My Dad hasn’t had a barbershop haircut since 1968. He’s fiercely proud of the stance. It’s political.
When I first heard Dad’s bald confession, I was in Kelowna for a visit and I needed a trim. My folks had recently moved here after Dad retired from his professorship at the University of Winnipeg.
As we entered Pete’s on Ellis Avenue, sun was streaming into the shop. Judy was sweeping up her last client’s shearings, Louie was grumpily complaining about the previous night’s losses at the casino, and Pete himself was trading lies with councillor “Smiley” Nelson.
I slid into Judy’s chair and prepared for the crap shoot of the haircut-to-come. Dad remained in the open doorway, sun streaming through his mop, and announced to all assembled, “I haven’t had a haircut since 1968… It’s Trudeau’s fault!” And with that he chuckled and launched into one of his many stories as I cringed and sank slowly into Judy’s chair wishing that Dad might depart for Mosaic Books before I died of embarrassment.
We had moved from Winnipeg that summer for Dad’s new position at Waterloo Lutheran University. I was barely five, but I remember the Trudeaumania that swept through Tory Blue southern Ontario and the rest of the country. It was a wave that would shape Canada for decades to come. A wave that would remain permanently perched atop my Dad’s head. A head that looked remarkably like Trudeau’s own: patrician, eyes dancing with intelligence and wit, and a Devil-may-care attitude when it came to hair length. Trudeau’s example was all Dad needed to simply trim his own hair in perpetuity.
I don’t remember how the others responded to Dad’s story; but it’s one I chuckle over to this day with Judy, my barber, who continues to sculpt my thinning hair at a new barbershop.
And I continue to chuckle, now without embarrassment, every time that I get a chance to see my Dad. You see, my Dad is not well, and I don’t know how many Fathers Days we have left together.
Of course, aside from his surreal inability to walk freely – a man who heretofore walked about six kilometers every morning before breakfast – you wouldn’t know my Dad will not recover from last year’s cancer diagnosis. He’s as hale and hearty as always. And what a year it’s been -- probably the best year of my life.
We don’t focus on the future much when we’re together. Instead, we exist in a persistent Now that began at the time that I began to formulate questions and drive my Dad nuts.
You see, my Dad has a dedication to scholarship equal to that of my Mum’s unstinting service to others. In memory, I can see my Dad in his library, surrounded by books, reams of paper and his beloved Parker ballpoints, cranking out sermons, scholarly papers, and more books published than you can hold on a single shelf – in fact his latest book, a study of Martin Luther and his many enemies will be published later this year. But he always had time for his interrupting son.
We have always talked about the Big Questions. These days the conversation is more intense, more penetrating. Our recent study of the Book of Job has affected us both deeply and permanently. Our dialogue concerning the injustice of suffering, the nature of Evil, the deafening silence of an ostensibly loving Maker, has been a defining experience for us both.
Friends envy me, of course. I don’t blame them. Not everyone has the luxury of a truly kind and gentle father to influence them. A father who suffered great privation on Russian soil; a father who lost his own father and his paternal grandfather to Soviet secret police death squads at the age of six; a father who endured the foibles and indignities perpetrated by his own sons with patience.
But my brothers and I do share the luxury of a good father. And, brother, believe me, you have no idea how lucky we are for it.
A good father will not crush a child with ego and envy. A good father will raise a kid the best he can, with whatever talents he has to share, and hope for the best. In my Dad’s case, his gifts to me are the World and the Word; but the greatest gift of all is his endless Love.
For better or worse I am my father’s son, even if Judy does continue to sculpt my head each month. When I go in for the next trim, you can be sure Judy will ask about my Dad. And I won’t know when to stop.
— Having lost his 2,500 volume library in the Okanagan Mountain Park Fire, Jeffrey is beginning to fill the void by writing his own. Reach him at jeff.loewen(at)gmail.com