The pandemic must end so my father’s ghost can rest

I know, it’s nowhere near ending, especially since policy-makers make stupid policies to appease right-wing nitwits. But I have a personal reason for getting this over with.

I had to shave off the beard so masking is more effective. This means that I have to regularly use a razor. Therefore, I have to use shaving cream. So I’m standing in the bathroom with a can of Barbasol in one hand, I look in the mirror, and instantly I am transported back half a century, and there’s my dad, teaching me how to shave off the unsightly sparse shrubbery sprouting from my face. He’s laughing, because I had no idea how much shaving cream to use, and had a gigantic mass of the stuff I was smearing on in great thick glops, making a big mess.

That memory comes roaring back every time I have to shave. There I am in the moment I’m about to dispense the stuff, and there’s the ghost of my father, hovering over my shoulder, chuckling and monitoring how much shaving cream I’m using. I don’t mind seeing Dad again, but then I have to disappoint him by using only a judicious quantity.

And that’s my personal reason for wanting the pandemic to end: so I can stop shaving, and stop triggering that memory, and stop letting my father down. Alternatively, I suppose I could indulge him and splat a big ol’ cream pie in my face every morning.


  1. indianajones says

    Thanks for the story PZ. I know what you mean. In 10 years I will be the age that my father died, and I’ve looked like younger him all my life now down to beard and all. It’s a real kick in the guts sometimes catching my reflection unexpectedly.

    The pain has faded from the loss, 16 years ago, but it’s still very hard sometimes. I wish I could talk to him about this and that at lest once a week even still.

  2. billseymour says

    I also had to shave off a full beard to allow masks to fit right; but I use an electric razor which isn’t as much of a hassle.

    Also, I haven’t been to a barber shop since COVID.  Fortunately, I don’t think that the ageing hippie look is horrible; and that is my generation, although I was never a hippie.  (I was in the Air Force during the Vietnam era, which is when Haight-Ashbury was a thing.)

  3. says

    My dad never taught me to shave; I had to figure it out myself. Never really got it down, to this day. Sometimes I use, like, two or three cans.

  4. Rich Woods says

    My dad shaved every day of his life from the age of 15, until he was in his seventies and had a course of chemo. He lost the hair on his head and he no longer needed to shave. He said that when the chemo was over he’d grow a beard, just to see what it was like, but even though he was soon once again able to grow a thick crop of hair on his head, his facial hair refused to grow longer than an eighth of an inch so he started shaving again. I think Mum was secretly happy about that.

    I remember when I was 15 asking Dad if I could borrow his safety razor so I could try and clear up my ugly mug. I always found it a faff. I stopped shaving regularly about four years later. I really couldn’t be arsed.

  5. PaulBC says

    I realize this misses the point, but it sounds like you’re shaving in exactly the same way you remember.

    I never shaved with a foam like Barbasol. I used to use a gel sometimes (in the 80s, they gave out goodie bags to college students, which was effective marketing for Edge gel and some other brands). I recall getting by with just a disposable with a strip and some water. I use an electric now, when I do shave. So if you don’t want to relive the experience, you probably don’t have to. (Depends on the actual memory triggers.)

    My father died a couple years before I was shaving and I don’t know if he would have been the one to teach me. I kept a scraggly beard till college. I miss him, but I don’t have any strong grief feelings. Sometimes I wonder if I’m just kind of a cold person. It is strange now being older than he was when he died. It’s like I don’t have a road map. My far died way too early, but he had already led a pretty full life. What comes next?

  6. Dennis K says

    My 85-yo dad is a hardcore racist, bigoted, misogynistic Trump lover. I have fond memories of him up until I turned about age 14 when I began to wake up to the reality of the man. He’s clean-shaven, gets a haircut every two weeks, and I sit here with full beard and a ponytail.

  7. birgerjohansson says

    My dad died of cancer when he was 3 years older than I am today, so I am definitely thinking about mortality.
    Shaving; I do not recall the brand name offhand, but my electric shaver has rotating blades mounted on a flexible substrate so the pits and bumps of the face become trivial to give a good shaving- well worth the minor investment!

  8. mordred says

    You all remind me how I’ll be older than my father ever was in a bit more than a year. I’m still in my 40s.

    He never taught me to shave, he never did anything for me. The best thing my mother did for me was kicking him out when I was two years old. He visited occasionally and was an asshole every time. And drunk.

    Still it’s a strange thought to have reached the age when he died. Oh well, I don’t drink much and am in much better health now than he was when he was 30.

    My grandfather taught me to shave with an electric razor – he loved machinery. He died nearly 20 years ago, nearly 90 years old. I still miss him.

  9. pacal says

    Is that a picture of Young Sheldon with shaving cream?

    Must fight thoughts of infanticide! Must fight thoughts of lowering abominations of desolation, like Urkel, into vats of sulfuric acid!!
    Must fight those feelings / thoughts!!!

  10. tacitus says

    My dad was already using an electric shaver when I was growing up, so naturally, I followed suit. I have never had a wet shave in over 40 years of daily shaving.

    Not knowing how to wet shave was only an issue one time in my life. Many moons ago, I needed surgery to remove an epidydimal cyst (i.e. in my scrotum), and after checking into the hospital ward, a nurse showed up to place a razorblade and shaving cream in my hands, saying, “Here you go. You only have to shave the right hand side.”

    I had to explain why my going anywhere near that wrinkled flap of sensitive skin with a razorblade would only add to the surgeon’s workload, so she took them away again, and much to my relief, they decided to shave me after they put me under. The surgery was successful, as was the shave since there was only one incision in evidence.

  11. says

    I never shave my face anymore, but I use a straight razor for my neck and my head (when I have the energy to maintain the mohawk). Even with as little as I shave, I’ve saved a fair amount of money by never needing to buy razors or disposable blades. Applying lather with a brush kind of avoids the quantity concern.

  12. Snidely W says

    One Brow:
    You just beat me to it.
    Stop supporting the hegemonic Shaving Cream/Gel Industry!
    All one needs is water and soap!
    Hell, if you have just climbed out of the shower, you don’t even need that! Your beard is softened enough from just that water on your face.

    Electric razors are almost OK too. I have bought a few in the past, but they all have broken down before long, like most small electric appliances. But I still have the same single edge injector razor that I got as a teenager almost five decades ago.

    PZ, as for dealing with a memory of your father laughing at you:
    1. I’m sorry for your still having to deal with that.
    2. There’s counseling for that.

  13. springa73 says

    I shaved with electric razors for a few years, but often found that they irritated my skin. When I tried going back to razors with disposable blades and shaving gel, I found it was much easier on my skin and gave a closer shave too. Maybe I just wasn’t using good electric razors, but I’m so used to the disposable blade/gel combo now that I doubt I’ll change anytime soon.

    On a different note, I was lucky enough to have very good parents who I was close to. They both died too early, my mom in her late 50s from leukemia and my dad at 70 after several years of dementia. I wish so much that they had been able to live longer lives without the terrible diseases that killed them. I still miss them very much, and think of them often.

  14. birgerjohansson says

    The Christians -who know all atheists are into drugs- made the film “Let There Be Light”, and it suggests a way to avoid thinking about dark things.
    The atheist podcast “God Awful Movies” (which I am addicted to) reviewed it, and the christian film had “the world’s most famous atheist” stating the things in life that matters most are “sex, drugs and rock n’ roll”.
    I can imagine going through life without thinking much about mortality (or about anything at all) if I was high as a kite the whole time.

  15. Reginald Selkirk says

    @13 … 2. There’s counseling for that.

    Yes, there are methods for dealing with the ghost of one’s father. I read one account of such things. I believe it was called Hamlet. As I recall, it did not end well.

  16. fishy says

    I’m not sure exactly why this is a painful memory.
    The way you describe it makes it seem as if your father is happy to be watching you clumsily learn.
    Maybe he wasn’t as encouraging as you would have liked him to be in what you may have considered a private moment?

  17. azpaul3 says

    I suppose I could indulge him and splat a big ol’ cream pie in my face every morning.

    Awwww, You are such a thoughtful son. :)

    Serious, thanks for the nice memories.

  18. unclefrogy says

    I have not shaved in a very long time. I had some problems with masks early on but was lucky enough to be able to avoid needing to go any place where there were people which also has some negative aspects which i am dealing with now as things begin to change.
    I could use canister type respirators OK I have 2 both are P100 but the out valve is unfiltered. To improve the fit I cut a grove in my beard to allow the seal to press firmly against the skin. No one taught me to shave but having to keep the grove clear has revealed traces of my fathers face lurking the bones I see. I think about him and his life often as a result and try not to do comparisons and just let him be.

  19. fishy says

    I want to echo @21.
    I would watch my dad shaving and would want to give it a go, so he would take the blade out of the safety razor and I would get to smear cream on my face and scrape it off. Fun.
    I loved the mechanics of the safety razor he had with the twist of the handle and the butterfly action to replace the blade.

  20. says

    Shaving? Nope! Nope! Nope!
    I’ve had a beard since my early twenties and shaving is a step too far. Barders were shut down very early in the pandemic and only recently re-opened. Several of them switched to providing a mobile service at 3 to 6 times the price so haircuts became a rare luxury. The result is a long Covid mane and a beard that puts Duckwit Dienasty to shame. I am also emulating my great-grandfather by attempting to cultivate a handlebar moustache. Almost every family member has caught Covid except me and my brother in-law who is a medical officer on the front line of the battle. Fortunately they all got it post-vaccination so it was pretty mild. Both he and I, (him moreso), have been scrupulous with mask and PPE wearing and disinfecting hands. The other reason for this is that there was a bloodless coup where the elected government was deposed by party-swapping traitors and the politicians are too busy fighting each other to get in the way of the experts managing the pandemic response. The result was restrictions and mask wearing imposed very early and enforced rigorously. The early rollout of a very effective tracking app and an amazingly well co-ordinated vaccination program as soon as vaccines were available. They prioritised high-risk areas and individuals and even fitted out busses as mobile clinincs to reach isolated communities. They also recruited a range of NGO’s and volunteers to man the vaccination program and set up and run temporary hospitals for quarantine and preliminary treatment of covid patients who were not suffering the severest effects of the disease. Yes we had the naysayers, the deniers and the anti-vaxxers pushing chloroquine and iverermectin but they were countered by a good information campaign and the few demonstrations by covidiots were quickly squashed.

  21. birgerjohansson says

    It is a Philips shaver- I would highly recommend it if you want a minimum fuss with the very uneven surface of a human face. Three rotary blades suspended so they can follow the surface.
    As for actual razors, I associate them with tools of murder.

  22. robro says

    I want the pandemic over, and World War III over…or is that World War 12? I’ve lost count…because I’m exhausted. Plus I would like to get together with friends to play music. They’re planning to restart the bi-monthly Friday night jams next week, but I’m not feeling comfortable with sitting in a room full of people signing away. Everyone is vaccinated, presumably, but there are break through cases. In fact, the host and his partner recently tested positive even though they are fully vaccinated. And I recently read in Scientific American that even a mild case of respiratory infection can have serious cardio effects. I already have heart diseases.

  23. nomdeplume says

    I said to a friend once that “I had a beard on my passport photo” (from 1973, the beard was earlier) – “oh, we all had beards in our passport photos” he said, which was about right for my baby boomer generation.

  24. Kevin Karplus says

    I kept my beard, despite the leakage—it is far less leakage than many people have from ill-fitting masks that have holes under their eyes big enough to stick their thumbs in.

    When I do shave (tidying up the full beard, mostly), I use the razor that my Dad used before he switched to using an electric razor in the 50s. It is a fine old Rolls Razor:

    I was considering giving it to my son when he started shaving, but instead I bought him his own Rolls Razor (they were fairly cheap on e-bay) and shaving brush. The brushes only seem to last 30 years or so (the one I got from my Dad had all the bristles fall out), but the razors last a long time. My son alternates between having a short beard and being clean-shaven—he has to shave for some of his acting. He had a little trouble maintaining a sharp edge on the blade that came with his Rolls Razor, so I gave him the spare from my Dad’s razor. That blade is now on its third generation of users.

  25. Rich Woods says

    @Kevin Karplus #29:

    The brushes only seem to last 30 years or so

    Bloody inbuilt obsolescence. How dare they!

  26. mcfrank0 says

    Am I the only person that never uses shaving cream?

    I shave immediately after showering, and I find the hairs to be soft and unresistent to the razor as long as I don’t wait too long before shaving.

  27. Just an Organic Regular Expression says

    Yeah, take back the power from Big Foam! It was decades ago that, I think it was, tipped me to the fact that any kind of lube will do. Just soap as a couple of people said, but that doesn’t quite do it for me, and dries the skin. Lifehacker pointed out that one light, fragrant emollient was already in most bathrooms: hair conditioner. Just a couple of drops, lightly smeared on, is a fine shaving lubricant.

  28. rrutis1 says

    My dad couldn’t teach me to shave because before I left home to join the Navy there was nothing to shave. Then in boot camp they make you shave whether you have facial hair growing or not! Luckily for us, one of our company commanders was female and did a decent job of teaching us to not slice ourselves open while shaving non existent hair.

  29. Eric says

    There’s a line from a Leo Kottke song (“Jack Gets Up”) that I always found rather poignant.
    “If you look in the mirror it’s your father’s face.”

    Apologies to those that didn’t really know your fathers or had a bad relationship with them.

  30. steve1 says

    Get a safety razor and save some money. A safety razor blade costs about 5 cents. Get a synthetic shaving brush. No need for an animal hair shaving brush now a days. Get a shaving soap or cream in a puck container. Don’t use canned foam. There are chemicals in them you don’t want on your skin. Make shaving an opportunity for some selfcare and pampering. You could also shave like its 1899 and get a straight razor but there is a definite learning curve for them.