Shaving: Things My Three Sons Better Know Before Moving Out


As a father to three sons, I have embarked on a mission to impart in them life lessons of the utmost importance. These are my stories.

Life Lesson #33- Shaving Without Major Facial Lacerations

The peach fuzz had become problematic. The wispy shadow on the upper lip was noticeable, even to those not standing within a few feet. So father and son went into the bathroom for an application of shaving cream, from one corner of the mouth to the other. A few downward swipes with the razor and the mustache, such as it was, disappeared (at least for a week or so).

This anecdote is from my adolescence. I was at my dad’s house in Butte, MT when he got fed up with the growth under my nose and gave me my first lesson in face grooming. Soon after he bought me an electric shaver which carried me for several years.

This anecdote is also from my oldest son’s adolescence. Just a few weeks ago Josh, at 13, asked me to help him with his caterpillar, which was starting to annoy him. As chance would have it, this took place during Movember, so next year he and I could, conceivably, both participate. Days later my wife bought him his own electric shaver (more on that later).

“The symbolism of the first shave is pretty obvious. For the boy, it represents entry into puberty.”

In this fatherhood series, I have written about skills I want to teach my sons (like grilling and fixing toilets), values I want to instill (such as civil rights and vegetarianism), and formative experiences (backpacking, for instance). This lesson, in particular, is about a rite of passage for sons and fathers.

Rite of passage is defined by as “any important act or event that serves to mark a passage from one stage of life to another.” Psychological definitions are pretty close to that, such as activities “utilized to signify life transitions.” Many stage theories, which delineate human development in phases, incorporate rites of passage. In Identity and the Life Cycle, Erik Erikson wrote about 8 life stages, each of which is partly defined by a conflict to be resolved in order for growth to occur.

Rites of passage vary widely in substance but exist in all cultures. Some rites of passages, such as female circumcision and alcohol consumption, have come under fire. Others are more benign, such as getting a driver’s license or landing a first job.

The symbolism of the first shave is pretty obvious. For the boy, it represents entry into puberty. Facial hair is a physical representation of circulating hormones. Shaving that hair is a metaphor for getting a handle on all the changes occurring within the young male body.

Which has me wondering . . . do moms teach their daughters how to shave their legs? Is leg-shaving something that starts at the outset of puberty? How big of a deal is that? I’ll have to do some research.

Anyway, both the hirsute necessity of shaving and the shaving process are markers of puberty, which, as we all know, is largely about preparing bodies for reproduction in the future. Erikson’s 5th stage addresses the adolescent’s formation of sexual identity. He described confusion and uncertainty about age-appropriateness of new activities. Parents can be critical in clearing up confusion.

Which brings me to what I want Josh and my other two sons to know about shaving. First, equipment matters. Shaving soap and brush are the way to go. Lathering up with a brush just feels good and you’re doing the environment a favor by keeping cans out of landfills. If I’m traveling, though, I prefer canned gel to cream because I like how the gel lathers up during application.

“Shaving that hair is a metaphor for getting a handle on all the changes occurring within the young male body.”

But first, always apply a hot washcloth to your face for about 30 seconds. This softens whiskers and, like using the brush, it feels good. If shaving is going to be a life-long, daily ritual, why not make it an enjoyable sensory experience?

With your skin warmed and face lathered, the actual shaving can commence. Down strokes, down strokes, down strokes! I don’t get how anyone can shave with upward motions- it’s awkward and cutting against the whisker grain is really irritating. That being said, I do make a few horizontal strokes along my jaw lines (from ear to chin) to get some spots that are tough to reach with down strokes. But do not, under any circumstances, slide the razor laterally (yikes!).

I advocate shaving and then showering to rinse away lather remnants. Also, this is the best way to clean those occasional bloody nicks that even experienced, skilled shavers can incur. I’m not in favor of shaving in the shower, mainly because I can’t see what I’m doing. I’ve found that lathering doesn’t work well if I’m really sweaty, in which case showering has to happen first (which does soften up the whiskers).

Some shaves are better than others. The hot washcloth feels exceptionally nice. The soap really lathers up well. I nail applying the lather to my face (nothing up my nostrils, for instance). I’m efficient with my strokes, leave behind no straggling whiskers, and emerge nick-free. A good shave portends a great day!

On the flip side, some shaves just suck. There’s not enough hot water for the washcloth. Some soap gets into my mouth. I have trouble navigating my Adam’s apple. I’m hemorrhaging over the sink. A bad shave portends a crappy day.

The symbolism of the first shave is pretty obvious. Shaving is a metaphor for getting a handle on all the changes occurring within the young male body.

My shaving off Josh’s mustache was just a primer. I covered some of these pointers, like how to use a brush and the critical importance of downward strokes. But I have work yet to do and he will require supervised practice.

For the time being, Josh will make do with his electric shaver. What he’s losing in ritual and sensory experience he’s gaining inconvenience. When his beard thickens we will have to up his shaving game. But right now his peach fuzz has no chance against that shaver.

Be sure to check back next month for another of Craig’s Life Lessons for his sons. Have a suggestion? Something you are teaching your son or daughter? Please share in a comment!

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Dr. Craig Pohlman
Craig is a learning expert who has helped thousands of struggling students in his psychology career. He’s written extensively about learning issues, including the book How Can My Kid Succeed in School? He has three sons, so he has been up close and personal with things like cramming for tests, scrambling to finish homework, shuttling kids to sports practices, stuffing backpacks, etc. Follow him on Twitter - @DrCraigPohlman


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