Sunday, February 27, 2005

The ties that bind

At the age of 10, our son, Zach, is at that tough age where he is no longer a kid, but not quite grown-up. Over the past few months, he’s been insisting we refer to him as a pre-teen. I’ve resisted because I still can’t get used to the fact that he’s already into double-digits. I don’t know where the time went, and I wish I could get some of it back so that I could do a better job of cataloging it all.

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.


Chris said...

Some days you bring tears to my eyes, Carmi. This is one of them.

I hope you'll save this particular piece, and give it to your son when he has a child of his own. He won't be able to fully appreciate until then how much these moments mean.

Chris Rachael Oseland said...

It's really lovely when parents stop to appreciate moments like this instead of handing thier son a clip on and telling him to hurry up, we don't want to be late.

The appriciation you have for this moment is something your son may not realize now, but when he helps his son with his first tie, he'll remember the smell of your face next to his and the feel of your fingers working the knot.

You remind us all what parenting is about, Carmi. I hope to be half as good a parent as you.

Amy said...

What a beautiful moment. I'm sure he'll look back on it fondly one day as well. Aren't kids great?! Oh - Dana sent me.

SH said...

This is a very interesting story and a strange coincidence. Just a day before yesterday my 14-year-old daughter walked into my room and asked me to help her with a tie. I think it has something to do with looking like one of the members of “the best band in the whole world” called “Simple Plan”, but I was instructed not to ask... ;-) Kids... :-)

Joan said...

What a cool story! I've never heard any kid wanting to be called a "pre-teen!" That's hilarious!

You tell the best stories, Mr. Levy! Thank you for sharing them!


L said...

Great story

As usual :)

reminds me of my little (not-so-little-anymore) brothers...

Unknown said...

Beautiful post. I do believe your son will remember the tie tying moment and the day always.

Thank you for sharing.

Gel said...

Vivid, memorable and touching! A baby naming is a terrific reason to wear his first tie. :) My 15 yr old daughter likes to wear ties sometimes, too, like Second Hand's 14 yr old girl. I don't know how to tie them, though. She taught herself. (She's in theatre... ;)

SeeingDouble said...

That's powerful. I'm sure at some point my husband and son will have a similar experience, but it makes me wonder what lies ahead for my daughter and me.