Editor’s Note — This is the first in a series about things that my father taught me and continues to teach me. December 24 is his birthday and I thought this was an appropriate way to celebrate him. Additional stories may include values observed in other fathers, popular stories about dads and more.
The story of tying a tie can be a tired step-by-step tutorial or it can be a window into one of the many ways that fathers guide their sons.
I’ve always interpreted business professional to mean a suit and tie. The suit is just pants and a jacket, which takes the same amount of thought to put on as socks and underwear. Choosing a shirt and tie requires you to have some knowledge of color and pattern theory, but that is usually something that you work out during the time of purchase. Once your socks, shoes, underwear, pants, undershirt, and shirt are on, there remains the matter of tying the tie.
Growing up I was enraptured watching my father tying his tie every Sunday morning before church. He made it look easy. Sometimes the perfectionist came out and he would start over and mumble about the length of the knot.
I also have a strong memory of watching the old television show Eight is Enough. This was the one where David gets married, and I watched Dick van Patten, the oft-beleaguered patriarch trying to tie his tie while having overlapping conversations with his wife and many children.
This became a pressing concern one summer morning in Los Angeles about 17 years ago. I had moved to the city with an aspiring actor. I was one semester shy of my bachelor’s degree, but I needed a day job to keep my finances from drying out. I had worked my way through college by working security and bartending. My girlfriend back then did not like that, and I was soon sending out over 60 resumes for every job I thought I had a chance to get. I landed an interview at Acme Talent Agency.
I woke up the morning of my interview and showered. I got dressed and threw on my dress shirt, slinging a blue tie across my neck and walking into the bathroom to face the mirror. I started by crossing the left side over the right, but the next step felt wrong. I started over and this time I crossed the right Side with the left. I froze; I was stuck.
I grabbed my cell phone — still a newer concept for me back then — and called my dad. When he answered I switched to speakerphone.
“Hey dad,” I said.
“Morning Seth,” he answered.
“I’ll be quick,” I started. “I have to leave for an interview soon, and I can’t remember how to tie a tie. Can you walk me through it?”
I don’t think more than a second passed before he replied.
“Well,” he said. “Are you standing in front of a mirror?”
Bless him. What seemed like an hour, and was likely no more than five minutes, my dad walked me through each step until I had tightened a decent Windsor knot.
After that day, I made it a point to practice the steps my dad had told me at least once a day. I learned until I could tie my tie with my eyes closed. Eventually, it became a meditative exercise to close my eyes and let my hands go. I got so good that coworkers at the many service jobs I continued to work while I finished college, would comment on how nice my tie looked. Then they would track me down later in a hallway to ask me if I would tie their tie for them.
Sharing lessons is a heritage of generations. Lives are shaped daily walking into the future alongside mothers and daughters, mentors and apprentices, teachers and students and all who share with seekers.
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