My dad was an old school dad. Though he was full of humour and always singing, whenever good cop-bad cop needed to be played, he was quite happy to let mum take the pleasant role.
As kids, we always worked under the unspoken rule, “Don’t get dad involved.”
If he needed to be called in to ‘mediate’ one of the daily disputes that were bound to take place in a three bedroom semi containing two adults and five children of similar ages, then it would only go one way.
Mum could be worked on, cajoled into sympathy or empathy, but dad was rigid. A closed newspaper followed by the single, softly spoken word, ‘Bed’ was enough to terminate all argument.
It’s one of the things I loved and still love about him. He was a fixed anchor point in my life. It wasn’t always pretty but you knew where you stood with him.
I used to love to watch him shave. Like all men of his generation, the notion of male grooming as something to spend time on, was completely absent from his life. Sacha Distel was the only man in England who knew what moisturiser was and he was French.
My dad’s shaving routine was rudimentary to say the least. I wet shave. I use the latest multi-bladed offering from Gilette, which shaves so close that I can occasionally see my back teeth through my skin. I fluctuate between foams and gels, searching for the best combination to give me the perfect shaving experience. My dad used to use a bag of Bic disposable razors.
I think they were meant to last a week or two, but he could get a whole year out of a ten pack. They were usually blunt after the first go. He had a proper, Desperate-Dan five o’clock shadow as well.
He didn’t bother with any sort of facial lubricant, other than to get a bit of lather off some Lifebuoy and smear it around in a cursory fashion. He’d fish into the Bic bag, pull one out and then start dragging it round his face. The noise was horrendous. It sounded like someone rubbing a pine cone up and down a cheese grater. It can’t have been comfortable but he never batted an eyelid, whistling as the rusty blade yanked out the stubble, hair by hair.
When he was finished, the Bic would get a quick rinse then be chucked back in the bag to ferment some penicillin with its mates.
His post shave routine would see him chucking on half a pint of whatever rubbish aftershave we’d bought him for Christmas. He wasn’t really a brand man. I don’t remember ever seeing a bottle of Brut, Denim or Hai Karate in the bathroom. If you can cast your mind back that far, Hai Karate was the aftershave that came with a leaflet, offering tips on how to defend yourself from the swarm of women that might attack you if you used it. My dad's aftershaves were basically white spirit that smelt nice. Putting neat alcohol on to an open wound never seemed to bother him. A quick slap followed by a stoic grimace was all you’d see.
I liked to watch him, because I’d always get a pat on the head and a wink as he walked past me on the landing.
I can feel him and the rest of the men of his generation, peering over my shoulder whenever I’m in Boots, walking along the ‘male grooming products’ aisle. As I try to decide between ‘King of Shaves’ and ‘Gilette Fusion Stealth Hydragel’, I can almost hear him saying, ‘I would’ve repaired a bike, built a wall or carried out some home improvements without planning permission in the time that it’s taken you to decide.’
In all things, more choice seems to create the illusion of happiness, whilst just making life that bit more complicated. The variety of products available to the man who has been conned into caring about his appearance being just one example.
In 1980, my parents decided which secondary school I was going to by pointing at it, so things have definitely changed.
It didn’t happen that long ago, either. When I was a young soldier, I turned up in Aldershot to make a futile attempt to pass P Company in 1987. On the first morning, our ragtag bunch were prepped and ready to go for our first run, when the Staff Sergeant taking the course, gave us a once over. He was an old school guy and had been in the army since Centurion was a rank not a tank. He paused at the lad stood to my left, pointed at his head and asked him a question. He wasn’t angry, just clearly shocked, his world rocking on it’s axis.
“Are you wearing hair gel?”