Manual The Measure of a Man: The Story of a Father, a Son, and a Suit

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What they’re saying about The Measure of a Man

Sep 27, Pages. For years, journalist and amateur tailor JJ Lee tried to ignore the suit hanging at the back of his closet. But when JJ decides to make the suit his own, little does he know he is about to embark on a journey to understand his own past.


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As JJ cuts into the jacket, he begins to piece together the story of his relationship with his father, a charismatic but troubled Montreal restauranteur whose demons brought tumult upon his family. JJ also recounts his own ups and downs during the year he spent as an apprentice at Modernize Tailors — the last of the great Chinatown suitmakers in Vancouver — where, under the tutelage of his octogenarian master tailor, he learns invaluable lessons about life. Written with great wit, bracing honesty, and narrative verve, and featuring line drawings throughout by the author, The Measure of a Man is an unforgettable story of love, forgiveness, and discovering what it means to be your own man.

The Measure of a Man: The Story of a Father, a Son, and a Suit

This beautiful, cleverly executed story gets to the very heart of the most basic masculine bond, and how even through disappointment, abandonment, anger, confusion and pain, a son can love, honour and protect his father. Who could have thought these themes could work together? In his first book, Lee has shown us how.

An intimate and thoughtful rumination on what it means to be a son, a father, and a man. The Measure of a Man is a great read. I loved this book for its honest tone as well as for the spicy tidbits of suit-making history with which he seasons his story. A thoughtful, loving and honest narrative, elegant in its clarity and observation. Inspired by Your Browsing History. JJ loved to play in his dad's closet, touching and smelling the suits, he loved the tie-knotting lessons, but more than anything else he loved the reassurance of being close to his father, of lying watching TV with him, wrestling with him.

What he didn't love was his father's descent into alcoholism, his cruel treatment of JJ's mother, the subsequent breakup that resulted in occasional separation from his mother and three siblings, and the downward spiral his family experienced because of his father's self-destructive behaviour. So, JJ Lee did what many sons do when they can no longer trust or rely on their fathers: He found a surrogate.

Bill Wong, the aging owner of Modernize Tailors in Vancouver's Chinatown, and master of the dying art of made-to-measure suits not to be confused with bespoke suits. The first meeting between master and apprentice took place, not coincidentally, a few months after John Lee's death at the too-young age of JJ, the eldest son, had followed his father to the West Coast after the end of his parents' marriage, but ultimately the two became estranged. His childhood longing to be just like his father had turned into his great fear that it might happen.

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He needed his space to become his own man, a process fraught with confusion and despair — his father may have taught him about suits and ties, but he wasn't that great about helping him with direction and focus. John Lee had fallen from the heights of the restaurant business to life as a whisky-dependent encyclopedia salesman.

He never did anything to change course.

The Story of a Father, a Son, and a Suit

What's worse is that I thought his failures were contagious. I feared if he was in my life, he would drag me down with him. And so I spent the next decade pretending I no longer needed a father. At the story's end, he steps into his father's reworked suit, with no better understanding of his father life, but with a greater mastery of his own. This beautiful, cleverly executed story gets to the very heart of the complexity of the first and most basic masculine bond, and how even through disappointment, abandonment, anger, confusion and pain, a son can still love, honour and protect his father.

Her book, Lonely Boy: This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

The Measure of a Man, by JJ Lee - The Globe and Mail

When I bought it for an awards dinner I had to attend at the behest of an employer, I was unaware of these deficiencies, these violations. To me it looked like a regular suit.


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  • I had no idea it was a bastard garment, a mutant and a failure, until a woman at the awards ceremony observed was it sarcasm? It looks like something young men would wear in Shanghai. I felt as if she had thrown a drink in my face. Did I detect an unconscious ethnic slur? What did Shanghai have to do with anything? The reference to my age: Perhaps I was the problem. I was unaccustomed to wearing a suit and felt self-conscious.

    JJ Lee at Pitt Meadows Public Library 4 - Learning to tie a tie

    In truth, I was wearing a costume. This was not the way a suit was supposed to work. A woman dresses to attract. A man dresses to a certain degree to fit in. At a moment when I needed to fit in, it made me feel conspicuous. I felt a deep shame. I had been betrayed. As graduation drew closer, I started to imagine the kind of suits my classmates would wear. I could see them at convocation walking across the quad at Green College dressed in a Hugo Boss or a decent Calvin Klein looking ready to take on the future.

    They were at ease. They wore the mantle of a professional naturally. My steak came on a plank, and the wooden steak knife handle was well-worn—an authentic touch. The rare was medium. His behaviour in restaurants used to embarrass me. In the name of research, he would steal menus, drink lists, cutlery and napkins from other restaurants if he found them pleasing to the eye or to touch.

    If a waiter made an error, my father would quickly correct him. If a whole fish was being served, he would forbid the waiter to touch it. My father would stand up, usher him aside, and expertly handle the serving fork and spoon in one hand. I was surprised by how much I missed him. The years of embarrassment, shame, anger and struggle were over.