The Measure Of A Man

 In Character, Family, Fred's Blog, Inheritance, People, Relationships, Story, Uncategorized

Listen to “The Measure of a Man” by Fred Smith

 

When my father was five years old, he fell with a glass jar of peaches he was carrying and sliced open the wrist of his right hand. His family had no insurance or access to medical care, so they took him to the closest hospital where the doctor on duty told them the nerve in my father’s right arm had been severed and would need reconnecting.

The surgeon was drunk and botched the job, leaving Dad with a right hand that had little strength and was shaped somewhat like a claw. While able to hold a nail between his fingers, weakly shake a hand, and hook his thumb around the steering wheel of the car to drive, for all practical purposes his right hand was useless. He had to teach himself to write and do almost everything left-handed. Yet, when he talked about it he put it this way: “My right hand is not a handicap. It is a fact of life. I can deal with that fact.”

He learned to compensate early in his life. While he could not catch a ball, he discovered he could kick. He could not compete in many things that were normal for boys his age, but he used his time to think. He learned to read people. He learned to speak and tell stories.

My father had nothing more than a high school education, but he never stopped learning. When he died, I went through his library and saw that the books he read were full of his left-handed scrawls in the margins. Someone once told the essayist Charles Lamb that he made books loaned to him even more valuable by the margin notes he made before he returned them. That would have also been true for whatever Dad read. We didn’t keep the books, really. We kept the margins. 

As much as anything Dad relished making and fixing things. What he really loved were the tools. He collected them partly because he needed the right tools to do the work with one hand and partly because he loved working with them – hundreds of them. He found delight in patiently figuring out the essence of a problem and then coming up with a solution that was brilliant – and often incredibly ugly. What vexed us the most was it worked. He understood how things fit together. And when they didn’t there was duct tape.

Carol and I were cleaning out a closet after he died and came across a couple of things that were such powerful reminders of my father that we put them together in a shadow box. One is a small plaque Dad received from consulting with IBM that says, “Think.” The other is his red carpenter’s pencil. He always said, “Measure twice and cut once.”

Countless times I have seen him measure and re-measure a plank with his T-square and then carefully draw the red pencil line across the cut. He built a barn, garage, patio, fences and walkways using the same precision and attention to the way things fit together. And always there was the sign to remind him (and me) to think before measuring and cutting.

Because Mom and Dad grew up in poverty they had few treasures to pass on to their children so later in life they bought a number of expensive items they wanted to give as heirlooms. Of course, we appreciated the gesture but had no interest in those. We wanted the pencils, the T-squares, and the plaques – the things that carried our stories and our memories.

It’s probably the same for you. None of us really want the china and silver as much as we want the mixing bowl. We want the common things that not only remind us of our family but of who we are as well. They make us whole and our memories intact. They fit us together.

For anyone else this plaque and pencil would have no value at all, but these two items now hanging on the wall of my study remind me of my father’s character and his values – and what he overcame in life. They remind me to measure my words and thoughts.  They remind me now more than ever to measure my days.

 

Go ahead and write in the margins of “Where The Light Divides”  Buy it here.

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Showing 16 comments
  • Avatar
    Peter K Goldup
    Reply

    I think the big thing in these stories and there lessons is, they are from real life.There is so much make believe in this world today, built on no substance when all around are life lessons, missed i might add. I thank you for the time you spend in thinking through these thoughts along with the pictures you use to express them,
    simple and to the point.
    Thank you. Peter Goldup

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, Peter. We have turned many people into celebrities or fictions and icons with no legitimate stories that come from their lives. We know what famous people say but we don’t know who they are.

  • Avatar
    Tom Ziglar
    Reply

    Beautiful. The treasure is in the margin.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, Tom. We both watched our fathers, didn’t we?

  • Avatar
    Mike Landess
    Reply

    Your ‘Measure of a Man’ blog resonates with me.
    Going through the belongings of a parent who has passed on can take you back to the essence of who they were and reveal what you can still learn from them.
    Your blogs often help me recalibrate my internal compass (or remind me that I need to recalibrate.).
    Thank you, brother.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, Mike. The older we get the more important essence becomes.

    • Avatar
      Marilyn Augur
      Reply

      Fred, What an inspiration your father was to you and now to so many of us through you. I am sending this podcast on to a friend who lost his right arm below his elbow and no one thinks he is handicapped nor does he. I think if I had the words I could write these kind of words about him. We can all only hope that we bless our children as your father blessed you.

      • Fred Smith
        Fred Smith
        Reply

        Marilyn – Your comment makes me want to keep writing! You are a gift to so many.

  • Avatar
    Kerry Hasenbalg
    Reply

    The writings about your father affect me deeply. In a culture where there is a growing disconnect between the simple and the holy, your blog reminds and inspires of the profundity we are continually missing. Thank you Fred! Thank you! I look forward to knowing your father on the other side of the veil.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, Kerry. We need more stories of people like Dad – and fewer celebrities. Needless to say, writing about Dad has been a good experience for me as much as anyone else!

  • Avatar
    Peter Kubasek
    Reply

    Fred, I always look forward to my Thursday email – YOUR Dad would be PROUD of who you have become
    Well done
    Blessings

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, Peter. That’s a great encouragement to me.

  • Avatar
    Sam Griffith
    Reply

    Very nice, Fred.
    What a blessing to have learned from our parents the deep lessons that are often wrapped in the seemingly mundainness of “daily life”.
    I live in the home my grandfather built from timber on the farm, the home in which my sweet Mom was born.
    My grandparents, in a day of Jim Crow abuses of the ’20’s, hid blacks from those KKK thugs, in this home, and were friends with and respected by the black community.
    And Mom and her parents taught me many life lessons, both the daily practical of how to farm, and the larger life lessons of how to treat our fellow man.
    But they are all Home now ….
    “Wherefore seeing we also are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and sin which doeth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross ….” (Hebrews 12:1-2)
    These life lessons of our elders, yes they showed us how to change a car tire.
    But if fully and properly applied, teach us how to change the world! Acts 1:8
    A good reminder, Fred, of how to apply those life lessons. And maybe more significantly, in these troubled days , that we are to be teaching those same life lessons to those following after us, who are to carry on after we lay our burdens down and go Home. .

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, Sam. You have deep roots and have blessed so many.

  • Avatar
    Rod Fletcher
    Reply

    Great words Fred. The older I get the more this resonates with me.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Yes. Your children will write about you in the same way. You have taught them well.

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