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Father Dominick Demands a Confession by Manny
Father Dominick watched with patient anticipation as the stranger near the back of the long line of congregants slowly inched his way to the altar to receive the host. He was not a sheep of his flock -- at least not one who had been to church since Father Dominick arrived a decade ago. As the young man moved forward, Father Dominick observed the confident looking man flick back his thick mane of dark brown hair that hung in a retro-shag cut toward his shoulders. The glossy locks shimmered in the warm glow of the cathedral chandeliers; a hint of the red stained glass gave them an almost surreal look.
As the tall stranger arrived at the altar he bowed his head as he knealt at Father Dominick's feet. The shimmering locks of hair cascaded forward shielding his face like an oversized monk's hood. When he looked up to take the wafer in his lips, the massive mane of hair tumbled back. Father Dominick was pleased with the handsome features of the stranger's face. The dark, heavy brows and the manly chin that reminded the priest of the exquisite look of one of the apostles in his favorite of Carvaggio's masterpieces. Or was his face that of mighty Sampson, asleep on Delilah's lap as she brought the shears to his glorious locks?! The stranger had an almost idylic look of satsifaction as he received the spiritual sustenance from Father Dominick's hand.
While the parishoners filed out of the church, Father Dominick anxiously scanned the crowd, hoping the stranger had not slipped out a side door. Relieved, he spotted the man, heading toward him....alone. "I'm Father Dominick and we're pleased you joined us for mass today. Are you visiting?" he asked, extending his hand.
The stranger gave it a very firm handshake and held it momentarily as he replied. "The pleasure was all mine. That was a lovely service. I'm Samuel Sorbino -- just moved here from Harrisburg," he said as he flicked his mane back so that the massive forelock rested away from his dazzling green eyes.
"Well, I look forward to ministering to you as the newest addition to my flock. I take my role as a pastor very seriously, Samuel, and want to do whatever I can to help your transition be smooth and pleasant. Drop by the rectory sometime this week, so we can get to know each other better. I'd like to help you get connected to the right people who can help meet your needs the best. Of course, I'll tend to your spiritual needs; I'll see you at the confessional booth regularly, I hope. We're a traditional church here, so be sure you've made a proper confession before you line up for the eucharist again," warned the priest gently.
Sam looked a bit taken aback. In his old church those odd formalities that made people squirm and feel guilty had been swept away. Reconciliation was the preferred term....when the priest and parishioner hugged and encouraged each other. Despite his mention of confession, Father Dominick did seem like a warm, caring type. Sam figured that if he dropped by for the social call that would take the place of any sort of airing dirty laundry. Besides, what could he possibly confess?! Like, he hadn't murdered anyone or committed adultery! How could he....when he was a confirmed bachelor?! No, Sam was a "man about town" and with his handsome looks had no lack of interested parties of all stripes vying for his attention and affection.
"Call me Sam, father. And, yes, I'll be happy to stop by the rectory. Will you be in Tuesday afternoon?" he inquired.
"Yes, and I'll be waiting for you!" the priest said.
Father Dominick eyed the thick locks of hair and watched in a distracted state as the tall man walked down the steps of the church....lingering a bit before having to greet old Mrs. Dempsy who never had missed a service in her life and always had some sort of complaint to convey.
Tuesday afternoon, the social call went splendidly. Father Dominick provided some invaluable contacts with regard to housing leads and ideas to help Sam develop professional networks in his field. He even asked Mrs. Dempsy to set up a "meals on wheels" welcome committee for the following two weeks so that Sam could have a wonderful home-cooked meal delivered every evening to his apartment.
Sam knew the Church of the Blessed Sacrament would definitely be his new spiritual home after his first visit. However, an out-of-town training session would keep him away for the following few Sundays after his initial visit.
A month later, as the organ swelled and the mass came to a climax with Father Dominick elevating the host, Sam was glad to be back in the service. Being plugged into a caring community made the transition from Harrisburg so much easier. Things were much more formal here in the stately historic downtown church than they had been at his last parish church, but that was a change Sam welcomed.
As he moved forward, he watched Father Dominick dispense the host. He would be glad to kneel at his feet again and receive spiritual nourishment from his caring hand. He fell to his knees, eager to receive the bread.....
But Father Dominick did not offer the wafer to Sam! Instead he leaned down and carefully caressed the gleaming dark locks as he said a short blessing over the confused congregant. After pronouncing "....and be gracious unto you," the priest tucked the thick brown lock behind Sam's ear and whispered, "You must confess your sins before communion or I will not serve you. See me on the way out."
Sam walked away humiliated and embarrassed. Had anyone else noticed the priest refused him communion? How could he?! As he returned to the pew, Sam spotted the small wooden booth where Father Dominick heard confessions. He would have to kneel there on the cold stone floor and pour out all his sins to the priest....and then be made to say a certain number of prayers or some other ghastly penance?! But confess what?! He could made something up....or, better yet, ask the priest exactly why he needed to confess and what exactly why it was considered a sin. Certainly it would be a challenge to orthodoxy, but really, perhaps Father Dominick would benefit from having him in the congregation -- to shake things up a bit. The sheep would lead the shepherd! The whole concept of sin was soooo passe.
Sam tossed his thick locks back and sat proudly upright in the pew. Erect, with his head held high. He would confront Father Dominick and set the record straight. He was no axe murderer and had nothing significant to confess.
On the way out of the service, the priest grasped Sam's hands warmly and said under his breath, "Why don't you join me for lunch today in the rectory in a few minutes. I think we need to get on the same wave length. What I did was out of concern for you, Sam. I know you believe that."
Sam was taken aback by the conciliatory gesture and hung his head in shame. Why had he rebelled against the priest's authority and sat there defiantly, thinking he knew so much more than his spiritual superior?! He looked up at Father Dominick and said, "Thank you, father. I want to learn from you. I'd be glad to break physical bread with you, since you denied my spiritual nourishment today."
After the sumptuous lunch served by parish servants, Father Dominick ushered Sam into his private office and shut the door. It was an imposing, stately room panelled with a deep walnut and adorned with leaded, stained glass. The desk seemed immense -- totally magisterial.
After chatting for a while, the priest summed up the conversation. "So, you said you have not gone to confession since your first communion -- what 10, 12, 15 years ago?! That's extraordinary. Not one sin in all that time?! Not since Christ himself walked this earth has there been such a person, I imagine," the priest commented the evident sarcasm. "Why, the church should set your canonization into progress immediately!" he chirped on playfully. Father Dominick indicated that Sam should sit while he continued to pace about in his richly embroidered robes atop the elegant oriental carpet.
"Well, I haven't broken any of the 10 commandments!" exclaimed Sam.
There was an awkward silence. Then the priest spoke with a deadly serious voice. "Pride is a sin, Sam. Vanity is a sin." Sam squirmed in the hard chair. The priest strolled around back of him.
Suddenly Sam felt Father Dominick's hand running through his dense, silken hair. He grasped a thick lock at the nape and whirled it gently through his fingers. "Do you ever look in the mirror and admire this gorgeous mane of hair you flaunt? Think more highly of yourself than you ought?"
Sam sat still and silent.
"Well, do you?" the priest demanded softly, but firmly.
"Yes...." Sam gasped in a dry, creaking voice.
The priest continued stroking the plush mahogany-toned locks. "And when you're admiring yourself, are you giving the glory to God that He's created such a handsome man -- or are you feeling quite pleased with yourself, assuming that somehow you should take credit for your good looks and beautiful hair?"
"I, I, uh...." Sam found his admission hard to make.
Father Dominick whirled directly in front of him and glared in Sam's frightened, confused eyes. "You what?!" he demanded.
"I praise and congratulate myself!" he confessed.
"And what is that?" the priest insisted.
"A sin!" Sam blurted out. The penny dropped. Sam's face fell and his voice cracked. "I am a sinful, wretched man. Full of pride and full of vanity!!" the penitant cried out as he fell to his knees. After a few minutes of struggling to contain tears, Sam looked up towards Father Dominick who towered over him. "Help me, father!"
The stern priest grabbed Sam by his silken mane and forced him up off his knees. "It will be my pleasure to guide you onto the straight and narrow path to heaven, Samuel Sorbino!" he said in a flat, mean voice as he made the penitent sit back into the hard chair. Then he softened his tone a bit, but still exuded authority as he calmly stated, "Because you begged me so sincerely, my child, I will help you!" He patted Sam's head and smoothed down the hair that he had rumpled.
Sam smiled weakly at the priest. He looked at his spiritual father with admiration and gratitude.
Unexpectedly, Father Dominick leaned over to his desk and took a large pair of scissors from the cup that held pens and other items. He opened them and snapped them shut authoritatively a few times. He reached for the shimmering dark locks.
Sam gasped and instinctively leaned away. Of all his assets, his thick pampered mane was his best! "Oh, father! Please, not my hair! I'll say 100 Hail Mary's. A thousand even!"
Father Dominick began to gently stroke and fondle the shimmering long locks of hair again. "This is such beautiful hair, with such a nice stylized cut. No doubt the product of an exclusive salon. How much time do you spend on hair care each morning, Sam?"
"Oh, a good half hour to 45 minutes with the washing and drying and all...." he replied with uncalculated truthfulness.
"And your early morning devotions? Prayers, readings, catechism recitations? How much time?" the priest demanded.
Sam hung his head silently in shame. Then he eeked out, "None....."
He felt the priest reach for the thick locks that hung from his nape. He sat still and rigid. Then he heard the awful sound of the shears cutting through the dense lock of hair. Snip! Snip! Sam's stomach churned. The priest was hacking away at his beautiful hair! He grip the arms of the chair to steady himself as he endured the torture. Crunch, crunch. The awful sound of a crude, punishing haircut. Sam knew he deserved it and accepted his punishment meekly. Snip! The impromptu haircut ended with the priest depositing the last shorn lock in Sam's lap -- a huge chunk that measured 3-4 inches in length.
Father Dominick continued. "And what about money? How much of it do you spend on your hair at the salon?" He brushed the thick forelock back from Sam's eyes so he could watch his response.
Sam hesitated. First seeming to make a mental calculation and then hesitant to reveal the amount.
"Well?" the priest pressed.
"$125 per visit," he replied, averting the priest's gaze. "But that includes a very expensive shampoo and conditioner, plus a generous tip so that I get the best service!"
"And how often do you go?" the priest further inquired.
"Every 2-3 weeks," he answered.
"So we're talking about $2500 per year, at least. That's quite a pretty penny! But, you do end up with a gorgeous trophy to display as a result, don't you?" He paused and fondled the locks in question. Then the priest drove home his point, "And how much do you place in the church offering plate and alms boxes each month?"
Sam sat still and silent. He dropped his head in shame and the silken, shimmering locks cascaded in front of his guilty eyes.
The priest grabbed him by the hair again and jerked his head up so that he could face his accusor. Father Dominick insisted on an answer. "Don't hide it, Sam! God knows the truth!"
Sam's eyes widened and welled with tears that bulged, but did not overflow. "I haven't given anything....oh...really....uh....in years!" Then he continued in a very fast, nervous chatterode, "You see, I'm on an aggressive program to eliminate my credit card debt and certain things had to......uh....be cut."
"But not expensive hair care?" The priest fumed in disgust. "I say, lets take care of that extravagant, unnecessary expense and put this mane of yours totally on the chopping block right now!" Father Dominick grasped the thick forelock and put the sheers right to the hairline above the plucked eyebrows, poised to clamp them shut and lop it off.
Sam drew away in horror, saving his forelock from the unforgiving sheers of the priest. "I know I probably deserve that....but my old priest used to tell me about love and forgiveness."
Father Dominick let a sinister smile creep across his stony face. "And did he ever mention contrition or penance in conjunction with forgiveness?!"
Unexpectedly, Father Dominick seemed to relent by setting down the scissors and walking back behind his desk. "Because you've spent 15 years of leading a sinful, unrepentant, self-serving life, your penance will be extremely severe, my child!" The priest opened a drawer, taking out a huge set of electric hair clippers and a neatly fold cape. He held up the Oster's and then plugged them in.
Sam looked at him in dreadful fear. He reached up to comfort himself by running his fingers through his long forelock of hair. His legs felt paralyzed.
"Come to me, my child. We will deal with your vanity and pride right at its root. With these!" he said with a flourish as he motioned to the barbering tools. "Shave it off, cast it down and trample it under foot! Your penance will pain you, but cure you." His tone was quite sweet and inviting.
Sam eyed the door of the study, then he looked at Father Dominick's face. But after a split second, he averted the condemning cold stare and looked to the floor instead. He saw the shorn locks the priest had cut from his nape lying there lifeless atop the fine oriental carpet. He knew he had no choice. Finally his eyes shifted to the electric clippers he held in Father Dominck's hand. The machine was huge and looked horribly cruel! It seemed to be calling out to him. He stood. His legs wobbled. His whole body resisted, holding back the strength he needed to surrender to the punishing electric hair clippers.
"Come and be shorn!" the priest called.
Sam took a small step as one leg buckled. He summonsed his strength and slowly walked to where the clippers were plugged in and primed. The priest helped him ease into the desk chair that swiveled just like a barber's chair. The cape was draped about him. Father Dominick held up the dense locks as he fumbled with the metal fastener. Then, he whispered in Sam's ear, "A father chastens every child he loves...." The cape was pinned excruciatingly tight. Sam struggled for breath.
"Yes, father," the caped man gulped. He allowed Father Dominick to nudge his head forward as he heard the clippers snap to life. He fondled the newly exposed chunk where the heavy locks had dangled from the nape. Then the priest snapped on the instrument or torture and raised the furious clippers to tackle their prey. Sam grasped the arms of the chair, waiting for the priest to begin shaving away his vanity and pride. The clippers didn't not delay in chewing the way very tightly up the back of his bowed head. Mounds of the glorious dark brown hair well to the floor and collected at the feet of the stern priest.
"You're not the first vain young man to yield to the penance inflicted by a set of hair clippers, Sam," said Father Dominick in a somewhat tender voice. He drove the clippers firmly up the back of the prostrate man's head and pulled off another immense shank of hair. Then he dropped it into Sam's lap so that he could see the first fruits of his transition from proud and self-serving to humble and selfless. The clippers advanced through the abundant locks a third time, slicing them off at the scalp.
The priest continued his monologue, "It was 1975 and there was another fellow who was very much in love with his flowing locks of dark, wavy hair. He had defied all authority -- parents, teacher, coach and principal -- as he flounted his treasured tresses so pridefully in their face. Even as a teen, he was on his way to a life of debauchery and prodigal living until he was snagged by his hair -- literally -- and pulled down from his pedestal of pride and vanity."
The priest ran the clippers down the center top of Sam's stunned head and watched the enormous bale of hair fall past the startled green eyes of the penitent. "It was my parish priest who snared me by my rebellious mane and left me shorn....with these very clippers. It was 1976, and I was driven by him with a totally bald head to the doors of the seminary and taken into preparation for holy orders. When he died a few years ago, the executor of his will said he left the clippers to me to keep them in the Lord's service."
"Tell me how he brought you around!" asked Sam, full of interest. His eyes lit up a bit even as he gathered up a handful of his shorn hair and fingered it curiously before tossing it to the ground.
"A pal of someone I regularly bought pot from set me up with a foolish dare. He said he would give me a free, unforgetable trip with hard drugs if I would shoot up underneath the altar in the church I belonged to at midnight. We both laughed at the goofy idea and I agreed. He provided me with a syringe and some drugs...."
Father Dominick paused from his story and took the clippers to the remainder of Sam's once mighty forelock, slicing it off with one quick swoop of the clattering metal teeth.
"I must have set off a silent alarm as I broke in through a side door in the vestry, because just as I was under the altar getting ready to shoot up, the lights of the church came on and the priest spotted me crouched under the altar. Quickly, I shoved the syringe into my dense mane of wavy hair and tried to make up a story. But the priest had seen it. He told me that the police were on their way and I had two choices -- be arrested for tresspassing....and the police would discover the drugs as they shaved my head upon my being booked into prison (the authorities were a whole lot more brutal back then...). Or, I could confess to him and he would administer a punishment. I quickly chose to keep the little matter in house. When the police arrived, the priest explained to them that one of the parishoner teenagers had accidentally set off the alarm as he was entering the church at night to light a candle at the shrine of St. Jude. They looked at me -- the hippy boy -- suspiciously, but Father Conklin covered. He made up a story and told them that I had just informed my parents I had decided to become a priest and I was taking the first step to clean up my life!! Imagine that! Me a priest?!"
Father Dominick buzzed all the hair off around Sam's two well chiseled ears, leaving him virtually bald amid a pile of shorn hair covering the formerly white cape.
The story went on, "As soon as the police left, Father Conklin dragged me to the attached Catholic high school by my hair. Since it had been an accomplice in trying to conceal the drugs, it would be cut off. He was also the school principal and was known to enjoy amateur barbering. All the lads at Sacred Heart High were stuck in the 1950's with the outrageously short, severely tapered haircuts. Clipped high up the back, angled bangs, and side part slicked down with hair grease. To boot, they wore gray bermuda shorts and matching knee socks -- and the awful outfits were topped off by a blue blazer, tie and bottun down white shirt. Total geeks! He marched me right to the school barbershop. It was eerie walking through the dark empty halls with the stern Father Conklin dragging me by my once proud mane. When I saw the room with the huge old fashioned chair and the electric clippers hanging from the counter, I begged to keep my hair at least at a relatively decent length. He hustled me right to the chair and I was forced to sit quietly while he caped me up. Then he told me to wait. I couldn't believe I was sitting in a barber's chair in the middle of the night, caped....waiting for the clippers to tackle my prized position, my beautiful long hair! But, the alternative -- being booked and shaved bald by the police with a six year sentence hanging in front of me -- was far worse."
Father Dominick finished Sam's brutal butch cut. All the gleaming hair lay lifeless at his feet. His head was taken down to stubble all over!!
The priest rubbed it gently while he wrapped up his own story. "So, he came back with a headline newspaper article and told me to read it while he cut my hair. He spun me away from the mirror as I scanned the headline -- Death of Four Teens Tied to Tainted 'Free' Drugs. I started reading the sad story as the clippers went through my overgrown mange of hair. It was so scary to think that if the priest hadn't come in just at that minute, I too probably would have been dead. I would have been the next victim shooting up tained 'free' drugs. I was so engrossed in the story, I didn't realize that Father Conklin was not administering his signature schoolboy haircut. Instead, he had shaved everything off. The whole lot! He spun the chair around and I saw myself as bald as a cueball!!"
Father Dominick opened the desk drawer where he had taken the clippers and cape from and pulled out a hand mirror which he held up to Sam's disbelieving eyes. "Just like this..." he said with a smile.
Sam hardly recognized himself without his gleaming mane. Instead he looked totally different.....strangely handsome in a fierce way. The priest fondled his denuded ears and sensitive nape.
"To make a long story short, Father Conklin saved me from myself. I was ever in his debt and made a vow to him that night -- to follow his example and become a priest! He was so sweet to me as he drove me to the seminary....." the priest said, fondly reminiscing about those events long ago.
"Just like you've save me, Father Dominick! From eternal hell....." said Sam tenderly. He touched his bald head for the first time and grinned. "Oh, this feels...."
"Divine?!" asked the priest with a laugh. Father Dominick began unfastening the cape. "You're not upset with me, are you, Sam?" he asked earnestly. "Your hair was very beautiful.....so lush and long."
Sam stood and faced his priest. "A father chastens the sons he loves....isn't my shorn head evidence of your love for me?" The two embraced. "But I have a confession to make," Sam continued.
"Tell it to me, Sam," the priest cooed. "Now, here....not at the confessional booth."
"I'm ready to give everything up. Will you drive me to the seminary, Father Dominick? I want to receive holy orders."
Father Dominick smiled as he stroked Sam's shorn head. "Well, I'm a holy man and have given lots of orders to my flock, Sam. You must arrive as a true penitent, stripped of everything. Let's start with these expensive designer label clothes -- another bit of pride and vanity that you must shed," he said as his fingers began unbuttoning Sam's Nautica shirt.....