This is something I wrote several years ago, but it feels right to post it today -- in his memory.
Checking my rear view mirror at a red light on my way to work one morning, I noticed that the guy in the car behind me was shaving. Glancing in his rear view mirror, he buzzed the electric razor around his chin and neck, feeling for missed whiskers with his other hand.
When I was a little girl, my dad used to shave with a mug full of soap, a short stubby brush, and a safety razor. I positioned myself next to him beside the bathroom sink, looking up and watching, mesmerized, as he brushed on a soapy beard and moustache, then methodically scraped it all off until he was Dad again. My close inspection would occasionally earn me a little foam goatee or sideburns. When he finished shaving, pink-cheeked and smooth, he sometimes splashed on a bit of the Old Spice aftershave my sister and I had given him for Father's Day.
I remember standing by myself on a step stool in front of the mirror, soaping up my own little girl face and using a corner of a washcloth to scrape it off the way I'd seen him do it: downward stokes, left to right.
My dad was always particular about the way he looked; it was a rare day when he chose not to shave. He liked to dress sharp and always kept his shoes shined. He did not learn these things from his father, my Grampa Mike, a Russian immigrant who once absentmindedly stuck a sock, instead of a handkerchief, into his breast pocket.
Even when my dad's body started falling apart at age 81, grooming was important to him. With a close shave and combed hair, he felt a little like his old self, even though he knew the old self was never coming back.
From winter to spring during the last year of his life, Dad was in and out of hospitals. He suffered many indignities, experienced a lot of pain and wept easily. One sunny day, sitting outside for the first time in weeks, he folded over, sobbing and keening, with the intense anguish of a man aware of his loosening grasp on a life he loved. During those months, he often spoke wistfully about his days as a young father with two little girls who called him Daddy, back when he shaved in front of an adoring and mystified audience.
At the end, my dad was cared for at home by a thoughtful attendant who kept him bathed, combed and shaved. There was a great deal of love and care in these simple, touching acts -- the only things that allowed him to keep his dignity. I have one final memory: the feel of my dad's smooth cheek as I gave him a last goodbye kiss.
I keep a small picture of my father on my desk. Every time I get inspired and click the keys for hours, I look over at him and think: "Hey Dad -- Look, I'm a writer!"