Editor's note: An earlier version of this column previously ran on storiesfrommyheart.com.
There are easier knots to tie than the classic double Windsor — especially for 9-year-old fingers still struggling with the intricacies of the shoelace double knot.
But when my eldest son, Joe, got his first non-clip-on tie for his ninth birthday, I was determined that he would learn to tie it properly. And as far as I was concerned, that meant a double Windsor. None of this half-baked, half-Windsor stuff for my son. No, sir. And no four-in-hand beginning knot, either. Walker men are double Windsor men — or they are nothing at all.
“It isn’t that hard,” I assured him as I whipped a long strip of bright, colorful material around my neck in a sequence so familiar I could do it in my sleep. “See? Around this side, back behind, then around this side, then around the front and back behind and down and through. Pull it tight — and there it is!”
I admired the perfectly shaped knot that almost seemed to smile back at me from the mirror, with that cute little dimple that always makes a tie knot look so sharp and snappy. Then I looked at Joe’s tie hanging around his neck, over his shoulder, under his armpit, through his belt loop and out his fly. As knots go, it was extraordinary — enough to bring tears to the eyes of the Great Houdini, Lord Baden-Powell and the entire 7th Fleet. But as a knot for tying a tie well, it was no double Windsor.
Joe smiled at me sheepishly.
“I think I need a little help,” he said.
That was like the captain of the Titanic saying he had a little ice problem. But I didn’t tell Joe that. I just stepped in behind him, took the fabric of his tie into my hands and demonstrated the knot from his perspective.
“Watch,” I said. “Around this side like this, then back behind, then around this side. ”
Suddenly, I was enveloped by an overwhelming feeling of de ja vu. It was as if I had experienced this simple moment of father-to-son sharing before — and I had, more than 20 years earlier, when my father stood behind me and patiently tried to help my clumsy, awkward fingers navigate the complexities of the double Windsor.
It wasn’t pretty.
“But Dad,” I remember saying, “wouldn’t it be easier to just do this?” I tied a knot that was part bowline, part half-hitch and mostly granny.
“Well, that’s a fine knot, son,” Dad said as he struggled to loosen my tie from my neck, where it hung like a lopsided hangman’s noose. “But this other knot is the knot my father taught me, and I think he learned it from his father. All my brothers use it, and I’ve taught it to all your brothers. It’s sort of the family knot — the tie that binds. So humor me, OK? Learn this knot. And then, if you want to use your fancy knot instead, I’ll understand.”
Then Dad stood behind me and taught me how to tie the double Windsor — just as I was standing behind my son and teaching him some two decades later. Joe picked it up much more quickly than I did — it was only a few weeks, as I recall, before he was tying it all by himself (I think I was still asking for help on my wedding day). Through the years, he has tried other knots, which I totally understand. There was a time in my life during which I was fairly promiscuous with my knotty experimentation.
But eventually I came back to the family knot, even though I’m not exactly sure why. It isn’t because it’s easier, because it isn’t. And truthfully, it doesn’t even look that much better. It’s just something about that father-to-son thing.
The tie that binds — on Father’s Day, and every day.
To read more by Joseph B. Walker, visit josephbwalker.com. Twitter: JoeWalkerSr