This Barber Who Lost His Dad to Suicide is Seriously Inspiring
Ken Hermes is a senior barber at Goulds Barbers and newly appointed Lions Barber Collective Ambassador. Sadly, Ken lost his dad to suicide when he was a teenager and to shine a light on Mental Health Awareness Week (May 13-19), we find out what’s driving him to make a change within the industry.
How long have you been a barber and how did you get into the industry?
I’ve been a barber seriously for two years. From a young age I was interested in hair. I rocked a mullet at age three, a flat top by five and a full-blown Mohawk by 13. I was never afraid to try a new look. That being said, barbershops weren’t really my thing growing up. I went to a hairdressing salon instead. When I was 16, my hairdresser offered me a job, but at the time I wanted to be a musician. That never happened and I found myself landing a retail job with Tesco.
A few years later I started to grow a beard and realised that my salon had no idea how to style it properly. I needed a barber’s advice. I ventured to a different shop for the first time ever and loved the experience. When I was an area manager for Tesco I moved around a lot and found myself visiting different barbershops on my travels. The barber scene excited me, so I created a blog to document the different styles and experiences I found within them. Somewhere along the way, I started writing for industry magazines and quickly fell in love with all things barbering.
Not long after that, I started training in a friend’s shop in Essex. Then I enrolled at the Sid Sottung academy in Nottingham, and then attended some courses run by The Bluebeards Revenge I began cutting as a mobile barber and built a reliable clientele. Finally, I spent some time with the boys from Hudson Hair, before jumping head first into a full time job with Gould.
If you could cut one person’s hair – dead or alive – who would it be?
That’s easy; my Dad. I mean, I’d love to slick some pomade through Elvis’ hair, but I wish my Dad was still alive and that he could see me in a job that I love. He had a wicked head of hair and could grow a mighty beard too. We could have had a lot of fun with that!
What happened to your Dad?
I am what they call a ‘suicide survivor’. At 15 years old, my Dad took his own life. There was no note and no warning. One day I just woke up and he wasn’t there anymore. It hit me really hard. The night before he died was like any other. We were laughing and drinking, I was playing our favourite songs on the guitar, and we talked about everything. Or at least I thought we did. That night, it felt like my Dad was wearing his heart on his sleeve, but he still didn’t really tell me how he was feeling.
In the morning, I woke up for another day of secondary school. I was a little pampered by my parents and wanted beans on toast for breakfast, but the garage was always cold first thing in the morning. Mum would always make the trip for me though, bless her.
She was gone for a while and I heard a lot of screaming, then crying. I tried to go out to see her but she wouldn’t let me. I noticed my Dad’s van was still parked up outside, so I shouted for his help. He didn’t answer.
Suicide is a word that sends chills down your spine. But that’s what it was. I had no idea about my Dad’s depression. In fact, the concept of depression was pretty lost on me altogether. Looking back, I often wonder if he’d still be alive today if he felt that he could’ve expressed himself to me. Or to anyone, in fact: I always thought we had spoken openly, but I was only 15 when he committed suicide – far too young to carry the burden.
What happened next?
I made a decision not to let my Dad’s death be in vain. If I could educate or support just one person and save just one life, his legacy would live on. I started with video logs that shared my story, which quickly progressed to talks in school assemblies to help students identify with their own mental health.
13 years after my Dad’s death, and after battling crippling anxiety myself, I am extremely proud to be working alongside like-minded people, brands and charities, to support the message that it’s okay to not be okay.
A big part of this work involves my ambassadorship with The Lions Barber Collective – a charitable collection of barbers that are tackling the stigma and taboo of mental health and suicide. As barbers, we naturally provide a safe space for our clients to speak freely. The result is that, with the right support, we can signpost those in need to the places that provide the best help. Together, we’re making it okay to talk about the hard things, because one’s mental health is not a weakness.
What’s your dream?
I just want to continue to help people. It would be nice to finally feel confident enough to stand up among my peers and call myself a barber too. I’d also love to start a charity that helps children left behind by parental suicide, like I was.
Tell us more about the idea for the charity?
I’d like to be able to provide structured support to children bereaved by suicide. It’s a really difficult time, and to have an elder that has experienced the same thing can be very encouraging. There is a light at the end of the tunnel and we should be helping kids to see that. I didn’t have any of these kinds of opportunity and it was a really dark and difficult time for me. It’d be amazing to visit schools, holding group sessions and providing education. It’s definitely a pipe dream, but maybe one day…
This interview was originally conducted by male grooming company The Bluebeards Revenge, of which Ken Hermes is an ambassador for.