The Old Barbershop

Perhaps the only regret I ever harboured about having two daughters and no sons was that I couldn’t take them with me to the old barbershop.  I was informed early on that girls go to salons!

I always thought that was too bad.  Because, in spite of the razzing that most of us took from teasing friends after getting a haircut, it was always one of life’s most pleasurable experiences—well worth the minor annoyance of listening to wise-guys who persisted in asking why we got our ears lowered.

haircut

The pleasure I experienced stemmed from a number of factors.  For example, it was comforting to enter the crowded shop, find an empty chair, and pick up a copy of the daily paper.  It was a respite from the work-a-day grind.

Today, of course, I pull out my cellphone while I’m waiting.

Back then, a drowsy feeling would creep over me whenever I was sitting, waiting my turn.  The low murmur of voices, punctuated now and then by hearty laughter; the snickety-tickety of the scissors; the low humming of the electric trimmer—all came together to create a warm, relaxing rhythm.  I often had to be called back from some far-away place when my turn came, though I’d never left my seat.

And no one ever argued about whose turn it was.

Being in the old barbershop was a familiar experience, too—particularly if one had been going to the same barber for twenty-five years, as I did.  But for the prices, not much changed over all that time.  Except, of course, we the people, who had a front-row seat to (as Yeats put it) the sorrows of our changing faces.

Traditional Barber's Shop

In those long-ago days, the same red, white, and blue-striped pole was always spinning in the window.  And no matter how many times I studied it, the stripes always seemed to disappear into the bottom in mysterious fashion, only to reappear at the top and begin their descent all over again.  Or was it the other way around?

I never figured it out, and can still convince myself, if I try, that it was magic.

Throughout those years, the same mirrors ran along both walls of the narrow shop, with the same few cracks and discoloured marks, right where they’d always been.  I still remember my amazement when, as a young boy, I discovered I could see the back of my own head while sitting in the barber’s high chair.

Even today, in a different shop with different barbers—a man and two women, much younger than I—I’m intrigued by the number of reflections-within-reflections that can be seen in the parallel mirrors, reflections that run in a seemingly endless chain to goodness-knows-where.  The end?  The beginning?

Anyway, it was always a comfortable and cozy delight to go for a haircut, and reassuring, too.  In this world of ours, where change seems to be the only constant, it was a joy to go in and find everything just as it was when I left the last time.  All the tools laid out on the shelf in the familiar, haphazard arrangement; the bottles of variously-coloured liquids standing, twinned against the mirror; small piles of multi-hued hair swept into corners, away from the chairs; and talcum powder covering everything in sight with its fine, white mantle.

barbershop3

It was reassuring to know that Nick—my barber with his unpronounceable Greek surname—was ever willing to discuss the fortunes of the various sports teams we rooted for, and that he had all the answers to the problems that plagued them.  We probably had the same conversations a hundred times or more, but they always seemed fresh and enjoyable.

If you can understand and appreciate how I felt about that old barbershop, and if you can imagine the bonds that grew up over twenty-five years, then you might have some inkling of the trauma I experienced when I moved away.  It seemed impossible for the longest time to find that same comfort level in any of the many shops I tried.

But then, finally, it happened.  Just a few short blocks from where I live now, I stumbled across Joe’s Barber Shop.  There’s no Joe, anymore—he’s been retired as long as I have—but the folks who greet me each time I enter have become almost as familiar as the long-since-departed Nick.

My new shop is closing, however.  But not permanently, thank goodness; only for a few days, to move to a new location, one closer to where I live now.  By the time I need my next haircut, they’ll be comfortably ensconced in their new shop, still known as Joe’s.  And a spiraling barber pole will be there, too, to bedevil me as it always did.

pole

One major difference will await me, though.  They’ll be sharing digs with a ladies’ salon, and the waiting area will be used by patrons of both.  Because of that, I expect the tone and tenor of conversations in the shop will be different than those I remember from my youthful days.

But there will be one wonderful change that I shall applaud heartily.  Young fathers with daughters will be able to bring their girls with them when they come for a haircut.  I envy them that pleasure.

Toddler child getting his first haircut

Because the only regret I ever harboured about the old barbershop was that I couldn’t take my daughters with me.

The F-Word

Years ago, when our two daughters were still in elementary school, my wife and I encountered a moment of truth with them—one of those things that never seems to arise in the privacy and sanctity of one’s own home.  Children are too diabolical to let that happen.

We were out for dinner, treating them to a white-tablecloth dinner in a fine restaurant in our neighbourhood.  Part of our strategy to introduce them to the niceties of life, we hoped it also would serve as an opportunity to educate them in the proper manners and etiquette such occasions demanded.  No other children were present, and I smugly complimented myself on the loving family picture we must have presented.

family-eating

Our table sat amidst several others, nicely spaced, but close enough to require moderated tones while speaking.  We all had ordered, the girls speaking directly with the server, being sure to say please and thank you as required, and the evening was going splendidly.

Then my eldest daughter dropped the bomb.

“Daddy,” she said (more loudly than necessary, it seemed to me), “what does the f-word mean?”

Even as the blood rushed to my ears, it couldn’t drown out the sound of dropped cutlery clattering on plates from the tables around us.  I resisted the urge to check how many pairs of eyes must be staring at us.

“What?” I said, stupidly, since the last thing I wanted was for her to repeat her question.

“I said, what does…”

“I heard you, I heard you,” I interrupted.  “Please lower your voice.”

No one spoke for a moment or two.  Our fellow-diners appeared to resume their own conversations, though hoping, I was sure, to hear how I might respond.

My wife was the first to break the silence.  “What f-word?” she asked.  “There are a lot of words starting with ‘f’.”

I stared at her, aghast.  What could she be thinking?  Surely she didn’t want our daughter to say the word out loud in a crowded restaurant.

The two girls glanced sidelong at each other, almost furtively, nervous smiles on their faces.  The youngest shrugged her shoulders slightly.

“Umm, I guess I forget the word,” the eldest replied.

“That’s okay,” my wife said nonchalantly.  “But if you think of it another time, you can ask us again.”

I breathed a sigh of relief, grateful for my savvy wife’s realization that such a sweet child would be unwilling to actually utter the word.

Emboldened by her success, I added bravely, “Yeah, and when you tell us the word, we’ll tell you what it means.”  I immediately winced from my wife’s kick under the table.

The rest of the meal passed in peace as we engaged in casual conversation, laughed at the girls’ stories of their activities at school, and discussed our choices for dessert.  But just as our selections were served, my daughter spoke up again.  Too loudly again.

“Daddy, I remember the f-word!”

I dropped my spoon, splattering chocolate pudding on my tie.

“The…the what?” I uttered lamely, dabbing at the stains with my napkin, spreading them wider.

“The f-word,” she repeated.  “You said if I could remember it, you’d tell us what it means.”

My wife smiled sweetly, abandoning me to the course I had set myself.

Stalling for time, I surveyed the room around us, noting how people quickly averted their gazes.  One or two appeared to be laughing into their napkins.

“Yeah, okay,” I finally said.  “I guess I did.  But when you tell me, talk quietly.  We don’t want to bother other people, right?”

She nodded solemnly.

“So, what’s the word?” I heard myself ask, confident now that I could handle this.  I was beginning to feel like SuperDad.

superdad

With another glance at her sister, my daughter blurted out, “Fart!”

“Fart?” I echoed, hearing the now-audible laughter from other diners.  My relief about the choice of word was immense, given the alternative, but not for long.  “Where did you hear that word?”

“At school,” she replied.  “Lots of kids say it.”

I realized that now my wife, too, had her face buried in her napkin.

“Oh,” I said, trying to maintain some semblance of control of the situation.  “Well, fart is not a word that nice people like us use.”

“Yeah, but what does it mean?” my daughter persisted.

“Well…it refers to…to the gas…you know…the smell that sometimes comes from your bottom.  When you’re sitting on the toilet, for instance.”

With a shriek of laughter, my youngest daughter cried, “Oh, I get it!  When you do it, it makes a loud noise, and you call it a tinkie, Daddy.  Right?”

Blushing furiously now, I said, “Right, right.  But that’s just what we call it in our family.  Not everybody calls it a tinkie.  Probably every different family has their own word for it.”

There followed another few moments of silence at our table, save for my wife’s choked chuckles into her napkin.

“But Daddy,” my eldest daughter said, “if we say tinkie to anybody else, they won’t know what we mean.  Does that mean we should say fart?”

“No,” I replied firmly, “you should not say fart.  You should probably not talk about it at all.  But if you have to say something, just say passing gas.  That’s all it really is, anyway.  Nice people don’t say fart.”

And that was the end of it.  Both girls seemed satisfied, and it didn’t come up again.

On the way out—with me clutching my jacket closed to hide the chocolate smear on my tie—we passed a table where a neighbour from our street was sitting with his wife.  I nodded politely, hoping to avoid any embarrassing conversation.  But I had to stop momentarily when he held up his hand, then beckoned me closer.

“Tinkie?” he said.

I fled.

And the Beat Goes On

Away back when, wiggling in my mother’s womb, I listened to her loving heartbeat.  In that steady, reassuring cadence, I heard the most intimate murmurings of her soul—the fears and doubts she harboured, the hopes and aspirations she nurtured.

Many of those, of course, were focused on me, her firstborn child.

Will I deliver a healthy baby?  Will I be a good mother?  Will I give him a happy, successful start to his life?  Will I make him proud of me?

She couldn’t know the answers to those questions, of course.  Not then, not yet.  But she was an extraordinary woman, my mother, and she turned her formidable mind and powerful will to the shaping of our lives together.  To make it so.

mother-and-childIn time, four more children followed, my siblings, and I hope they, too, were attuned to the musings and melodies she would have had for them.  I heard her refrains for me, echoing and resonating in that remembered, rhythmic beating of her heart, until the day she died.  Even now, whenever I’m confronted with challenges and doubts, a quiet, firm voice speaks to me from deep inside, offering care, counsel, and courage.  Her voice.

So the beat goes on.

When my two daughters were born, I strove from the beginning to insinuate myself into their wee hearts, yearning to know the singing of their souls.  I imagined I could hear it, modulated by their intrepid heartbeats, and my own soul sang back to them, every chance I got, conveying my doubts and fears, my hopes and aspirations.

Will I be here for you when you need me?  Will I make you proud of me?  Will you love me unconditionally, as I already love you?

I proudly watched as they grew from infancy to adulthood, strong, independent, and loving.  And I was humbled time and time again, realizing I was the nexus between these remarkable women, my mother and my daughters.  A biological bond, and more, I hoped—a protector, a guide, and ultimately an unabashed admirer.

My wife—a fiercely-loving mother in her own right—had as great an influence as I, perhaps greater, on our girls.  But it is I who connects them with my mother.

And now our daughters are themselves mothers—five wonderful grandchildren for Nana and me.  Their hearts beat now in harmony with the hearts of their children, their souls connect with the same passion we once shared.  I cannot know for certain, but I imagine these young mothers sing the same heart-songs, straight from the soul, that I first heard from my mother.

Will I always be your friend?  Will I live up to what you expect of me?  Will I be the mother you would have me be?

Knowing my daughters as I do, I believe they will answer those eternal questions affirmatively and beyond doubt, just as I witnessed with my mother.  For they possess the very same hearts—beating the very same rhythms for those same good reasons—forever crooning the songs of the soul I first heard in the womb.

And the beat goes on.