This Father’s Day maybe consider passing on the knowledge of the wet shave to your son. Learning how to shave from dear old dad was once a coming of age rite that has been lost or eclipsed by all the instantly accessible articles on Wikipedia, or YouTube tutorials that are a soulless keystroke away. The time is ripe to take back what was robbed from our culture when we stopped paying attention to the little, simpler things. I encourage you to make this coming Day of the Dad memorable and a chance to pass on something to the little man in your life that he will always use and forever remember…a Father’s Day Gift.
Your son is never really to young (or old) to learn how to wet shave proper. In fact, he is more apt to want to learn and participate while you are still his hero, before the rebellious teenage years when he will undoubtedly know everything and seeking advice from your pop is simply uncool.
My own father may have been hip to this concept. He gave me my first lesson on a Father’s Day back when I was 8. Obviously I was years away from even peach fuzz, but after a few months of showing a keen interest in his daily shave, I think he felt it was time for a little audience participation, if only just to humor himself and my mother, and what the hell, it was Father’s Day.
I was too short to even see my forehead in the mirror above the sink so dad set up my mom’s cosmetic mirror for me on the clothes hamper. I remember the growing feeling that I was entering a magical realm, handed the keys to a secret garden. I remember the weight of the glowing, gold, bladeless Aristocrat dad placed in my tiny hands to my mom’s chagrin. It had belonged to his father, my grandfather; it was a relic, not a toy. I was being treated like an adult for the first time. This is how the rite began.
He turned on the hot water tap and began to fill the sink. Then he pulled a shaving scuttle off the shelf, this had also belonged to my granddad, and I had never seen him use it before. I had been looking at that strange vessel as long as I could remember and knew it held secrets. Now those secrets would be revealed.
My dad plugged the sink when the water was hot enough and placed his weathered old spice mug in the center, on its side. He turned off the tap as soon as the mug was submerged. He then put both mine and his razor in the water. Next, the scuttle was filled with hot water and the brush was tucked in the mouth of the scuttle. He explained this was how one prepares the bristles.
While the scuttle was heating and the soap was softening he tried to explain to me the mechanics of the TTO safety razor in the most kid friendly words possible. He confessed to preferring the safety razor over the cut throat but for the sake of fully understanding the act of the shave he would use his straight blade as a visual aid. I suppose he felt that sharp, shiny props really help capture the attention of a fidgety kid, and he was right. He demonstrated on the back of his hand the angle in which to use the cut throat and then the angle in which to use the safety razor. He pointed out how the blade of the Gillette is, by design, positioned at the same tilt with the added benefit of a guard.
By this time the scuttle was warm and we were ready to proceed. He removed the brush from the scuttle and squeezed out the excess water.
Then he began swirling it around on the top of the soap puck. He was building a working lather in the process of loading the brush. When there was enough soap on the brush he removed the mug from the sink and gave it a good shake. He then stuck the loaded brush in and began to swirl it around in an erratic motion: up and down, circular and figure 8. Now and again he would dip the tips of the brush in the sink in order to rehydrate the suds. He must have repeated “just the tips” 10 times during this process. Soon the mug was overflowing with a thick, hot, creamy lather. My eyes grew wide with amazement, but he was careful to explain that it’s more about the quality of the soap than the lather, and I should not ever mistake the finger for the moon. This expression was, of course, lost on me in meaning, but colorful fodder for my vivid imagination.
He splashed hot water from the tap onto his face and massaged it in and encouraged me to do the same using the cooler water now in the sink. I mimicked his every move. He recalled that his own father would hold a hot towel on his face and neck before a hot splash, but for today’s lesson we would just be focusing on lathering up and shaving.
With our faces wet and dripping my dad started to apply the suds to my face, with one side done he stuck the brush in my hands and let me have a go with the rest. He explained I need not use too much pressure and to treat it like a paint brush, paint with the cream not the bristles. Only years later do I now understand what he meant by that. Dad had a tendency to relate everything back to painting. His first job out of the military, and before he met my mother, was as a house painter. It was a job he enjoyed and excelled at. Mom would say he spoke in “Paintables”, a portmanteau on the words parable and paint. Thinking back on it now, the man was very Zen before it was fashionable.
When he was done touching up my face in places I had missed he rinsed out the brush, squeezed the knot, and then applied the soap to his face with athletic finesse.
“You ready?” he asked. I gulped and nodded.
He now removed his razor from the sink and ran it under the hot running faucet, and explained that it was better for a shave to use a warm, wet razor. I followed suit with my Aristocrat.
He shook the water out, knelt down beside me and then slowly, for my sake, began his first pass; a down stroke just in front of his ear. He pointed out the angle at which he pulled the razor and how it must remain like that for the entire pass.
“We are shaving not raking.” I still remember him saying.
“Resist the urge to push down or apply too much pressure, the blade wants to cut whatever is in front of it. When you press down too much, your skin is now in front and that will get you nicked.” It was the first time I heard that word.
I held the razor to my face and he corrected my grip with his big hands on mine as I made my first pass. He would repeat this every time we “shaved” together until I was probably about ten, always adjusting my grip and angle. This reinforcement was priceless. It created serious muscle memory that I recognize even to this day, like an echo from those many mornings we spent in our small bathroom, a master and apprentice, a father and son.
* * *
By the time I was in my mid-teens, and had begun shaving on my own, I had forgotten all about the safety razor. Like my buddies, I bought the newest Bic or Gillette and that electric blue shaving gel. Long gone were the weekends where I would join my dad in his morning shave. Home was now just a bed and a shower. I was into girls and skateboarding. Interaction with the parental unit was embarrassing in public and just a drag at home.
I had been shaving for nearly a month before my father discovered my Bic and shaving gel, or at least brought it to my attention that he was aware. I remember I was heading out the door and it was in passing, I just shrugged and said “yeah?!?!” He just smiled and shrank back as I ran out the door. “Was he going to hug me?” I remember thinking. I later found out that it was Father’s Day so I bought a card on route home.
When I got home I ran past my Father who was reading the Sunday paper in his favorite chair, up the stairs I went to fill out the card. As I entered my room I noticed the light beside my bed was on. I was steaming. Who had been in my room? As I was getting ready to have a teenage freak out I suddenly noticed a small, brown, ancient looking jewelry box on the night table. It was familiar looking but I couldn’t place it. I sat on the edge of my bed and opened it.
Inside was my grandfather’s Aristocrat and gold blade case, both freshly polished and gleaming in the dim light of my lamp. I had not seen this razor for years, had not even thought of it. Setting it back down on the table I noticed a brand new old spice mug and a brush on the other side of the lamp. I was deeply touched and felt like a schmuck.
I went downstairs to thank my old man and give him the card I had thoughtlessly picked out as I rushed through the pharmacy on my way home. He was no longer sitting and reading his paper where I had passed him before. I found him standing in bathroom with his back towards me in front of the sink, now shirtless, in a tank top, with hot water running. He turned towards me. “You Ready?”
Happy Father’s Day Dad!
[Note from Mantic59: Douglas runs the How To Grow A Moustache wetbsite!]