I began teaching in the early 1970’s. My biggest problem was credibility and my youthful appearance. I was a newbie. At one of my first Open Houses, I overheard a parent of one of my students comment that she couldn’t figure out who was the teacher. I was standing right in front of her. She thought I looked too much like a student. The parent was hesitant to have her daughter in my class; she wanted a teacher with more experience.
I resolved at that point to do something. Experience I would get by teaching more but my appearance I could change. I chose to grow a beard. Beards were very fashionable at the time. My principal even had one. Having a youthful appearance also came with slow beard growth. So it took awhile.
It was my mother’s surprise sixtieth birthday party when my relatives finally got to see me with my new facial addition. All of my mother’s sisters and brothers and their families were there. The guest list included our favorite Great Aunt Lil. She was considered by some, especially herself, the matriarch of the family. I could tell by the way she was looking at me that there was something amiss. Her usual calm demeanor seemed a bit off. She kept staring in my direction and shaking her head. I couldn’t imagine what I had done. Had I said something wrong, eaten with the wrong utensil, or just not shown enough respect to her or my mom. I was to find out a bit later on in the evening when she pulled me aside and whispered close to my ear. “No matter how much confidence you have and how good you feel about yourself, your success is based on how others perceive you.” After a brief pause she uttered, “Your beard…Shave it.” And that was that. I don’t believe that she was making a suggestion. As the protector of our family name and reputation, I believe it was an order.
I was respectful enough to acknowledge her opinion. I thanked her for sharing her concern. But as I knew that the chances of her seeing me again soon wasn’t very likely, I chose to keep the beard… at least for awhile. It is hard to go against the grain when Great Aunt Lil is dictating the terms.