I always knew my dad would never retire.
I remember him waking up before us all, making our sacked lunches, and driving us to school in his plumbing van. My sister sat on a bucket between the seats, and we blasted Red Hot Chili Peppers on the way there.
That night, 7 to 9, he would come in after an overtime day working plumbing and construction. We all loved him coming home, and cornered him and his time. Sometimes he’d be so tired he would fall asleep the moment we’d turn away during a conversation, but he did his best to talk, watch history shows together on PBS, or a sci-fi movie on tape with us, even after a long day of work.
These nights we talked, had dinner, laughed, and sometimes forgot he was our dad. When he came home, it was like seeing your best friend walk into the door.
When he did get rare time to himself, he crafted.
He was always working with his hands, and hated being idle. He was a burly guy, stout, strong enough to lift several sacks of concrete atop his shoulders, and carry them across a parking lot. But this was a surprise when you knew him through his work.
He made things for his home (sometimes, as in his mother’s case, actually rebuilt the home), he collected edged weapons like swords, axes, archery equipment. He crafted the finest medieval shields, and sent them all over the world to be used in combat sports and reenactment. All with amazing attention to detail.
In many of these hobbies, it was a shared interest between he and I.
I’d set up the shields that he would shoot with a longbow. I’d throw him a squash to chop in half with a bastard sword. And thanks to the internet, I would pitch him an idea for a new hobby every year or so, and he’d sign up, and we’d do it together. Paintball, archery, knifemaking, you name it. We shared it.
As we both got older, and had new families, we put our heads down and started working harder. During this time, I saw him enter the age where he should either graduate to some foreman level of construction, or think about leaving hard labor.
While our time for share hobbies decreased, we began to dream.
Since my father was a knifemaker (his more recent pursuit of the decade), and I had started a hobby business selling straight razors, we started to working on a retirement idea.
It was called ShaveSmith.
I would work hard and sell the best straight razors, and when ShaveSmith was grown up enough, he’d come in and leave some of his hard labor behind, and work at the forge, or grinder.
I worked on this dream for years, till this day. I studied straight razors intensely, uncovering razor forging and grinding secrets, and began making heirlooms that we were both proud of. By the end of 2013, my work was attracting acclaim from shaving hobbyists and knife collectors.
It was hard work but good work. We didn’t see each other much at this time, but we talked nearly every week. I’d call on my lunch, and he would pick up, despite never really taking much of a lunch break. We’d chat for 45 minutes, and I’d pump him up with the idea of making razors, and he would tell me about designs and materials we could work with together, even though he was in the middle of replacing a bathroom.
On one call, I told him that I secured a big contract to make a batch of razors (well, big for me, more than a few at a time), and asked if he would come help make them. He was ecstatic, came down from the mountains, visited my workshop, and started working with me.
Those few days on that project were the start of our dream.
The dream of working together felt close.
This made me studying harder, work harder, learning better ways to make a razor, discover new techniques, and encouraged me to leave my part time job behind razors all day.
I was going to build something great, and we’d make this dream our workday.
During Christmas of 2016 I was in the thick of holiday crafting when I got a voicemail from my sister screaming “why don’t you pick up the phone, dad is in the hospital and has had a heart attack”.
My heart stopped.
It wasn’t just a heart attack, it was heart failure. About ⅓ of his heart had died when doctors knocked off plaque that collected in his arteries in his heart chamber. An hour and half of CPR kept him alive, only to be rushed into one of the best heart treatment clinics in the world, where he was hooked up to a life support system that pulled his blood from his body, oxygenated it, and put it back.
Soon after visiting him and hearing his voice, I told my customers that I had to step away from making razors to be with him, and couldn’t be working full time.
I honestly had no idea how long it would take for my dad to recover, but knew I had to be away.
My father was young, just 50, and a body hardened and healthy from decades of labor. By that measure we all knew he’d get better. But, he smoked, didn’t eat well, and stress got the best of him. But even with these flaws, doctors and family thought he’d get well.
The next two months I don’t care to visit in detail.
My sister and I watched our best friend, and strong father get thinner, with extra life support systems being added every few weeks. We began to see his recovery move further away. None of us believed this could happen.
He passed in February.
Too fast to remember in detail, to painful to want to.
His love and friendship leaving this world created an empty that I never felt before in my life.
My dad was my best friend, and now he was gone.
Following his passing, I had a handful of razors to do from my time away, and more coming in. I told myself that I was going to muscle through this rough patch and catch up.
But I went to work, and the blades didn’t come out of me in the same way.
I remember sitting at the grinder, getting ready to do a razor design I loved, and crying.
Suddenly I saw it all at once: ShaveSmith, the razors I was making, and my dad’s absence in our dream.
We planned something special. We were going to spend several days a week together, grinding blades, watching movies, and eating lunch together. I had visions of his grandchild visiting us both in the workshop.
All this was gone.
In reflection was about 20% of the person I was before my dad passed. I’d work on one thing on the morning, and somehow it would be night. Not sure what happened to time, but it passed.
I became very hard on myself for not banging out razors with the love and enthusiasm I used to.
This became a very dark time for me. I would catch up, and fall behind, catch up, and again, fall behind.
Life felt heavy.
Time does heal.
Shortly after summer was winding down, I began to have some footing with the thoughts of my father and craft. Work was coming more quickly from my hands. Life was feeling better.
It culminated to August, when I had a unique opportunity to move from my workshop in my home, to a big, industrial sized workshop.
With the love and support of my wife, I signed up, and moved my anvil into the first space that wasn’t my home. I could work in the middle of the night without bothering my neighbors (they’ve been very nice to me, and my late nights of grinding). I could run heat treatment and grinding at the same time!
It was a major victory moving into my workshop. I could grow my craft, ShaveSmith, and have it be a home away from home.
Though, I couldn’t help but think about setting up, and having all this space for another craftsman, and wish it were my dad. I had built the shop for us both to be in, but only one of us was here to craft.
From August to December, I took my life into a very good direction. I worked hard on steel, and worked hard on myself.
I would catch up, and fall behind still, but it wasn’t like it used to be. The number of projects I was behind on were much lower, and I could get them done, just as I liked, with speed and confidence.
Life didn’t feel so heavy any more.
This bring me to today.
I’m officially back in the shop after the holidays, which normally is my favorite time of year, but this year was the first without my best friend, forging partner, and father.
It hurt quite a bit to feel the shorter days, and pretend to not be reminded of last year.
I get through this knowing that the loss of my father needs to be a source of strength. He would be proud of me, my razors, and what I built for us. While he’s not here to share this with me, his memory gets put into the steel I send home.
To all the customers I have now – thank you.
I’m making your razors with all my heart and soul, and putting in the good hours to make heirlooms for you. I know now, more than ever, the value of what we pass on.
If you have any questions about your project, just drop me a line.
I’ve been a bit slow these last few weeks, processing what this time of year means, so my apologies for not responding with my usual promptness.
I’m 32 years old, and it’s a new year – a good time to remind ourselves what a proper shave truly means:
A straight razor shave is a declaration of celebrating the simple acts of life. Why spend one minute living without meaning and challenge, when we know that life is beautiful and short.
We shave with a straight razor because it grounds us, give us time to take care of ourselves, and reflect.
Our shaves proclaim the life we want to live, and the values we wish pass on to those we love, and someday will leave behind.