My father believed that when a man goes to work, he should wear a tie. His generation did many things because “that’s the way they’ve always been done,” and wearing a tie to work was a thing men did. While he outwardly respected the formality of workplace attire, he internally seethed at being tied down to a desk job, spending work time on personal projects, labeling disliked colleagues and superiors as fools. Possessing a hatred for authority while dogmatically adhering to norms was one of his many incongruities.
Other incongruities profoundly manifested themselves in his parenting, where my father’s personal behavior often contradicted his fatherly teachings. House rules were inconsistent, unclear, and only enforced when convenient or drunk. He was often brash and lewd, and held others to a higher standard from which he exempted himself. His formality in apparel was restricted to the office; the rest of his wardrobe was mostly t-shirts in support of one of Boston’s professional sports teams, or free promotional beer tank tops.
His tie selections were a daily form of expressionism and subtle rebellion—the yin to conformity’s yang—in a range of provocative designs that seemed to fit few discernible rules. He adored paisley patterns, wore clashing plaids, flew multicolored florals, and brought out a stream of novelty ties to celebrate holidays or seasons. Each of his ties had its own unique personality, but one really stood out from the rest.
Each year he acquired more ties, always on the lookout for another wild print to grow his stockpile of dissent collars. Through years of low ranking desk jobs, he amassed a tie collection numbered in the hundreds. His caustic personality diminished his career advancement opportunities, and as a result, his ties were only worn while assisting someone of larger importance, managing offices that barely needed managing, and overseeing files rarely reopened.
The collection swarmed out of control by his mid 50s, around the time he became unemployed, and, soon after, unemployable. Years of abusing himself with hard living took a physical toll on his body as well as his mind. Not having a job to showcase his ties didn’t slow him from buying more, preparing himself for an eventual workforce return that never came.
He turned 60 faced with poor health, no job, and an inability to manage the day-to-day struggles of medications, doctor appointments, and keeping his bills paid. I convinced him to move from Boston to California, where I was living, so I could take on the brunt of life management for him. The cross country move forced a massive reduction in all of his possessions, and his poor health left him unable to sort, pack, or throw things out without help. Over four whirlwind days, he and I—with a bit of family—combed through decades of books, bikes, knick-knacks, beer mugs, ties, ties, and ties.
Among the tough decisions, confusion and frustration, the tie collection was dramatically reduced, placing over half of them to rest in a dumpster outside of his old apartment. Still, he packed with him a sizable cache of neckwear for the west coast.
The years of his life that followed saw sunnier weather but only growing life challenges, often resulting in the need to move again and again. He went from an apartment to assisted living, from there to nursing home after nursing home. He was without a permanent home of his own, and the closets at each stop along the way seemed to progressively shrink in size.
His dementia was growing and his cognitive abilities were sinking, leaving him rarely wise to what might have been left behind with every move. It was a necessary condensing, but getting rid of more ties always left me with the most guilt. His life had been reduced to only a few assorted outfits and a couple dozen ties—stored in one large suitcase in my closet—when his body finally gave out and he no longer needed possessions anymore.
I donated anything still wearable. I threw away things too stained or too old. Then it was down to the ties, dozens of them, wrapped around a hanger in the last of his years of collecting. I didn’t want to hold onto his things, or him, any longer, but it pained me to part with his ties. I unraveled them from the hanger they had likely lived on for years, and slid them into another bag of donations. All except for one last tie that begged to remain.
It was a non-conformist even among its rebellious brethren, one of the few solid color ties he owned. Vibrant to the eye and oddly smooth to the touch, the fuchsia tie was a statement of self-assurance and confidence. Still attached were the price tag and the cardboard sleeve embossed with the designer’s name and logo, a sign that it never served a day in a low-end cubicle. Neither its shrill color or fabric were its most provocative component, as the designer held that distinction. This fuchsia piece of neckwear was from the Donald J. Trump Signature Collection.
I’m not sure if the party’s platform appealed to him as much as it did to be a contrarian and an antagonist. His tie buying days were long over by the time Donald Trump ran for President, but somehow this one remained. It was a bold fuchsia symbol of what my father would have loved about Trump, a brashness among formality, professional in appearance only. The President and my father share a common trait of only applying the rules when it works in their favor, followed by accusations of unfairness when they don’t. While the 2016 election unfolded, my father’s attention span for news had dwindled, but he still knew the players. When I asked him what he thought of the race, he told me, “I like that Trump guy. He’s not a politician.” My father’s dementia was too far progressed for him to understand anything but the start of the Trump presidency. Now just the tie was left behind, a token of support from beyond the grave.
I didn’t throw it out, nor do I wish to wear it. The tie isn’t even remotely close to my style or taste, nor is its implied designer someone with whom I wish to be associated. So it now resides on my desk, the last of his ties, the remainder of his former collection, a reminder of who my father was, represented in a bold statement of silk and fuchsia.