My face began sprouting hair when I was in high school. I was thrilled. I couldn’t wait to get my first razor and start shaving like a real man. It had been sis weeks since I had been home. I returned to our Long Beach home from Our Lady Queen of the Angels seminary, a Catholic boarding school for high school boys that wanted to become priests. My mother, a young 36 year old Hispanic woman showed her displeasure. She looked at my upper lip and chin. Her lips pouted.
“I’m not old enough to have a son who shaves,” she said. Her lips returned to their pout.
I was thrilled that she noticed, even if she wasn’t happy with my fuzzy upper lip. I was glad that somebody else noticed.
“When can you or dad take me to the store to buy a razor?” I asked with my eyes aglow.
“Come with me to the bathroom,” she said.
I followed her thinking that they had prepared for this occasion. I followed her with a big smile on my face assuming that she and my father had purchased a new razor for me. When I entered the bathroom, my mother opened the cupboard door under the sink. She knelt down and pulled out a box. Were they hiding my new razor in there? I wondered.
My mother’s scowl switched to a smile. “I found it,” she said. She held a small tubular container in her hand. “Sit down,” she said pointing to the toilet seat.
I put the lid down and sat on it. “Is that some kind of shaving cream?”
My father used a cup with a bar of shaving soap inside. He had a special brush with a round wooded handle and long yellow bristles. The tube my mother held in her hand looked nothing like my father’s off white round bar of shaving soap.
My mother’s eyes squinted as she read the label on the mysterious tube in her hand.
“I want you to use this Nair,” she said as she handed me the tube.
“Nair? What’s Nair?” I asked.
“If you start shaving with a razor now, your beard will come in thicker, she said.
“Yeah! That’s good,” I said. “I can grow a thick beard.”
“No, you won’t!” she almost yelled. “You are my boy. I don’t want you to have a beard. I’m too young to have a son who can grow a mustache. This Nair is a hair remover.”
I couldn’t believe what she was saying. My mustache and beard, (OK fuzz on my face) meant that I was becoming a man. I didn’t want to be a boy any longer than necessary. She may have thought that she was not old enough to have a bearded son, but I was certainly old enough to be a man and shave. My father hadn’t returned home from his mail delivery route yet. I needed him for support. I knew that he would let my mother make me use Nair.
To my relief, I heard my dad’s car drive up to the front of the house.
“Dad’s home!” I yelled and jumped up from the toilet seat. I ran down the hallway and greeted him as he walked in the front door.
“Look dad! I grew a mustache and beard!”
He smiled and said, “Well, let me see.” He held my chin and scanned my face. “Not quite yet,” he said. “Maybe in a few months.”
My shoulders sank. When my mother came out of the hall and into the living room, holding the container of Nair in her hand, I thought, Dad won’t make me use that stuff.
“He’s not old enough to start shaving,” she said. She lifted the Nair to show my dad. “We’ll have him use this so that his hair won’t come in as fast or as thick.”
My mother gave him that look that she uses on him when she becomes the boss of the house. I turned to my dad.
“I’m going to get a razor. Right, dad?”
I knew that my dad would side with me. He had to. I was a man. Men don’t use Nair.
“You don’t have a razor,” he said. “So why don’t you let your mother try the Nair on you for now,” my dad said.
I stopped breathing. I tried to reconfigure what I heard. Maybe I didn’t hear it right. Certainly, my father wouldn’t make me use Nair.
“Go with your mom and use it in the bathroom,” my father said.
I hung my head down. And then a wonderful thought entered my mind and a smile erupted on my face. My mother is a trickster. She isn’t really going to make me use Nair. But when we entered the bathroom she unscrewed the bottle top and ran a bead of Nair on her finger. My heart sank. My father stood behind me, blocking my escape.