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June 13, 2013 9:17 am

Lawrence at Large: Of fathers, sons and haircuts

Written by Tom Lawrence

This will be the first year I can’t see or call my dad on Father’s Day.

Dad died in February at 92. While I can’t wish him a good dad’s day, I can hold dear the thousands of memories I have of him.

Dad came to mind when I stopped at the Sportsman Barber Shop Saturday afternoon, and I thought more about the relationships between fathers and sons when I left there after a good haircut and an enjoyable discussion with TJ Edgell.

TJ has been cutting hair for nearly 20 years. He didn’t think he wanted to follow his dad, Doug, into that line of work, he told me as he snipped away at my thinning, gray hair. But now he’s glad he did.

TJ said he had planned to be a guide; his love for the outdoors and hunting, which he picked up from his dad, was apparent from the decorations on the walls. A large bull elk stares as you sit down for a trim, and other animals that they took down over the years are mounted on the walls.

I hunted with my dad a few times, but only for pheasants. I was an environmentally friendly hunter — I returned the lead to the earth with my scatter-shot approach.

Dad, on the other hand, was an excellent shot. He learned how to aim at fast-flying birds as a boy during the Great Depression, when he would circle the section in an old pickup, his single-shot shotgun at the ready.

Dad told me that when he returned home, he had enough birds to feed the family. That kind of pressure will make you a good shot.

TJ said his dad didn’t push him into cutting hair. He just offered him an opportunity, and TJ realized he was good at it, and, just as important, that he enjoyed it. TJ also is adept at chatting with his customers, which is a big part of being a good barber, in my view.

I worked closely with Dad for more a decade, milking our cows, doing other chores on the farm and driving tractors in the fields. He hoped I would follow in his footsteps and work on the farm, as he did with his dad.

But, while I enjoyed a lot about farm life and showed an aptitude for running a dairy farm, I was interested in either being a teacher or a writer. Dad accepted that, and became the biggest booster I had when my work started to be published.

He was always supportive, but at the same time, he would mention in passing that there was always a need for more dairymen. And you’re good with cows, he would say. He kept that up until a few months ago, and at times I thought he had a very good point.

I didn’t bother TJ with this rush of memories as I sat in the chair and he did his job with skill and style.

We talked about politics in both Wyoming and my native South Dakota, and we agreed the Republicans have a huge edge in both states and will for the foreseeable future. TJ asked me why South Dakota had ever elected as many liberal Democrats to Congress as it has over the past half-century, and I offered an explanation on the two sides of the state, with the conservative West River and the more moderate East River.

We talked about pheasant hunting, and why eyebrow and nose hair explodes as we age, but the thatch atop our heads thins. Neither of us had a firm opinion why, but we agreed it was a deplorable fact of life.

My dad would have enjoyed the conversation.

Dad liked getting his hair cut, and Lord, how that man loved to talk. He would discuss politics, farming and anything else, for that matter. In his last few years, Dad met a barber from North Carolina who had a leisurely approach to his work.

They both enjoyed Dad’s time in the chair. They would chat and exchange stories, and the barber, his southern accent thick and slow, would pause from his toil to tell us about his adventures back home.

As a kid, I remember getting my hair cut at our hometown barber while Dad egged him on and teased me.

The barber, a kind man named Willie Nelson — no, not that one — would smile as Dad asked him to trim a little more off while I squirmed under the cloth. It was the 1970s, and like most teen boys in those days, I liked it long and rarely touched by a barber’s shears.

Dad, a traditionalist who kept his hair neatly trimmed, found considerable fault with that. He wanted his sons to keep their hair above their shirt collar, while my older brother and I wanted to let the freak flag fly.

When my friend Ray started to go to a stylist, and I once mentioned an interest in that, Dad was fed up. We were working on some farm equipment as I dropped that little gem in his ear.

He swore in disgust, something he rarely did. He said he didn’t know what the world was coming to and made some rather unflattering remarks. I shook my long, thick mane of dark-brown hair in response, and we silently agreed to end the discussion then and there.

It was a discussion a lot of fathers and sons had over the years.

TJ said he had a high school buddy who wore his hair long, played guitar and generally accepted the role of the local hippie. But a few years after TJ took up the scissors, his friend stopped by the Sportsman and asked to have most of it removed.

A short-haired young guy, who came in as my haircut reached its end, enjoyed the story and said most of his friends wanted their hair kept short and neat.

Dad would be proud of them.

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