I quickly pulled the razor across skin, being careful to shave it close. My mind flickered here and there, as it had been doing recently. It seemed lately it had gotten difficult to settle my mind on one thought. Especially when I performed tasks like this, a task I had performed so many times before. As I shaved my mind jumped around. I was 42, but also 7, and I remembered a long ago day in Cleveland. I stood there next to my father, my plastic Fischer Price Shaver clasped in my hand, while I struggled to learn the art of the shave.
“Nice and slow, Rocco” my dad said keeping a watchful eye on me.
“You need to be careful not to cut yourself, but you have to get the face clean, like a babies face.” He said as he smiled.
“The ladies like a clean shaven man!” he said as he winked at me.
There we were, father and son sharing a shave and a secret. I remember how I soaked it all in. At 7 my father was still my hero, the center of the little universe I called home. Whatever he said was law to me.
“Here let me help you”, he said as he took my razor.
“Long and straight lines, up and down” Rico said to his rapt pupil. There I was, learning to shave from a veritable barbershop ninja. Or at least that’s what I remember thinking.
And then I was 42 again, as quickly I continued to shave.
As I shaved, lost in my thoughts I decided that overall he was a good father, not perfect, but a better one as he aged.
I remembered other lessons he taught me as I lathered and shaved. Making sure to get the face clean just as he taught 35 years before.
I was 42, but 10 and had gotten caught in a lie. It was embarrassing to me and I was upset about losing face in front of my friends. I was caught in a stupid and useless lie. I remember the statement he told me that day as clear as if it was yesterday.
“The mouth is a beautiful instrument, Rocco; you just don’t know how to play it yet”.
How stupid I thought, but now I realized how right he was.
I was 42, but 16 and suffering my first hard break-up. A long-term relationship (3 months I think), had just gone sour and I didn’t know how I would go on.
“You don’t understand Dad” I screamed, “I think she was the one!”
“She’s not the one.” He said simply.“
”Sometimes, you have a really old and soft T-shirt that you love, and then it rips and you miss it. But then you get a new shirt and life is all sunshine again!”
I remember he said that with a smile, not making light of my predicament, but knowing I would survive.
“What the heck does that even mean!”, I screamed. But my heart healed and I stored another bit of wisdom in my mind to be used later.
Dad was like that. His simple truths formed the doctrine of an immigrant philosopher. And I unwittingly became a born again convert to the Gospel of Rico. I used to jokingly call his oratory text the KRV version of the bible, The King Rico Version, but instead of thee’s and thou’s the sentences were connected with Italian curse words. His parables were both helpful and hilarious. Like the time he told me a story of when he saw Jesus in his garden. When I expressed surprise he said “No shit, Rock I swear it!”. He failed to see why that made me laugh. To this day that story still makes me smile.
I was 42, and 22, going into surgery on my knee. It was relatively simple surgery, but he refused to leave my room. Finally he was the last one in my room and we were alone.
“Don’t worry son,” he said more to himself then to me.
“You’ve got a lot still to do in life, and God wouldn’t take you yet.”
I laughed and told him it was just a knee operation.
By then the crust of his silly Italian pride had started to be worn down with age and he was better at showing emotion.
“I’m proud of you Rocco”, he whispered into the quiet room.
I paused, not having a lot of experience with this side of Rico. A man from who compliments had come haltingly as I was growing up.
“Thanks, Dad”, I whispered back. “I’m proud of you too”. That having been the first time I had ever heard him say that to me.
My mind snapped back to the present and I continued to shave, my shaking hands making sure not to injure with the blade. I was careful not to cut, but trying to get the face clean, like a baby, just like he taught me so long ago.
“The ladies like a clean shaven man.” I said in the empty Hospice room thru tears.
I shaved long and straight, up and down with quick and efficient movements.
I slowed down as I relished the touch of his face.
By than he was struggling with his breathing, and I knew he wouldn’t make it much longer.
I was 42 and age seven seemed like an eternity ago.
He looked up at me, having difficulty talking, but conveying much with his eyes.
Yes I will take care of Mom and the girls.
Yes you were a great Dad, you really found your groove the last 20 years of your life.
Yes I know you love us.
I screamed this dialogue internally, trying to answer the questions I felt were going through his mind.
And than I shaved the last stroke.
“All done Dad” I said to him, washing his face off with a hot washcloth.
“Nice and smooth”, trying to sound upbeat as if the shave was for a big day on the town and not perhaps his last day on this earth.
He clasped my hand and for a moment our eyes met.
“I tried to be a good father”, he struggled to say, “ I wasn’t born here, so I made mistakes”.
“You were a great Dad”, I choked out. “I hope I can be as good as you, I am proud of you.”
In that moment I was 42, but I wished with all my heart that I was 7, or 10, or 16, or 22, any age where the roles could be different again.