking about it to my friend. She was intrigued with the idea of seeing me without a mustache. That sealed the deal. The mustache needed to come off, yet I had my misgivings about it.
My mustache was something special about, to and for me and my relationship with Rhonda. A part of me felt keeping it was a way of honoring her memory. I thought about it deeply for many days and struggled. My mustache had been a part of me for 40 years, had been an important part of my relationship with Rhonda, and had provided me with a distinctive look and appearance that so many had commented about and liked. How could I sacrifice my mustache that had so intricately been a part of my identity for so long?
I came to realize that my mustache was no more and no less only an adornment that had served me well for many years. Now it no longer served a useful purpose (of course unless my friend decided she liked me better with it in the end). I worried that shaving it off would make me look silly. Maybe it would make me look younger. No one would know...I wouldn't know...unless I shaved it off.
In my mind it became a symbol of my old life and an artifact of that life that I had to sacrifice on the alter of healing and new hope. I couldn't move forward without it being sheared and the naked truth of a new birth being revealed both literally and figuratively on my face for all to see. If I decided (and really it was more my friend's decision at this point) to regrow a mustache in the future then it wouldn't be my old mustache but a new one. The old one was the symbol of things past and if I grew another mustache it would be a part of my new life, my reborn life, and not a relic of the past. What we adorn ourselves with has nothing to do with who we are. If it becomes a mask under which we hide our true self...that's bad.
Movember is an event to heighten awareness and to raise needed funds to battle men's health issues (prostate and testicular cancer) and mental health issues. The message I want to bring forward is that we as true men must be man enough to take care of ourselves. We must strive to be healthy and to clean out our emotional closets from time to time. We must not put off the tasks of getting medical screenings, seeking medical consultations about health issues when they first show signs of being present. My father didn't pay heed to the first signs of colon cancer when he was 43 years old. He delayed and waited until his symptoms became too obvious to ignore. It was to late and he didn't live to see his 44th year.
We men want to be strong for our families and children, yet we fear seeking mental health assistance when the pressures of life become so burdensome we have difficulty functioning or we become unbearable and abusive in an effort to hide our pain. We must put aside those fears and seek help before it's too late. It's too late when we begin hurting those we love (and your love should start with loving yourself mates). Being a man not only means being physically strong but also emotionally healthy and available. Help is available and all you have to do is take that step to accept it. Be a man and just do it.
Well, I shaved the mustache. Below is the video of its unceremonious sacrifice. My 16 year old daughter hates it. She says I look like a monkey. Scores of my Facebook and YouTube friends and followers have already commented that sans mustache makes me look 10 years younger. I'm not quite use to seeing my new face in the mirror yet and I haven't mastered how to shave my upper lip well, but that will come soon enough.
The verdict of my female friend...she likes my naked upper lip and thinks I do look years younger, too. So all I have to say to my daughter is...."get use to it, babe."
Good Shaves, Be Happy, Be Safe