The Tape Measure Man


A few months ago, I went to measure something in the church. When I did, my Stanley 25′ tape measure went ka-blooey. The return mechanism wouldn’t work. The tape, pulled out msot of its length, wouldn’t spring back. Numerous men in my church looked at it. “I can get that. Give it to me.” They couldn’t “get that.” One told me to take it back to the hardware store for a replacement.

“But I’ve had that thing for years and years.”

“It doesn’t matter. Stanley has a lifetime unconditional guarantee on all their tools, like Craftsmen.

“But I don’t have a receipt.”

“It shouldn’t matter. Just take it in.”

I took it in. It didn’t matter. I came back with a brand new tape measure. I couldn’t believe it. I have been singing Stanley’s praises ever since. That incident reminded me of something.

My father, God rest his soul, worked as a machinist in life. He spent virtually his entire career in that field. A clutch specialist par excellence, I’ve been told. His company (in Chicago then, in Japan now) made presses for the auto industry. Major presses. Body stomping presses. Scary presses (I’ve seen them in factory open houses). 2001 Space Odyssey monolith presses. I don’t know if it was his chosen field, but it was the one he ended up in from early adulthood. It paid the bills. He was a hardworking man.

Maybe that had something to do with it, living a machinist’s life, tools and all. You see, when he retired, for a while, my father had this little idiosyncrasy. Dad would carry a tape measure around with him, in his coat or pants pocket. This was so that he could whip it out at a moment’s notice and measure something, anything. This phase didn’t last long, maybe a year, but what a year. He’d measure doorway widths, ladder bases, table leg heights. If it didn’t move, he might slap it with his tape measure.

And they weren’t his doorway widths and ladder bases. Any doorway width or ladder base anywhere. He’d unravel his tape measure, line it up to whatever, get a bead on its length, then quietly state to himself the findings.

“Um, 7′ 2 1/4″.”

Finally, he’d roll things back up and continue with whatever he was doing before. Again, it didn’t really matter where he was. Usually it was in someone’s home, but I’d seen him do this in restaurants, stores, churches. It made little matter to him.

He did have his boundaries. He never measured a casket at a funeral or an aisle runner during a wedding, to my knowledge. What restraint!

It would usually go something like this. Dad would be sitting at a table, minding his own, then, out the corner of his eye, he’d see a bookshelf. Plump pickings. He’d look back to the table where he was sitting, then the bookshelf again, then back to the table. If he looked back to that bookshelf one more time, he was going to measure it, sure as shooting. The third time of looking at it, a little reservoir of drool would begin to form inside his mouth. You could just about hear the inside of his head.

“3 1/2 or 3 3/4 feet wide? 3 1/2 feet or 3 3/4? It looks … to me … like … 3 3/4. Maybe 3′ 8″, Yes, 8″.”

Finally, to the relief of anyone watching this (if they knew my dad), he’d, long last, go over and measure the blooming thing.

“Um, 3’ 10”. Could’a swore 8.”

Mom and Dad were visiting us one late summer. Dad had our Lab out for a walk along the road. Mom and I were discussing something in my living room. Mom, during our conversation, looked out the window and immediately changed the subject.

“What in the world is your father doing?”

I went over to the window. There was Dad, alongside the field corn, facing it (his back to us), standing tall with an arm straight over his head. Then he’d look up his arm, evidently estimating how tall the corn was. That year the corn was the tallest that I’d ever seen it. My dad was of average height and the corn was still far over his extended hand. Then, he moved down about 20 feet or so and do it all over again, hand in the air, right next to the corn. He did this several times.

My mom said, “I hope he doesn’t do that while people are driving by. They’ll think you hatched from a loony bin.”

Then a car did pass, my dad’s arm still up in the air, giving that year’s crop a proud, if not odd, “Heil” salute.

“My, my. Sorry ’bout that, Bill,” my mom said, as if now I had to retire my current position and move to another state.

My dad didn’t go on measuring things. That phase went away. He got up in years. More and more things like that stopped as his health declined. Sometimes he would forget what he was doing entirely, or he might even forget a name, my name. If he did get it, it might take awhile. Then everything stopped. My father died. Don’t worry. He started up again, straightway, on the other side, in heaven. Then he took to sizing up its pearly gates, I guess.

That measuring business, we might have thought it a bit quirky at the time, poor ol’ Dad, but, in a figurative sense, that might have been what my father did for us, his children, best. He kept the proverbial tape measure on us as we grew up. All good fathers do. He made sure that we measured up in life. He showed deep concern that our character be the right size: our integrity tall, our hearts big enough, our errant notions minuscule. He paced long moral strides for us to follow.

My dad had his own unconditional guarantee, like Stanley. His kids were gonna be good, fair, hardworking, and honest. Speaking for the rest of his kids (my siblings), it’s my sincere hope that, by and large, more than trying to become just that, that we have indeed all become that.

Still it’s not for me to say. That’s one of the rules of life. Always, it is others who measure you. In the end, we don’t get to grade our own papers.

So, I guess that we too were one of Dad’s little idiosyncrasies. Praise be to God for that.

This Sunday, “Happy Father’s Day.” That from your 5′ 10″ son. My name’s “Bill,” Dad. But you remember that now.



We just now are collecting up all the winter stuffs to store away until October. Being the middle of June, I guess we can call it on needing any more sweaters.



“Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.”

C.S. Lewis (1898-1963)


About William Cole

I am an all-the-time pastor, a part-time hospice chaplain, and a sometimes author. The church is eight miles out in the country from Marshall, MI. The hospice work is with Oaklawn Hospice, where I am Spiritual Care Coordinator. It's right in the town of Marshall. The writing I do to relax. I am elatedly married to my wife, April, and am a proud father to two fine young ladies, Ashley and Maty, not to mention my delightful exchange student daughter, Jessica.
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