Things My Father Taught Me: The Bray Brothers
I had the good fortune to meet the Bray Brothers of Billykirk recently, and I found their candor, their honesty so refreshing. Two nicer guys you’ll never meet. Billykirk offers a well-curated, well-crafted collection of new twists on classic, rugged men’s accessories that truly are things of beauty. Fashioned of leather and canvas, many of the products are made by a family of leather workers in the Amish country of Pennsylvania. When I told them of my little Father’s Day project, they both jumped at the opportunity to take time to write about their dad, Tom.
My father, Tom Bray, is a pretty traditional Lands’ End, LL Bean, Bass Weejun type of guy. In the middle class suburbs of Minnesota where I grew up, this was the standard attire. My father was a medical sales rep for 3M for 35 years, and wearing a suit was part of the deal. He used to coach my brother Kirk and my baseball and soccer teams and he would come straight from work in his tan or navy suit trousers and white or chambray Lands’ End button down. He spent $1000’s with Lands’ End throughout the 80s and 90s. He is now retired and spends most of his time in Russell sweatshirts, Nikes and Levi’s.
While we may not have necessarily shared the same fashion tastes, my father was always well groomed and polished. That is the main fashion-related thing I gleaned from him. I remember nearly every night before dinner he would take out his shoe shine kit and clean and polish his loafers for the next day. He was not a lace-up dress shoe guy and I honestly doubt he owned a pair. Tassels or penny loafers. Period. I got my first pair of ‘adult like’ dress shoes when I was around 12. They were stiff-as-boards Bass Weejun penny loafers just like my father’s. I still remember how sore my feet where when I wore them for the first time. I also remember when he taught me how to polish and clean them. He also ironed his own dress shirts each morning. That was another important learning lesson. I remember all the dry cleaners he went through like water. None of them could do it right and all of them broke buttons or over-starched them. So, each morning, there he was in the living room wearing his v-neck, white briefs, and dress socks ironing away.
While my father may not have had any sort of allegiance to a dry cleaner, he did when it came to his barber. His good friend Greg cut and styled his hair every three weeks for over twenty-five years. The style remained essentially the same, though it was a bit bushier in the early 80’s. Sadly, Greg passed a way a few months ago.
My father was also a huge stickler for long unkempt finger nails. His profession called for clean manicured nails and to this day, when my nails get just slightly long, I can hear him telling me to, “cut your damn nails!”
I think most men would agree, when you are a kid you want to look just like your father, then, you become a teenager and want to look nothing like him, then, as the years pass by, you start to look more like him again. I am sure my father’s closet has some old Lands’ End or LL Bean relics I wouldn’t mind having. Not to mention, they were probably bought back when they were still being manufactured in the US.
I have borrowed quite a few nuggets from my dad over the years and there are quite a few I never would borrow (insert Mock T’s here), but the one that does stands out for me is all about hair and its importance. My dad’s hair hasn’t changed in over twenty-five years. He’s consistent to a fault. His hair is a modern low profile bouffant and when it’s not at its peak or when he’s fresh from the shower, he looks like a wet puppy. It is a handsome cut though and by no means gaudy. His methods for achieving his ‘do, however, were not borrowed by me. My hair is short at the moment, and besides a clean wash using Kiehl’s sport shampoo, it requires no product most days. My dad’s on the other hand; let’s just say he and the ozone are not too close. In fact, on a recent trip to visit us in Jersey City, he stumbled across his favorite hair spray at a Shoprite and proceeded to buy 8 cans. 8 cans! Apparently they stopped carrying it in Minnesota. You would think after twenty-five years it would stand on its own! My brother and I give him shit about it a lot, but he is one hell of a sport. And who am I to judge? I have had my share fair of bad haircuts over the years. Despite our difference in styling, he did teach me the importance of looking good and having good hygiene.
Happy Father’s Day, Pops!