L’il Shaver

When I was tiny — two or three — I’d get up every morning with my dad while my mom slept in. He would shower and shave, unashamedly naked in front of me. I recall looking at his body, studying it, so different from my own. It wasn’t just his penis I was fascinated by, but the size of him — tall and broad — and the hair on his arms and legs and chest. I wondered if I would one day be that tall and strong, with soft hair curling over my shins.

After his shower he would shave. He’d set me on the countertop next to him and apply shaving cream to my face, too, and give me a bladeless safety razor to scrape the foam off my cheeks.

I still shave the same way my dad taught me, cheeks first, then under the jaw, then chin, and last of all upper lip.

When he applied aftershave, I always begged for some, too. “Sweet stuff!” I’d demand, and he always obliged me, splashing a little of the astringent tonic on my face from his domed crystal bottle. It smelled like gin and juniper, like cleanliness and masculinity.

I wish I could find that aftershave now; I’d wear it every day.

I’ve spent hours Googling, trying to find a photo of that aftershave bottle, maybe even find one for sale on Ebay. It was distinctive, and pretty enough that surely someone kept one. Frosted pressed glass in a domed cylinder that looked a little like the dome of the National Gallery in London.

National Gallery Dome — photo by Erich Kesse

National Gallery Dome — photo by Erich Kesse

At the apex was a glass stopper topped with a textured sphere. There’s a drawing of the very bottle in one of my favorite books from childhood, In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendack. I remember being thrilled to discover the bottle of Daddy’s “Sweet Stuff” in my favorite book (and a little mystified as to why a bathroom item was in in the kitchen.)

See it there, on the right?

I was absolutely certain that one day I’d grow up and have a real beard and use a real razor in all its sharp glory to shave my face after every shower. I’d apply the sweet stuff when I was finished, just like my dad, and I’d wear wingtips and a suit and tie to go off to work, and carry a briefcase and stride with importance across a stone-tiled lobby to press elevator buttons I could reach without stretching.

My dad taught by example, but he also gave lessons. The man should always walk on the road side, to shield the woman he is escorting from passing traffic. The man offers his arm to his companion if the path is sippery or she is wearing difficult shoes. He stands when a woman enters the room, waits for her to be seated (and sometimes helps her to her seat) before he takes his own. He holds doors for her, opens and shuts her car door when she is his passenger, helps her in first to taxis and trains and busses, has a handkerchief at the ready in case she needs it, and always, always protects her.

He did these things for my mother and for me, with me playing the part of the girl because I was a child, and children were accorded the same chivalrous treatment from grown up men, but somehow I never understood that one day I was supposed to grow up to be the woman. I knew — knew — that the role I was understudying was my father’s, not my mother’s.

In retrospect, I have to assume my father thought he was teaching me how to be a lady, and what sort of treatment to expect from the men in my life.

I wonder now, did I misunderstand the lessons? Or was some inner bit already set by the time I was three that said “boy” and not “girl”, all physical evidence to the contrary? Surely the vast majority of “daddy’s girls” grow up comfortably and certainly female. If not, then there ought to be a whole lot more transmen out here.

I wasn’t really a daddy’s girl, anyway. I wasn’t daddy’s little princess; I was his shadow. I wanted, more than anything, to grow up not to marry a man like my father, but to be one.

I wonder, now that I’m finally working to make that a reality, what he makes of it.

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~ by Nezu on 25 August 2011.

2 Responses to “L’il Shaver”

  1. One thing we know for sure – he loves you, then and now, in all your beingness.

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