Like many men during the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve grown some unreasonable facial hair.
Here’s me now:
Here’s me in March of 2020, same hoodie, clean as a bespectacled egg:
I got the idea to grow a moustache from my daughter, Amita. I started playing the game Red Dead Redemption 2 almost immediately after the pandemic started in mid-March of 2020, and after a few months I’d gotten pretty good. Amita liked watching as I played. She asked me why I had given my character such a big moustache (barely visible in this screenshot, I know).
“I thought it looked cool,” I said.
“I think you want a big moustache,” she said.
Oh, I thought.
So I let my pandemic scruff grow for a few weeks, and then I shaved off all the beardy part, and I had a small moustache.
When I was a kid, my parents had this painting on their wall in our house. It’s a self-portrait by my great-grandfather, Stavros Moustakas.
Stavros was a painter in the 1800s. He moved from somewhere in Greece to Jerusalem, where he painted icons, the religious paintings that have a mystical importance for Greek Orthodox believers. Stavros, as you can tell from this photo, had a big moustache. His last name, Moustakas, means “moustached” in Greek.
The above photo is of the print that’s in my son’s bedroom, where it’s been since he was born. His name is Stavro, too. Like my father. We call the man in the painting “Old Stavros” to distinguish him from other Stavroses in our family.
I realised after a few weeks that I wasn’t growing a little moustache. I have had a few of those in my life, and although I like them my wife thinks they make me mean. I was growing a big moustache. An 1800s moustache. A Moustakas moustache.
Soon after, a Greek friend shared an article about how a Greek actor had suggested that all Greek men should grow moustaches for the 200th anniversary of Greek independence. It included this impressive rogue’s gallery of Greek revolutionaries, with their monumental moustaches.
In the past, when I’ve grown ridiculous facial hair, I’ve shaved it off as soon as it got itchy, or if it made me feel old. But now I had a goal: have a giant moustache by the 25th of March, 2021.
I received a lot of waxes and combs and balms and butters for my birthday in October. I also heard a great podcast episode based on the New York Times article My Mustache, Myself. It was by a Black writer who described his growing a pandemic mustache, and how it echoed for him with a history of dignified and middle-class Blackness. It’s a great read.
But I can’t help feeling that my own moustache connects me with part of my own heritage. I think that’s what Old Stavros was doing, too; there was apparently a trend in the late 1800s and early 1900s among Greeks of growing big ol’ moustaches as a form of national pride.
I dressed as a circus strong-man for Halloween.
I think it worked.
One problem with a pandemic moustache is that it’s hard to show it off under a mask. Which is ironic; the one part of my body that’s radically different than it was this time last year is hidden from everyone who I see on the street. But people on Zoom calls or social media see my face as usual. It’s a never-ending source of conversation fodder.
I realised this winter that I’m not going to shave off my moustache on the 25th of March. I’m going to keep it for a while longer. I don’t know when that’s going to end, but I’m not sure it needs to. I like looking like this. My wife doesn’t mind it (much).
If I shaved it off, I don’t know when I’d grow it out again. Maybe never. Maybe when I retire, I’ll move to a beach town, grow my moustache long again, and get a three-wheeler bicycle. I’ll sell dolmas from the box in the back, and tourists will stop and take photos with Moustache Guy.
For now I’m going to keep it. It’ll be nice to have for Greek Independence Day, which is also my name day. I might try to put together a revolutionary cosplay with some scarves and a fez, if I can. I hope your Independence Day is as good as mine is.