It would not be a long visit. Dad was in the hospital. The cancer had come back, and the outlook was bleak. "I know you're busy Richard, the holidays and all," Mom had said, "But I think Dad would like to see you." She didn't have to finish the sentence. She never did anyway. I knew. I was on the next plane.
You're never quite prepared to see you father in the hospital. You'd rather be bowling, or golfing, or working in the gardens together -- anywhere else. That was in the past now. He smiled when I came into the room. "I'm glad you came, Son." I leaned over his bed and gave him a hug, careful not to hurt him. We had never been hugging men; but that, too, was in the past now. "I'm glad I'm here."
We talked nonstop. It was unusual for us. In the past we could spend hours side by side, and just a few words would suffice. In the season that we had grown apart we didn't talk at all. Now the shared memories came spilling out as we put the finishing touches on our relationship. There was a procession of visitors -- neighbors, friends, his pastor, even one of my old girl friends. Every one had a story, and it surprised me how much laughter and how little sadness was in the room.
The two days went quickly, too quickly. I stopped in at the hospital on the morning of the last day before heading to the airport. We were quieter. The words weren't necessary for what we had begun to feel. "I'll have to be going in a little while."
"I know. It's OK, Son. It was good to see you."
"Can I do anything for you before I go, Dad?"
He hesitated, then said: "Yes, would you be willing to give me a shave? I haven't had a good shave since I got to the hospital."
I was stunned. As a child I loved to watch my daddy shave. We'd stand in the bathroom in our underwear. He'd lather up and then soap my face just like his. And while he shaved, I pretended. It was a silly, sacred ritual -- a bonding that I had all but forgotten. Now he was asking me for a shave.
I found his old razor and the tube of shaving creme in the kit he had brought with him -- they were so familiar even after all these years. I filled a bowl with hot water and found a face cloth. With the bed raised, the pillow fluffed and a towel spread under his chin to keep him dry, I began the ritual. First the face cloth, warmed with the hot water, wrung out and held gently to his face to soften the whiskers. Then a little bit of water on the face to receive the cream. When I opened the tube, it was the same aroma I remembered as a child. Dad's eyes were closed but he was clearly enjoying this. I spread the creme and prepared the razor. I was so afraid that I would cut him. He was so trusting. Dip the razor in the water, shave a few strokes. Dip, shave. Dip, shave. It didn't take that long. When we finished shaving, I got some clean hot water and washed his face. He put his hand up and felt his face and smiled. I handed him the mirror and he took a long, satisfied look. "Son, that's the best shave ever. Thanks!
Soon it was time to go. We hugged, gently. "I love you, Dad." "I love you too, Son." We had only lately learned to say that. It felt good. What felt better was the trust that had finally established itself between us -- a trust that had made it possible for a son to give his father the best shave ever. It is a holy remembrance, sacramental even. Love is like that -- born in due season of common things made holy by the amazing grace and surprising Presence of God.
Copyright 2005, F. Richard Garland.
The Rev. Richard Garland is a retired United Methodist elder who currently lives in Rhode Island. You may read more of the Rev. Garland's essays on his web page "From Where I Sit." He is also a composer, and a number of his works are on the Discipleship Ministries worship website.