Your children eventually reach the age when you can entrust them with family heirlooms. For daughters, that is around 22. For sons, it’s 45. When it arrives, daughters get jewelry, place settings and quilts. Boys? Cigar boxes, pocket knives and money clips. But last week I went out on a limb and decided it was time to give son Tommy something I truly valued. And while I deliver the punch line, refrain from that sip of coffee. Because I gave him some of my neckties.
Most of my audience gets this, despite the fact that ad agencies have brutalized the tie as an unworthy accessory. My ties are not gifts grabbed off a table in Target on Christmas Eve. I selected them over the better part of 25 years from Nordstrom, Dillards and a few old ones from when Mr. Guy did business in Lawrence.
A good tie makes the man. It can turn tacky into tasteful. GQ’s November issue declared that the hippest movement in men’s style is tailoring — including handmade ties. I form opinions of our public figures based on tie selection. NBC News anchor Brian Williams is a tie god. He wears rep ties — simple but elegant. Anderson Cooper on the other hand? Uh, no. My grandfather, Patrick Keenan, was a man of taste and style, as the accompanying photo from the 1960s reflects.
Others should take note. Last May, for example, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, a week before the IPO launch of his company, showed up at meetings on Wall Street in a hoodie. A sweat top. Tech geeks who haven’t changed their sweat pants in 20 years cheered the anti-establishment statement. Underwriters, on the other hand, had a different opinion. Bloomberg quoted one as saying, “I think that’s a mark of immaturity.” In less than three months, stock in the golden boy’s company went from 45 bucks to 17. By August, there were demands for his resignation.
A good tie always finds a home. When I was back to visit Great Bend last year, I found some old ties in Larry’s closet. Sure some were broad, some showed a fondness for reddish/orange tints and were heavy on the paisley patterns. Still, Larry wore them, probably with zipper boots his brother Bob loaned him, so what other endorsement do you need? None. They now hang in my closet.
My 50th birthday was a workday and for the first time I wore a hand-tied bow tie to work. No one asked me how old I was. No one mistook me for the messenger. No one had any doubt that, on that day, I was at work to do something serious, important. When I got on the elevator with others, heads turned. “Yes?” I said. They looked away, like they had a seen a solar eclipse. I’ve worn bow ties on countless occasions since then.
And so when I pass on my ties, it’s not done lightly. One of the little things I’m proud of is that my adult sons have a healthy respect for style. So last week when Tommy was heading to work for an accounting firm in Dallas, the time had arrived. I laid out some of my ties for him. Not my best ones, obviously. He isn’t worthy yet. Enough to mix and match and show his boss he gets it.
With his car packed, he drove off, his mother fended off anxieties about 1) his drive 2) his apartment 3) his work and 4) when we could come visit. I had only one thought: He’d better take care of those ties.