Old Dogs & New Tricks

Recently, I’ve begun shaving with an old-fashioned straight razor. I’ve wanted to do this for a really long time, ever since I was a very little boy and my father would take me to his barbershop—an old downtown corner shop adorned with traditional spinning red, white and blue barber pole—where all the old Manongs would hang out, tell their exaggerated tales, and share news of the day. I can still remember the smell of barber antiseptic and pomade, the long, wide mirrors against one wall, the row of barber chairs that spun round and round. Back then, the sound of a straight razor being dragged along a leather strop was mysterious, hypnotic.

Now a straight razor, also known as a cutthroat razor, can be a dangerous thing. Using one requires patience, skill, and more than a modicum of hand-eye-face coordination. Blood will be drawn in the practice of this lost art form. So this element of danger is the reason why I had never attempted to use one until now. Thankfully, my daughter Paige is an accomplished and licensed barber, and offered to teach me the refined and gentlemanly art of shaving.

Picture this potentially comical scene: Daughter beside Father, lather dripping from his face as he leans angularly into the brightly-lit bathroom mirror, she patiently trying to teach him how to shave. And not commit suicide in the process.

It was only 17 years ago that a three-year-old version of Paige would stand beside me, watching me shave with a modern shaver, and I would give her a make-believe shaver made out of Legos so she could join me. Time flies.

Now, in her presence, I suddenly felt like Kung Fu Panda being trained by Master Shifu. Interestingly, while Paige is quite experienced in shaving others, she’s obviously never shaved her own face. So through this training process, she would occasionally take the razor from my hand and demonstrate on herself, showing me proper handling technique, face angles, and how to pull the skin taut to avoid nicks.

“Go slowly,” she would encourage, as she deftly wielded the razor. “Let the blade do the work.”

Stroke by clumsy stroke, I slowly coaxed the stubble from my face. But the coolness factor was off the charts. Yes, I drew blood, a small nick right below the right side of my lower lip. But I ended up with one of the smoothest shaves in recent memory. And a big smile on my face.

I share this with you because one of the things I’m learning in deeper and more profound ways is that you are never too old to learn. Especially from those who are younger. Indeed, I’ve had a number of mentor relationships in my life over the years, and I’ve learned as much from these young people as they have from me. There is so much that the younger generations can teach us—like passion and perspective and curiosity and the power of naivete, of not knowing what they cannot do. And part of the challenge is to not have eyes that become dim and near-sighted and jaundiced to that which is different and new and unknown.

As artists of faith, we need to purposefully enter into the intergenerational dialogue—where younger and older learn how to take turns being apprentice and master. Where are you engaged in relationships with people younger or older than yourself? Where are you sharing your art, or learning your art from others? Where have you become unknowingly rigid and unteachable? In the process of living out your faith through your art, where are you humbling yourself to those younger than yourself, and older to yourself?

[Photo Credits: (1) Tim Mossholder on Unsplash; (2, 3) My daughter Paige at work. Yeah, I’m pretty proud of her.]

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