What I learned from giving haircuts


In his 81st year my Daddy’s regular barber aged out, being himself, in his 90’s.  For a few weeks Daddy searched and considered prospects for someone new to cut his hair.  Finding no real satisfactory solution, and hearing I had some clippers for the limited purpose of thinning my sideburns between haircuts, he aspirationally decided I had adequate credentials to audition for the job. I was summarily drafted. With no training, formal or informal, the learning curve was steep.  Mercifully, Daddy cared not how short the haircut became in order to even out the gaps his new barber made in his hair.  (Truly, I now realize Daddy wasn’t concerned about his haircuts at all.)

Thus, began a routine of every 21 days showing up at Daddy’s house around 6:30 a.m., pulling the braided area rug back, getting the tall bar chair centered under the good fluorescent light in his den, and plugging in the strawberry colored extension cord.   I added to my barber tools over time, new clippers with color coded guards, better shears and a blue and white striped fabric barber’s apron for Daddy to keep the trimmings from falling into his shirt and itching him.  Somewhere along the way, I grasped an elementary concept of blending and fading.

Daddy was still a very active man at 81, while the tractor rolling over him and breaking his back at age 79 had slowed him down, he still engaged in most every activity his heart desired. From cut to cut he knew where to sit, which direction to face, and to take off his glasses before I began.  As time passed, he moved more carefully, starting to slide his feet, and asked where to sit, though the barber chair position never changed.  With the incremental march of diabetes, he began to tell me he just had to eat breakfast before we could start the haircut.  When I would finish the haircut, nose hair, ear hair, and eyebrow trims, he would patiently wait while I shook his hair from the apron out in the yard and for Mama to get out the old cast iron vacuum cleaner he had remanufactured many times over and suction up the clippings from her floor before moving.  When he moved, time was not friendly. Balance escaping him, often he would collapse into his recliner before I could reposition the rug back under it.  I watched my Daddy, gracefully, age. 

For a very long time I thought I was doing something for my Daddy by giving him a haircut. He knew it was about spending time with me.  Actually, he was giving me the gift. What really happened was Daddy cunningly captured the time of a busy son.  Daddy commanded a 40 minute captive audience with me every three weeks for five years.

During the haircuts Daddy made sure I knew what was important to him in his family, church and world.  He shared with me good sermons, singing that had impressed him and kind acts of his neighbors.  He told me his particular concerns about my driving (too fast), my work (too much) and my family (what really mattered).  Daddy could read me and had a unique ability to eventually draw me out to share and address what was actually gnawing at me beneath the surface.  He shared with me his simple and complete faith in God, gave me wise counsel and unconditional love. 

Ten days ago I gave Daddy his last haircut.  He died yesterday.  I am going to miss those haircuts so much.

Christopher Collins is judge for the Eighth Circuit District of Mississippi. He resides in Union.


Funeral services for William Burton were held at 11 a.m. Monday, May 14 at Thomas & Jones... READ MORE