All was not equal when I taught my 2 sons to shave
How my fear with one son shifted and eventually brought forth laughter
When it came time to teach my oldest son, Julian, how to shave, I chickened out. The thought of putting a razor blade on his face terrified me. I lived with an unsupported fear that I’d instruct him poorly and a cut might unleash a river of blood.
I thought the easiest way to teach a child with a bleeding disorder (Julian has hemophilia) to shave was with an electric razor. While he’d never have a close shave, I at least knew he was safe from harm.
Even then, my difficulty confronting the shaving lesson took me by surprise. I knew he needed to learn, but I kept putting it off out of fear. I found my attitude somber as I taught Julian how to charge the razor before using it. The room felt heavy as I prepared to help him should an emergency arise. This rite of passage seemed as if it should include a piece of music, one appropriately dark and heavy.
Julian’s experience starkly contrasted with that of his younger brother, Caeleb, who also has hemophilia and came to me at age 15 to teach him how to shave. “OK,” I said, then ran to the store to buy him a regular razor.
I remember thinking about the situation and wondering why I didn’t react as I did with Julian. What made the difference? Was I not afraid that Caeleb would have trouble with the same cuts and bleeding? I love and worry about both my sons equally, but something seemed off and didn’t make sense.
I gave Caeleb his new razor, as well as the best dad instructions I could muster. I explained to him that shaving is like landing a plane. You brush the razor against your skin without pushing it down. I told him to land the aircraft gently.
“Yes, Dad,” he said. “I promise not to have a ‘Sweeney Todd‘ moment on my face.” We laughed as we started to sing the opening number of that Stephen Sondheim musical about the “Demon Barber of Fleet Street.”
He did just as I instructed and gave himself an excellent shave. We celebrated as my boy became a man, with a sink full of hair to remind us of what had occurred. With Caeleb, I felt no fear, just a joyful awareness that he’d taken another step toward adulthood. Further, the event proved much easier than when I’d taught Julian.
I promised never to discuss the radical difference between my instructions to my sons.
The truth comes out
My secret stayed close to my chest until the Christmas after I’d taught Caeleb to shave. Julian came home to spend a few days with us during the holidays and found his younger brother shaving over the sink in his bathroom.
“Dad,” Julian said, approaching me, “did you know that Caeleb is shaving with a regular razor?”
I’d made a massive mistake in not telling him the truth. I acknowledged that Caeleb didn’t use an electric razor, that I’d taught him to shave with a razor similar to mine.
“Why didn’t you do that with me?” Julian asked.
I confessed that I’d been too scared to teach him, too worried that an accident might lead to a horrible bleeding episode. I felt more secure teaching Caeleb, I said, as I’d had more time to prepare. He looked shocked and hurt that I didn’t offer him the same opportunity.
So I told him I’d also teach him to shave with a regular razor. At first Julian said no, but he eventually agreed for me to help him.
I went to the store and bought him a razor just like mine. As with his younger brother, I stood beside him and talked about landing the plane. Before he put the razor up to his skin, he asked, “I’m not going to have a ‘Sweeney Todd’ moment, am I?”
I bent over with laughter. I told him his brother had said the same thing when I’d taught him to shave.
Caeleb entered the bathroom as we laughed, curious about the noise. After Julian’s first shave, all three of us started to sing that same “Ballad of Sweeney Todd” that Caeleb and I had sung. The room filled with joy as we celebrated another milestone in the MacDonald household.
I thought of the fear that had initially gripped me when Julian first asked how to shave. Now anxiety no longer controlled the situation, as laughter replaced that darker memory.
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