Kathy Riordan

Kathy Riordan
Florida, United States
April 27
One woman's view of life and the universe. Follow @katriord on Twitter.


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Poetry, if you like that sort of thing
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JUNE 17, 2011 8:07AM

The Measure of a Man

Rate: 22 Flag


My father was the first to show me what it meant to be fully human, fully vulnerable, in spite of being the Jitterbug King.

He never pretended to be perfect.

Make no mistake, he was pretty darned good.  Most girls, especially oldest, especially "daddy's girls," take their father for better or worse as the form on which they'll fashion their fantasy prince.  Mine was smart and funny and strong, smart in ways that defy degrees, figuring out mathematical formulae while laboring in the oil fields, nothing but a high school diploma and barely that since he and some other friends had defied orders and attended a basketball tournament.

I always imagined he was something of an Arthur Fonzarelli in high school, an oddly placed James Dean only quieter maybe, cigarettes rolled up in the sleeve of a t-shirt, slicked pompadour, an antihero, cool, contemplative, then the marine, all coloring within the lines, up at dawn, Marine Hymn blaring, the few, the proud, cover your heart when the flag comes past, run into the ocean at Oceanside.

The man I knew came home from the oil fields soaked in grime, scrubbed up in Lava soap and settled into a chair, reading front to back  The Salt Lake Tribune delivered daily from four hours away, no cable news then, no instant source, headlines to business to classified ads, commenting all the while on the latest political controversy or business misadventure, how Cashmere Bouquet was on sale this weekend worth making the trip to the city.  When he wasn't checking wells he was holed up in an office two houses away, a dusty man-cave lined with pinups and punctuated by slide rules and log books and the smell of mimeograph machines.

He never pretended to be perfect.  It was easy to see from a young age he was multi-dimensional, full of life and the consequences of living it, Pa on Little House, Hawkeye Pierce in M*A*S*H, all rolled up in a James Garner body.   

By junior high it occurred to me he had a Sunday voice, a way of speaking in church on the weekend that wasn't exactly the same voice he had the rest of the week, or the same vocabulary, but both were the same person, neither disavowing the other.  He could swear at referees with the best of them; he could show you God on a mountainside. 

I saw him cry out to the heavens when we stumbled onto a wounded pregnant doe in the wilderness west of us, and I never forgot it.  Real men--even big men, tough men, athletic men, strong men--cried, and cried for the right reasons, never for himself.

Those long rides in the pick-up truck in high school were filled with street wisdom: don't smoke because it's stupid and expensive, young sex is filled with emotional consequences, and not just physical ones, figure out who you are.

I knew already then that marriages were complicated and never what they appear to others on the outside, that lives were difficult and messy and that there were interior places to which people retreated, beyond the man-caves, beyond the mountains, that few understood.  

Soon after, I saw him face certain death.

That time was filled with both courage and fear, fear of the unknown in spite of hope and faith that came from a deep well, courage hammered in a boot camp in California, stand up big and tall, remember who you are, never surrender.  Years later I married another man, fully human, fully flawed, who cried for all the right reasons and stood tall, forged in the battlefields of World War II, because of the measure of a man first found in my father, a man fully human aspiring to the divine.

I take with me above all, the smartest, most certain, most human words my father ever gifted me in his fully flawed, fully wonderful life:

"When in doubt, punt." 



My father, probably Christmas 1966, with clockwise from top, my brother Paul, my sister Linda, me, and my sister Diane. 

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Sometimes punting is right, although going for it on fourth down can be the right decision too, especially when dealing with footballs.
Sweet and tender, true and telling tribute. Love these photos. How handsome.
Women with strong fathers make good decisions when choosing their husbands. Those of us who were rejected keep looking for that approval and sometimes never find it. I have, finally. You are blessed for having had both of those great men love you.
Very well-written tribute to your father.
Kathy, you are so blessed to have found great love with father and husband, and to appreciate and celebrate both.
Great tribute and congrats on the EP
I love imagining the scene in the woods. Strong and compassionate. The best.
He loved the game of life, and he passed that love on to you. He does look like Fonzi.
Yeah, the measure of a man is just how real he allows himself to be with himself and with his offsprings. Beautifully written, Kathy, you made me miss my father and remember him - thank you.
Rated with love, and admiration.
"I knew already then that marriages were complicated and never what they appear to others on the outside, that lives were difficult and messy and that there were interior places to which people retreated, beyond the man-caves, beyond the mountains, that few understood."

I like this very much; very true.
He sounds like the kind of guy I would like to have known. You were obviously fortunate to have him. Great tribute!
What a great tribute. Wonderful post.
just poignant, kathy r.
Quite the gentleman, if you don't mind my saying so!
what a wonderful tribute to your father. you made me feel a little of what it must have been like to have a man like that as your father. I'm sitting here, smiling, glad for you.
Lucky girl. We are made by our fathers, they shape the world around us and color it with their influence - he did a great job with you. (And he's a hottie, to boot!)
Kathy, yes that is the measure of a man. You are fortunate to have both in a father and a husband.
Wonderful portrait of your father. R
You show many facets of a clearly wonderful man--the James Dean and the Marine "all coloring within the lines" (I love that!), the gritty oil man and the thorough newspaper reader, the wise counselor on behavior sexual and life lessons from the gridiron. This juxtaposition, I think, puts it best: "He could swear at referees with the best of them; he could show you God on a mountainside."
Lovely tribute, Kathy; you show us his measure.
They don't make 'em like that anymore. An inspiring devotion.
Written true, which is the best.
Your relationship with your father was enviable, your telling inspiring. I beg to differ on one point, however. It was my father who was Jitterbug King.
What a terrific and real tribute to your father. He did sound like a cool cat in many ways. Funny you should mention that old adage in the end.

"When in doubt, punt." My dad and mom both said, "When in doubt, don't." Can't tell you how many times that comes to my mind. More often than I care to remember.
Eloquently told and lived.