Almost every Christmas vacation, I think about growing a beard.
The time off lets me slide in my personal grooming habits, and then I start to think that with all the other fun that comes with winter — piling on extra clothes, scraping ice off the car — it would be nice not to have to worry about shaving.
But when I got my pastor's email about Beards for Buds, I didn't think about any of that. I thought about my dad, who died after battling lung cancer when I was 12. And I thought about my father-in-law, now in cancer's grip.
Of course, I was in.
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The idea was that the men of my church, Maxwell Street Presbyterian in Lexington, and Pisgah Presbyterian Church in Versailles were going to engage in a beard-growing competition from New Year's Day to Fat Tuesday to raise money for the American Cancer Society and draw attention to problems that face men with cancer.
Like I said, two of the most important men in my life have faced those problems.
In a blog post, a friend, the Rev. Pete Jones of Pisgah Presbyterian, said the inspiration for this competition was a member of his congregation, Jud Davis, who has stage-four lung cancer. In their discussions, Jud relayed a concern to Pete that there was not enough awareness and research regarding men with cancer. My pastor, the Rev. Woody Berry, quickly emailed the men of Maxwell to get us in on the cause.
We are not getting into a competition with women for attention to cancer issues. The death last year of former first lady Betty Ford was a sobering reminder that as recently as the 1970s, breast cancer — another scourge that has touched my family and friends — was not considered a topic for polite conversation.
One thing you can say about cancer, it isn't sexist, and men and women need support, whether it's running in a streak of pink, trying to grow a beard, writing a check or offering a kind word or helping hand.
But this has been fun. A few weeks ago, a friend's son who hadn't been to church in a few weeks walked in and commented, "Guys around here need to shave."
When we got our bearded buds together for a group photo at the end of January, I was stunned at how many of us were participating. And I know, when we get together with the men of Pisgah Pres on Fat Tuesday, Feb. 21, it will be fun to compare whiskers and hand out awards for facial-hair prowess — personally, I have nothing on hirsute Hollywood actor Zach Galifianakis. And yes, it's been nice to not have to worry about shaving.
But I dare say all of us know men who have battled cancer, and the bottom line is, these beards are for them.