Every Phys Ed. class in high school began with jogging around the outer edge of the lines painted on the hardwood floor, under what must have been fifteen layers of varnish. Gym class was where all of our hormones were laid bare. From showers, to the smell of teenagers learning to manage their smells, to acne, to the unmistakable awareness of our incoherent sexualities and all of the posturing and evasion that goes along with them.
While running laps around the gym one morning, my best friend—then, and still—said to me matter-of-factly “Well, last night I asked my dad to teach me to shave.” I have no idea what my response in the conversation was, but I remember both admiration and envy.
My father had died at the beginning of my freshman year, though in truth, his life was largely lived far away from me, and there was little he would’ve been able to do to help usher me through the perils of puberty. My stepfather was a difficult man to approach with any request. He was quick to shut down anything that wasn’t rock solid, and he’d surely have pointed out the fact that I really didn’t have a hair on my face that would warrant learning to shave…that is, if I’d have asked him.
Instead, I gazed in the mirror with his shaving cream on my face, and one of his disposable razors in hand, and started moving the blade across my face just as my best friend had described his lesson from his father.
I have now grown well into my adult body as I look toward age 40. Now I shave with either a straight razor or a double-sided brass safety razor, and the occasional disposable.
It occurs to me that we as a people continue to borrow words from the past that lose connection with their original source. We often speak of “honing our skills,” but to hone is to run a razor over a stone at just the right angle, with just the right pressure to leave an edge that can either make you bleed or can give you a sense of a clean, fresh start, and a sense of manhood. The hone in my life wasn’t either of two men who bore a version of the title “father” in my life. It was then, and is still—Dave.