Going to the barber with my Dad is one of my earliest memories. I say ‘earliest’ however that’s just it – I don’t remember when we started going together. It was as if we’d always gone together since the beginning of time.
I suppose I was more aware of the experience when I started school. Once every 6 to 8 weeks, he’d pick me up from school and we’d drive the short distance into town. We’d park up and walk a short distance through a church yard (the church was very old – back to Norman times) sometimes stopping at a toy shop on the way to the barber’s.
The barber shop was dark and dingy with wipe-clean faux leather benches and ancient heavy chairs. A thick pall of tobacco smoke perpetually hung in the air. You could smell sweat, Old Spice and hair spray mixed with cheap cigars – it was the 80’s after all.
The Barber Shop – A Man’s World
The barber shop is also where I was first exposed to pornography. I didn’t know what to make of the naked pictures torn from newspapers and magazines and pasted onto the walls of the only toilet. My Dad would never look and if he caught me sneaking a peek, he never mentioned it.
I remember seeing a woman in the shop.
In seventeen years.
All those years, it was the same barber cutting my hair. My Dad would book ahead to make sure he got this particular guy and we’d take our turn to sit in his chair – always the same chair. Even though it took as twice as long to be seen by the same barber.
The barber (Pete, I think) had all these catch phrases and one liners. When he finished my hair, he’d always say ‘short for sport?’ and I would nod as if I knew what that meant.
These are some of my richest memories – sharp and clear as if they were yesterday.
Coming of Age and the World Changing
One of the pivotal points in world history happened as I sat in that very chair. It was just a few days before I would leave my home town (for good) to go to University. So I was getting a last haircut in before setting off for College.
It was the afternoon in September. September the 11th.
I watched in the mirror as they brought an old black and white TV into the shop. The 2nd tower collapsed live on television right in front of my eyes.
One of the other men looked at the TV in shock. “The world will never be the same again”, he said.
He was right.
Several Years on and I’m Back in The Barber Shop
‘Ok, these are great stories Neil, and very well written but what do they have to do with anything?’
Ah yes, a good question – and thanks for the compliment.
What I’m doing is painting a picture. A picture of rich experiences and memories I had with my Dad. Always him and me, together. Even right up to that fateful day in 2001.
All those rich memories (there are more than those I’ve shared but I don’t want to bore you) from sitting on those wipe clean benches. Those experiences of male culture that I wouldn’t have had anywhere else are intense – smells, sounds, even the feeling of sticky cut hair on the soles of my school shoes.
All of these are etched into my very being.
Which is exactly why I want my son to have a similar experience growing up with me. He’ll never know the tobacco smoke hanging in the air. Or the soft-core porn in the toilets.
But we can have similar memories that I have with my own father.
I live in a different place now – a city in the west of Scotland, Glasgow. One thing we still have is barber shops. With the war in Iraq and the Middle East, we’ve an influx of Iraqi Kurds who have set up ‘Turkish’ Barbers all over the town.
Generally basic but welcoming places
Inexpensive – though they can be in quite exotic parts of the city
Completely and exclusively attended by and staffed by men
My son is young – not yet four – but he is treated like royalty by the barbers in our favourite shop.
The quality of cut is excellent and we’re both fascinated by the artistry of the barbers as they burn nose hair with naked flame or carry out cut-throat shaves with deft skill.
Going to the barber is a treat for us both – an event in which we are creating memories together in a place where men can be men. In a world of unisex salons – where traditional masculinity is under attack from all angles, the barber shop stands resolute, like a boulder in the current.
So it comes full circle – why should you take your son to the barber? Because it’s a place of complete and honest male expression.
A place where my son is treated like a prince by young men who are not me – where I can kick back and enjoy seeing him grow. And revel in the knowledge that we are creating strong memories that we’ll both have forever.
Have you got memories of going to the barber with your Dad? Maybe you have good stories of taking your own son to the barber. If you do, leave a comment or send me an email.
P.S. Did you like this? I’ve written a fair bit on Father/Son relationships from my own perspective. For more, check out these posts: