Earlier today, we attended a happy occasion – a baby naming for the newborn daughter of our longtime friends. As we were getting the kids dressed in the morning, Zach asked me if he could wear a tie.
He’s never asked for one before, and in this age of more casual clothes for everyone – especially kids – we haven’t had to put our kids in suits like our parents did with us.
I quickly sized up Zach’s button-down shirt and, with the expert fashion advice of my wife (you wouldn’t want me making these decisions, now, would you?) headed over to my tie rack for a look.
Time out for a quick primer on Carmi’s ties: for years, my father-in-law would have lunch with his friends. One of his “cronies” (I love that word, don’t you?) was a tie man (another lovely term!) So at regular intervals, my father-in-law would present me with a plain paper bag. Inside would be a tie or two (or three). And not just any ties: beautiful silk ones with lovely colors and textures. The kind you’d go out and buy when you felt like treating yourself.
Over the years, all these ties added up, to the point that I now have what must be the world’s loveliest collection. And even if it doesn’t rank with Prince Charles’s own set of cravates, the sentiment behind how mine came to be in my cupboard makes them more than mere strips of silk to me. Now, back to the story...
We picked a paisley tie with a very subtle Mickey Mouse head in the middle of the pattern. I leaned over his back and carefully began the voodoo-like process of tying it around his neck. I tried to explain what I was doing, not so much to teach him how to do it himself – that will come in time – but to ensure I didn’t forget this seemingly - but not - trivial moment in time.
My mind went back to an almost identical moment a generation ago, when my father did the same with me. He had just shaved, and I remember the way he leaned his shoulder over my back and softly folded the tie into its mythical knot, carefully pulling it snug and adjusting my collar. I didn’t understand how he did it, but I trusted him to get it right, to show me the way.
As my fingers repeated the same pattern that my father’s had traced so long ago, I suddenly felt as if the mantle of a generation had been passed down to me, and that I was perpetuating a time-honored tradition of fathers and sons. I know, weird, but strangely comforting.
I managed to get the tie done on the first try, and adjusted it from the front before turning his collar down and pronouncing him good to go. My wife and I must have asked him a dozen times that day if it felt tight around his neck. He repeatedly told us it was fine. He wore it proudly for the entire day, taking it off only as we pulled back into the driveway just before suppertime.
He may not yet be the adult he so very much wants to be. But in that brief moment on a Sunday morning while everyone buzzed around, trying to get out of the house on time, he moved closer to his elusive goal. And I gained another reason to tie myself – on so many levels that I can barely understand – to his ever-growing life. If I’m lucky, the seeds we planted this morning may one day bear similar fruit with his own child.