“Put one up for me”
My father, a rock-solid Christian, would use that phrase to punctuate moments of parting or other occasions of minor personal significance. He had a happy relationship with his God. Secure, and with the confidence and humour that springs from security.
I never saw stubble on his face. Except perhaps twice when he grew whiskers for fun, it was always, always shaven smooth. I never danced with him, nor played ball. We not once made things together or played fighting. I think I never in all my life saw him run, and apart from an occasional apple, I don’t think I ever saw him eat anything while standing up. But I do remember he could talk well. We didn’t often sit at a table in company, but when we did, he was naturally the wit and the wisdom of the meal. Whether talking about wine, little histories drawn from his life, or the love of food itself, he had the sparkle and yet the gravitas that ensured that it was his comments that were remembered.
Only once do I remember a meal with my classmates at my home in such a circumstance, and his stories were recalled by my friends with their admiration and to my pride for years after. My pride was always spiced with a tiny hurt. Why I had not heard those stories until the occasion of company had precipitated their telling?
Although I was never close to my father, I was even less close to his God. Absolute blank there. All my life. Not an uncomfortable gap, just an irrelevance. Prayer of any kind, simply an impossibility.
One of the many things that have got easier and more enjoyable with age is the simple act of shaving. When a soft down first appeared on my lip and chin, my mother discreetly slipped me a razor and some shaving cream of my own with some hushed words of sympathy and support which only fuelled my adolescent embarrassment. It was clear from the brief discussion that this was something I would want to keep to myself, and I dutifully hid the apparatus and my painful attempts to use it.
It was probably at least half a year later that the old man caught on to my condition, and decided to share and demonstrate his rich thoughts and experiences on the necessity of badger hair for the brush, the chemistry of Geo. Trumper’s soap and hot water, and most importantly: the exact angle and pressure at which Mr Wilkinson’s excellent and British piece of engineering should be applied to the skin.
My blushes were fuelled by confusion between my mother’s self fulfilling ode to embarrassment, and my father’s evident open pride in my rite of passage coupled with this opportunity for soliloquy.
It wasn’t easy. This particular “shaving” sermon of my father’s, like his running commentary on looking ahead and the use of gears while driving, became a standard and it was often repeated. But the real thing that cut me was the delicious sound of the blade as it smoothed and polished his shiny red skin. It all looked and sounded so damn good on him, and it just hurt on me. The experience was unpleasant and the results always far from ideal. Most importantly, the sound of my razor was desperately disappointing. The years passed and it didn’t get any better for a long time.
My father was much older than me, 44 when I was born. And now he is dead, and I in my turn am much older. Now I am just about as old as he was when I was starting to shave.
I love it. I love the texture of the water and the soap. I love the massaging of the stubble. I love the perfect comfortable soft smoothness of my skin afterwards, and most of all I love the two sounds; the sound the razor makes on my face and the sound of his voice in my memory.
This is my joyful everyday prayer. Thank you, father.