This Father’s Day, I’m posting my first published essay, “True Measure of a Man,” in honor of my dad (that's him in the picture, teaching me how to sail). This was published in the June 2007 issue of Hot Psychology (a now-defunct, online magazine). It was a really proud moment for me during a very difficult time in my life.
Thanks Dad. For providing the inspiration that started it all, and giving me a very bright moment during a mostly otherwise dark time.
I’ve been writing (and occasionally publishing) essays and articles since this one back in 2007, so I’ve learned a thing or two. The editor in me wants desperately to take a red sharpie to this piece, to cut, refine and polish. But I will resist that urge. Because even with the extra words, and sometimes too-long sentences, the emotion is there. And that, I think, is what’s important. So I ask you, reader, to forgive me my grammatical errors, long-windedness and journalistic faux pas and just…enjoy the read.
In “Measure of a Man,” Sidney Poitier describes a man who is aware of his heritage, connected to his roots, hungry for what lies ahead, disciplined, struggling, never taking short cuts, stubborn, defensive and proud, with deeply-seated morals that he will under no circumstances forgo. Not once does he say that you can measure a man by the broadness of his shoulders, the fierceness in his tone, the words he chooses to cut others to the quick. A man cannot be measured by his bank account, or by the size of his house. His power does not lie in the number of cylinders in the car he drives, or in the number of people who will concede to his wishes.
So what is a man? And how can I raise my sons, nine and seven, to be the kind of man Sidney describes so very simply, yet with such conviction in his latest book. I am a woman and a mom, but I know a man of immense measure.
My father is tall and thin. He never lifted weights, doesn’t drive a Hemi. Works with computers, loves math, savors a good book and would choose a glass of port the size of a thimble over a 12oz Budweiser. But I can guarantee you that he is as much a man – more maybe - as any tough guy in a tank top or hot rod. How do I know this? It is not in the set of his shoulders or in the strength of his arms. It is not in the firm discipline of my youth.
The measure of this man – my father – is as deep as the love reflected in his clear, brown eyes. I know it just as I know that if I close my eyes I can see his hands, peppered with freckles. Feel the strength and warmth of his fingers, strong and kind, closing over mine. His measure is in his actions. It is in his quiet understanding of my need to make mistakes and learn from them, and his constant belief in my dreams. It is in the almost imperceptible nod of his head when he hears of a job well done.
It is in each memory made between us – father and daughter.
I am four years old. The first notes of ‘My Girl’ flow from the radio and I dash across the room to Daddy, step onto his polished shoes and he twirls me around the room singing the words. “What can make me feel this way? My Girl,” he sings to me. I am his dance partner – His girl.
I am a seven year old beauty operator, my favorite customer in the chair before me. Dad sits tall and quiet while I ‘cut’ and style his hair. “What color would you like today, sir?” I ask him. “Hmmm,” he says in a serious tone, “I think I’ll try green this time.” I erupt in a fit of giggles and proceed to ‘wash and color’ his locks.
I am an eleven year old pre-teen, angry and confused. I have skipped school and am now at my father’s apartment, facing my sentence. He sits on the floor, a partly-finished puzzle laid out on the coffee table before him. He does not scold or discipline, but explains gently, as we fit the pieces in, one by one, why sometimes moms and dads just can’t live together.
I am a fourteen year old, struggling student kneeling on the floor next to my math tutor who explains the same algebra problem for the sixth time. When I finally, finally understand it, Dad leans back in his chair with pride in his eyes. “Now you’ve got it,” he says with a grin.
Dad has a reputation to uphold, a legacy to pass on to my children now. I observe him quietly and watch with pleasure each time my daughter pats the floor next to her, and invites Papa to join her in play. I measure his greatness as he grants her wish and folds himself into the space beside her.
I watch as he sits across from my oldest son, deep in concentration, waiting to make his next move on the chess board, and then smiles widely as his grandson proclaims “Check Mate!”
My heart swells as I watch my seven year old climb into my father’s lap just as he did when he was a toddler, to read his favorite book. “This time I’LL read, Papa,” my son says. “NO WAY,” my dad proclaims in awe and holds him just a little tighter as he listens.
This is the measure of a man. These are the lessons I will pass to my sons, who will someday, God willing, be good, humble, kind, loving men of quiet strength and strong conviction. Men like my dad.
He has already begun to leave an impression on my boys.
When my nine-year old lifts his baby sister up into his bed to snuggle and read her a book, I see my father.
When my seven year old rushes to her side after she takes a tumble in the grass, I see my father.
Without so much as a lecture he is teaching them what it means to be a man. He knows the value of actions and just how trite spoken words can be, especially when those words contradict the actions. I watch him cover their small hands with his big, freckled ones and know that those are the hands of a man who is not afraid. Not afraid to love, to be himself, to stand up when it’s needed, and back down when it’s not.
Kindness, understanding, patience, gentleness - these are the measures of a true man.