I recently grew a beard. It wasn’t the first time.
The first beard I grew appeared in 1972, the year I left the family’s south west retailing business to pursue a career as an aimless hippy.
That was a successful beard and kept me well hidden from those who knew me as a clean shaven, clean cut, ex-private school boy from Bridgetown.
It lasted 20 years. It was a handsome, ginger-fired, manly, extravaganza of hair.
Once I’d done with the hippy thing and found myself aimless on a university campus, the beard became a symbol of redness, of revolution, of alternateness, of intellectual intensity.
I did my best to live up to it.
This latest crop of face-hair, however, suggested none of the above and was an entirely unsuccessful growth.
It itched, it annoyed, it hid me from people I wanted to greet without having to explain that, yes, I was indeed Jon Doust, not some weird, goog-eyed perve who confronted people in the street with strange tales laced with personal knowledge and who frightened small children.
Ok, I can hear the question: Why was a bloke at your age letting his face go anyway?
Thing is, I’m not in the middle of a middle-aged crisis. There are no signs: no motor bike, no running off with a younger woman, younger man, canoeing trips down the Amazon, or late nights on ABC2 watching footy finals from the 1960s with a bag of twisties.
No middle crisis for me, no need, my entire life has been a crisis.
What happened was, my wife left me.
Not forever, but for a long time.
Not because she didn’t love me anymore, because she does, she can’t help herself, but because whenever I have married I have always married outsiders, foreigners, people from other countries, and, when there is a family crisis in their homeland, they have to go home. And rightly so.
I have always considered it important to marry people from out of town. Many people do, but, for the most part, they go to Manjimup, Donnybrook, Gosnells, or even Hyden.
Let us pause for a paragraph or two and allow me to tell you that my wife is now an Australian.
It took a long time, almost 30 years, but she made it, and made it with an obvious keenness.
What was it that changed her? A change, I might add, that forced a realisation: I am now more like these people I live with than those people I used to live with.
It was Roy Slaven and HG Nelson.
Yes, remarkable, isn’t it?
Hildegard watched Roy and HG during both the Sydney and Athens Olympics, laughed herself stupid, visited her grumpy homeland, and thought: Bugger, I’m an Aussie.
That was all it took, just two looks.
She realised then and there that there was something wonderful about an Aussie sense of humour, a real one, the one she now shared with my father, mother, grandfather, grandmother, siblings and our Noongar mates.
It’s the one that helps you laugh in the face of all odds, of the thing that’s intimidating you, working against you: the drought, the budget, the idiots on the roads, the system, the lack of hot water, milk for the coffee and the inadequate public transport system.
All right, back to the beard.
When she left me, I decided I was not going to shave until she returned.
But Hildegard, a large and powerfully built woman, would not even allow me that pleasure. She issued instructions, through her solicitor, that I was to remove the offending hair well in advance of her return, or there would be no return.
Sorry, I was thinking of someone else.
But Hildegard, a slender, elegant and attractive woman, who looks ten years younger than her actual age, said that although she respected the symbol of her absence as a manifestation of my continuing affections, she would prefer I had it removed before her return.
Either that or go look for another foreigner.