My dad shaved off his mustache on Saturday. He had it for thirty eight years. That’s almost as long as he’s had the black dress socks that he wore at my Bar Mitzvah. He also wore those socks to my best friend Zak’s wedding last weekend.
So my dad likes to keep things. For a pretty long time. His mustache was one of those things. You might even call him a pack rat of mustaches. His was thick — not one of those pencil thin mustaches that a twenty-something hipster or Clark Gable might have. No, my dad’s mustache was healthy looking and vibrant, like Ron Burgundy from Anchorman, if I had to pick a fictional mustache to liken it to.
Even after it started to get salt and peppery a few years ago, it remained a prominent girth that covered what my sister described as “an oversized upper lip that would look weird without something to cover it.” I think my dad agreed with her observation. Maybe that’s why he kept it for so long.
My dad always trimmed his mustache very meticulously and wore it, I think, with a nostalgic wink to his own father, my Papa Ted, and the male facial hair styles of the 1950s. My dad’s mustache was, in a sense, timeless. Not timeless like the mustache’s of Wyatt Earp or Rollie Fingers, though. Those were both pretty gross. My dad’s mustache was, in fact, quite pleasant.
According to the legend, my mom had been indirectly asking dad to shave off his mustache for the entirety of their marriage. That’s twenty-nine years of passive-aggressive nudging and hinting that he should remove that iconic and defining thatch of hair that covered his oversized upper lip.
Then, Saturday morning, I got a picture message from my mom. It was a strangely unrecognizable man that sort of looked like my Uncle Alan. I quickly realized that this was my naked lipped father and that what my mom had sent me and my sister was a triumphantly smug virtual telegram that stated simply, “Look. I won.”
It was gone. The most recognizable physical trait on my father’s face (aside from the sun spot sprouting below his right eye) was reduced to clippings in and around the sink.
“The whole thing was off in two minutes,” he told me over the phone. He had called to hear my reaction literally moments after the jarring news hit. ”I think it’s pretty cool,” I told him reassuringly. ”And you look like your brother.”
“It’s a birthday gift for your mother,” he replied. My dad made it seem like he’d been planning this for a long time. Maybe he’s actually not a mustache pack rat. Maybe this was a sweet, simple gesture that appeased both my mom (or so the legend is told) and made dad feel a little more young. A little more hip.
I’m sure shaving in an area that you haven’t shaved in thirty eight years is pretty daunting. But my dad seemed to handle it with a cool, breezy confidence.
Here are a few things I’ll always remember about my dad’s mustache:
- How bristly it was
- How he’d puff out his top lip with his tongue to trim it
- The way he wore it for 38 years, not because it was cool or ironic, but because he didn’t know any other way
- It’s salt-n-pepperiness in recent years
- How it made him look like Randy Marsh from South Park
- How it was never a beard
- How it wasn’t Gene Shalit’s mustache
- How it was never a goatee
- How it was never a chin strap
- How it made him look like Tom Selleck in Mr. Baseball
- How he’d get icicles on it when we went skiing
Lots of dads shave their mustaches. Some let them grow back and some enter a new phase in their life where they don’t resemble a ’80s TV star or an Iranian.
Whichever path my dad chooses, I’ll support.
Hopefully the next thing he gets rid of will be those socks.
Happy 29th anniversary, Mom & Dad. I love you.
by Aaron Kaczander