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THURSDAY, JUNE 5, 2014   
Vol 7.23   

Gutter Gutter
Dangerous With Deep Meaning...
Some Thoughts On Shaving And Fatherhood

REGIONAL – For me, shaving and fatherhood walk hand in hand.

As a little boy, I would watch my father as he stood before the bathroom sink, carefully removing his whiskers before a mirror wiped free of steam. No cans of cream and disposable razors for my dad: he would load a fresh, sinister-looking blade into the bizarre contraption called a safety razor. He prepared his face with a brush that he lathered in a mug of shaving soap, turning his cheeks white with a thick layer that no canned cream could rival.

Those blades he kept far from my curious fingers, but sometimes I would find and play with the empty razor itself, turning the knob to open and close a device that looked like something out of science fiction. He would never look at me while he shaved, but he had a stool for me to stand upon, and somehow he was able to talk to me without cutting himself.

By the end of the day, when it was time to put me to bed, those whiskers would be back with a vengeance, and he made sure to gently scratch and tickle my face with them as he carried me off to my room, giggling with the mania that only an overtired preschooler can achieve. He smelled of aftershave and coworkers' cigarettes and the whiskey sour he enjoyed after his day at the office. I use no aftershave, have no smoking coworkers, and don't drink cocktails, but if I were to smell that unusual mix of scents today, the memory would slam me back to that bathroom sink of 40 years ago in an instant. I came to fatherhood myself late in life — not late in my life, mind you; late in my son's. He was already ten before I even met him, and 16 by the time he could rightly call me "stepfather," and never at my knee watching the ritual of shaving. In fact, he initially followed in the full-bearded footsteps of the man who gave him life, and with whom he still has a strong relationship, so discussing the mysteries of blade upon face was not a responsibility I ever expected to have.

Life, however, sometimes has different ideas.

Just a few short weeks ago he visited home, a strapping, handsome lad in his early twenties, and with him he brought a shavette. This is a device shaped like a folding straight razor, but which uses a disposable blade like my dad's safety razor did, but is even more retro than that old-fashioned technology. I started using one myself a few months back, because I'm interested in learning the venerable art of the wet shave with straight razor, but I'm not going to invest the several hundred dollars in buying a quality blade and strop until I'm sure I can use it properly. I had told my boy about it, and as his current job requires him to have at least a passing acquaintance with a razor, he got one for himself.

It brought back memories of me learning about shaving from my father, but it was very different from those times. I learned while standing on a stool that allowed my head to reach my father's waist, but my stepson is a full head taller than me when he slouches. I was wide-eyed with amazement about how the shaving soap was seemingly erased by the blade, but my adult son is more interested in how to get a blade around the jaw line without a fatal injury. I was filled with wonder at all the mysteries of manhood, while he is seeking wisdom and mastery in the tools only an adult should use.

Shaving is a lot like fatherhood, especially when you're using a blade. It's dangerous, but when done well nothing compares. You will get hurt from time to time, but if you take your time, you'll probably end up doing a better job than you expected and surprise yourself.

And the opportunity to share your experience and wisdom can come up at any moment, even long after the little boy has grown into a man. The rewards of fatherhood, like its responsibilities, never truly end, and for that I'm grateful.

Gutter Gutter