* Warning: This is a long entry, more for my benefit than yours, but I’d love if you read it and share your own stories. *
The Razor and Pipe. If I’m ever in a position to claim a garage or outbuilding as my own, this is what I’m going to name it. My hope is that it will become a communal meeting ground for the men in my life to come and hang out around a fire, smoke a pipe or share a pint of homebrew. More and more I’m feeling the need to have a dedicated “man space” where I can just be with my friends and talk, or not talk, about life. It is a niche in my life that needs filling.
In my mind, straight razors and pipes combine tradition, ritual, manliness and contemplation with a bit of edgy adventure. I’ve stories about each and I’m finding only now just how much those stories have shaped me.
My great-uncle Harold was a good, old-fashioned barber. He and his wife used to run their own barber shop/salon. I would get my hair cut there as a kid (except for the time I wanted a mohawk – that Uncle Harold refused to do) and I remember feeling different when I walked into his shop. Here was a “man space” where men from multiple generations would gather to talk or look through the various magazines as they listen to the latest gossip around town. It seemed to me that Harold knew everything that everyone was doing and could converse about anything. I admired that about him and I think my varied interests come from overhearing those half-remembered conversations.
Well, one day, when I was a teenager and had started shaving, I asked Uncle Harold about getting a straight razor, like the one I’d seen in his shop. He put up quite the fuss and launched into an extended monologue about how much safer cartridge razors were and how I had no business messing around with professional tools. Danger, tool, professional – three words that hooked me instantly. I remember walking away from that conversation convinced that I would one day make straight razor shaving a part of my life.
It’s been a little over a decade since then and I’m slowly assembled the tools of the trade. The last two items I’m looking for are a quality razor and strop. I’m close to finding both and I couldn’t be more excited. Since my wife likes me bearded, we will have to forge a facial-hair compromise.
Some of my earliest childhood memories come flooding back when I catch a whiff of pipe tobacco. My maternal grandfather, Hank, was a pipe smoker and every infrequent trip to his house brought about an onslaught if smells. Wether it was the pipe tobacco in the living room, the sawdust in his basement or the fish in the lake, every trip to Hank’s was a new experience. I don’t actually remember my grandfather well, he was really distant as a dad and grandparent, but I do remember the smells and associating them with some solid, stoic and unchanging. Hank wasn’t much of a role model for many things, so I was surprised as I was walking and thinking about this entry that memories of him came to mind. But in my boyhood memory, Hank was set apart in hazy, aromatic manliness. Though I didn’t particularly like him, there was something about Hank that demanded my respect. I can’t articulate it better than that, but I get hints of it whenever I smell pipe tobacco or look at pipes.
I’ve been wading through these memories recently because I feel like I’m on the hunt for authentic masculinity. The role models I see for my generation (mid 30’s to mid teens) are atrocious. One can either choose to be a disengaged gamer, overgrown meathead or trendy effeminate. Very few of my generation think about “careers”, instead they think about the various jobs they need to take in order to make ends meet. I feel like my entire generation is adrift in meaninglessness and ennui. There are few quality role models and no one seems quite sure how to make the jump from boy to man – does it happen at 18 or 21? Does it happen when you father a child or buy a house? No one seems to know and we have a huge percentage of young men living at home, living below their potential and squandering their time on World of Warcraft. Yuck.
The Razor and Pipe is, for me, a call to arms against the slipshod manliness that I see. I want a breeding ground for men of honor, courage, integrity, compassion, creativity, ingenuity and grit. I want to be surrounded by men worthy of respect, who hold me to a high standard and who call out what is best in me. I want to be surrounded by a group of men who challenge me, support me, lead me and follow me. I want to learn the skills that they have to teach and to share what I’ve acquired through the years. And, more than anything, I want to help the younger ones, and the generation under them, make the jump from boyhood to manhood with certainty.
So, who’s with me? Who wants to see if this dog can hunt? I don’t care how old or young you are, only that you are a man looking for more who wants to help other men be men. Ladies, I appreciate you and your support, but you can’t come. But you can send your husbands, brothers and sons with your blessing, giving them to stretch and grow and become the men God created them to be.