Tuesday, December 27, 2011

End Times

The end of December is traditionally the time to pause and take stock of the year just past. We soon will have an opportunity to watch highlight reels that feature the best of the year's events in sports, politics, economics and entertainment. We can relive the best and the worst that 2011 offered. Such is the nature of December, when we end one year and look forward to the start of another.

This past week, however, gave me pause to ponder a different slant on the end of the year. I received word my uncle had passed away. I attended the funeral and was struck by the realization that he was the last living member of my father's generation. When I returned home from his funeral I received word a good friend of ours was called home -- suddenly and unexpectedly. I was making plans to attend his funeral, when I was admitted into the hospital myself -- again very unexpected and sudden.

It was then I began to ponder how ready I was for the end times. What if I were to be called home right now? Have I provided for my family? Will there be funds to pay the bills? Have I made my wishes known about the disposition of my things? Will my heirs know what charities I want to support with my estate? Will my wife know my funeral wishes: hymns, scripture readings and such? Will someone have enough information to fill in the obituary items like my date of birth, place of birth, survivors, those that preceded me in death, final resting place, etc.? What will people remember about me?

I know it is not something guys -- or anybody for that matter -- like to think about, especially when we are younger, but it is something we should plan for now. Perhaps it's time to pause and take stock of your past and where your future may be going. Now is the time to attend those details that help and comfort your family.

One thought struck me as I lay in the hospital bed those lonely, early morning hours recently. Surely, the greatest comfort my family has is knowing the answer to the question of eternity about me; I am confident I will spend eternity in heaven.

As we look back over 2011, let's take time to look forward too. The future will be here before you know it.

Truly, the best is yet to come!

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a Son, and you are to give Him the Name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins."

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: "The virgin will conceive and give birth to a Son, and they will call Him Immanuel" (which means "God with us").

Matthew 1:18-23

From our homes to yours, we at the Men's NetWork pray you have a joy-filled celebration of our Lord's birth.

God Bless and Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Deck the House - and Lawn

Recently a few of my neighborhood friends and I were visiting out by the curb in front of my house. Among them was a first-time father of a baby boy. With his son content in his dad's arms, I was telling him how Christmas preparations are different pre- and post-child. He began to shake his head and commented, "I guess I will have to start putting up outdoor decorations now."

A few of us season-hardened dads nodded in agreement as we recalled those carefree days when "outdoor decorations" meant a wreath on the front door and a five-dollar bill in the mailbox for the postman. We started to trade stories of tangled wires, blown fuses and standing on non-OSHA-approved perches to reach the top of the house. Each man in turn offered the same advice: "Pick a warm day for your first go-round; you'll be out there awhile." One grey-haired, outdoor décor veteran offered his sage wisdom too: "Pick white lights, string them up and leave them in place year-round. Come next December, you'll be glad you did."

I could almost see the young father's eyes start to mist as he remembered the no-small spectacle of his dad's yearly lawn-ornament-and-light show. He recalled it with great satisfaction, detailing the effort his dad put into the display. It was as if the family's social rank was somehow tied to the lumens emitted from their residence. Also counting toward a family's neighborhood prestige was the number of plastic Santas, elves, reindeer and miscellaneous figures covering the roof and lawn. It suddenly dawned on him that he was now the dad who had to protect his son's social status among his diapered peers.

As we spoke, I imagined him strolling the Christmas aisles of Home Depot. Surveying this year's inventory of blinking TV cartoon characters, inflatable snow globes (complete with Santa in a bubble) and other yard bling, he must decide what message he will send as he adorns his property in radiant light. Will he choose eco-friendly materials and energy-efficient bulbs? Will he go high-tech and synchronize his halogen, high-beam lights to an upbeat Christmas melody blasted out on Dolby surround sound speakers? Or will he take an eclectic approach and mix it all up with a fan-animated Santa that bobs and weaves; blue, electric icicles hanging off the gutters; glowing candy canes on the roof marking out a landing strip for Santa's gift-laden chariot and other priceless kitsch.

As the older men pondered this young dad's pending dilemma, one grandpa shared his minimalist approach: "I just like to put out a Nativity set. It gives the best light of all."

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Steer Into the Skid

For those who learned to drive in regions where snow and ice are commonplace, you learned the fundamental driving maneuver to compensate for a loss of traction when driving a rear-wheeled car: steer into the skid. For those of you who learned how to drive in areas without snow and ice, a skid happens when the front wheels and the back wheels head in opposite directions. For example, if I am travelling down a highway and wish to turn to the right, I would turn my steering clockwise with my front wheels following suit. This maneuver, ideally, means my car would turn to the right. However, if I am on a slippery surface like ice and snow, the back of the car continues forward without turning. This results in a skid, a fishtail effect that removes all control from my hands. This leaves the car sliding, following Newton's laws of motion. Uncorrected, the car threatens my safety and the safety of everyone in my path.

Thus, all drivers are taught defensive moves to regain control of a skidding car. The measures are summed up in this phrase: "steer into the skid." The driver is to remove his foot from the accelerator, slowly apply a light, pumping pressure to the brakes, and turn the steering wheel into the direction the back of the car is headed. If you watch enough high-speed car chases on TV, you will see this theory put into practice. If you live in a climate with ice or snow, you will test the theory yourself. Hence, all beginning drivers should be taught how to steer into the skid.

This concept can also be applied to guys as they live out their daily lives. Eventually, a man will fall into an unexpected, uncontrolled skid. This "skid" typically involves a situation where self-control and calm lose out to anger, frustration and other kneejerk reactions in the face of unexpected stress. For example, you may be cruising through your day when all of a sudden you're blindsided: you enter your house and are immediately hit with "You are late!" or "You forgot to call!" or "Why am I the last to know!" or something similar. We've all been there, haven't we? In those moments, we're turning one way when all of a sudden the traction of our emotions is gone, and we find ourselves skidding in a different direction -- into a sure and sudden confrontation.

It is then our defensive driving techniques can save us and the ones we're about to plow into. We can take our foot off the accelerator of our anger, slowly and gently pump the brakes of our listening skills, and head into the skid. We can then better maneuver our attitude, catch our breath and find out what really is the issue. By doing so, we reject the nasty impulse to continue our collision course, which would most likely begin with a glare and end with a heated remark. By ignoring every rash move that comes to mind and asking in a calm voice what the issue really is -- and then actually listening -- we can regain control and avoid the damage caused by an out-of-control skid of anger.

If you've ever experienced the relief of regaining control of a skidding car, you can appreciate that sometimes we have to ignore our first instincts and steer into the skid.

Watch out this Christmas season for unexpected places where you may have to apply this driving principle. Like holiday shoppers ... they're everywhere

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

T'was the Night after Thanksgiving - with Apologies to Clement Clarke Moore

T'was the night after Thanksgiving when all through the town,
Not a person was smiling; they all had a frown.
The mall doors were all locked; they were guarded with care;
In hopes that hoards of shoppers would soon arrive there.

The clerks stood ready, all dressed in holiday red,
While visions of full registers danced in their heads.
Then mama in her PJs, and I in my vest,
Climbed out of our tent, ahead of the rest.

Now out in the parking lot, arose a clatter,
We all turned to see just what was the matter.
In unison we craned our necks longing to see,
Yet keeping our place in line we wanted to be.

The red and blue lights from the top of the car,
Proved a dignitary was close, coming from far.
When what to our disbelieving eyes should appear,
But the CEOs of ev'ry store we held dear.

They spread through the crowd, somewhat panicked and thick;
They jumped up on a stage, erected so quick.
An emcee appeared, and out of the car he came,
And introduced them-called them each by name.

From Macy's, Best Buy, Target, Wal-Mart and more,
Kmart, and Dillards, Kohl's and one other store,
To the front of the line, to the end of the mall,
Now please listen to us, please listen to all.

Christmas gifts for the family are all very fine,
But this is the year you must all draw the line.
You see, it's not the cash or the size of the box,
And it's not the money; why put yourself in hock?

Rather, it's the time you will give that means the most,
It's the stories you tell, the occasional toast.
So dash away, dash away, dash away all;
On to your houses, now leave this here mall.

Off the stage strode the CEOs one and all
From their limos on cell phones they all made a call.
Christmas time is just perfect for lots of nice presents,
But what family needs most is your generous presence.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


The brothers gathered together to survey the room full of goods. Mom and dad had wanted all of their possessions to be divided among their children and it was now time. A plan was formulated that would ensure that each sibling would receive that which had meaning to him or his family. Some pieces were easy - gifts that had been given reverted back to the original giver, the organ would be passed on to the organ player, and since there were three brothers, any collection was divided three ways.

The day grew long as each item brought forth a time of remembering. "Do you remember when Dad brought that home?" "I can still see mom's smile when she was able to buy that." More stories were shared than items divided - but that was the nature of the day.

One box held a pleasant surprise - mom had saved every one of dad's letters to her. They were engaged to be married, but the war interrupted their plans. He donned the uniform and was stationed in Europe - part of a medical unit that treated frontline casualties. She stayed home and worked in a factory, buying war bonds and collecting items for the war effort. Each sacrificed for the good of the other, and shared their life in letters. He shared what he could about his days, careful not to reveal war-sensitive information; she sharing what she could about her days, careful not to reveal any upsetting information.

The brothers sat down and started through the box. The prose bespoke their heartache of separation, their devotion to each other, and their willingness to sacrifice for the good of the country. But most of all they shared their hopes and dreams for the future - a time of peace, a time of family, a time of love. They left a legacy of love and courage to their children.

Men, when was the last time you wrote your wife a love letter? There is something about taking a pen to paper and pouring out your heart's feelings that is special - both for you and for her. You don't have to be a polished writer, just heartfelt and honest. If the very thought of her brings a smile to your lips, then tell her that. If you can't wait to see her at the end of a hard day, tell her that. If you love the way she laughs, her cooking, or how she cries at movies - tell her that.

Mom and Dad were not writers, but they wrote from their heart. Mom tied a blue ribbon around her letters, dad kept his in a cigar box, but both read and reread them many times. Every now and then one was tear-stained, or folded over to fit in a pocket, but all were saved for a lifetime.

Guys, there is no time like now to write a letter.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

It's OK to Fail?

I admit it; I haven't set foot in a grade school classroom for some time. I was surprised when I did go to visit a fifth grade teacher. The classroom was similar to what I remembered, there were desks and bulletin boards and a teacher's desk, but there were some things I didn't see - like a chalkboard, blue inked ditto papers and rows of desks. Instead I saw something called a "SMART board," "QR codes" and "clusters". This was not the world I was used to seeing in grade school.

I really wasn't prepared to hear the words, "It is OK if the student fails." Now I know that the teacher said something else after that, but I stopped listening at the "OK to fail" part. Now in my day it was unacceptable to fail. A student was expected to get it right - all the time. If my teacher had told my dad it was OK for me to fail - I cringe at the thought.

Now in all fairness to the teacher, the math program in use now is one that is designed to teach students key concepts over and over again. For example, algebraic equations are introduced one week and then re-taught each succeeding week. The theory is that the student may fail the first week the concept is taught, but through constant reinforcement, will eventually learn and master the concept. Hence, it is OK to fail in the short term, knowing that the student will succeed in the long term.

As I was driving home I was thinking how that is how it works in life. I did not hit the bull's eye the first time I shot my .22 rifle. I did not bowl a strike the first time. I did not sink a free-throw the first time, and the list goes on. Perhaps it is OK for the student to fail so they can succeed in the long run.

I like the concept, but there are limits. I really don't want my son to fail the first time he tries to stop a moving car at a red light.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Conduct Unbecoming

For those familiar with military parlance, the term "Conduct Unbecoming" brings to mind Article 133 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice: "Any commissioned officer, cadet, or midshipman who is convicted of conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman shall be punished as a court-martial may direct." The military understands an officer has a solemn duty to avoid dishonest acts, displays of indecency, lawlessness, unfair dealings, indecorum, injustice or acts of cruelty. When an officer displays conduct contrary to his or her duty, they can be prosecuted. Although Article 133 is specific in its treatment of military officers, perhaps this code of conduct can be used as a standard for all of us, as we carry out our responsibilities according to our various positions.

What would our families look like if husbands, fathers, step-dads, grandfathers, or anyone else who takes on a father's role in a family put themselves under this sort of scrutiny? How would it be if those acting as fathers considered it their sacred duty to avoid dishonest acts, displays of indecency, lawlessness, unfair dealings, indecorum, injustice or acts of cruelty? What if our wives or children had the power to invoke Article 133 on their husbands and fathers?

What would our workplaces look like if every employee held himself to this kind of ethical code? Now most employers do have a form of Article 133 to cover "conduct unbecoming," but what if they never had to use it? What if the conduct of employees rendered such a code obsolete?

Regrettably, this doesn't sound much like our world, does it? While that may be the case, I would add we've probably all seen the shining exceptions too. And if we haven't seen one, then perhaps we've read about men who live such exemplary lives, others can't help but want to imitate them.

In the tradition of such men, I would encourage all of us to consider how our words and deeds and thoughts reflect our conduct. With every action we leave an impression. Is our conduct unbecoming or does it bear the stamp of a life worth pursuing?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Power of Brothers

A quick review of the word "brother" reminds us that our brothers are those we share a common parent with or who share with us a common tie or interest. It is indeed important for us to celebrate our brothers, for without our brothers we would not be able to stretch our worldviews, challenge our actions or have someone who can stand with us.

I have been blessed by two brothers who have the same parents as me. As we were growing up it was my brothers who were always there. Whenever we moved into a new neighborhood, my brothers provided the social interaction I needed. As we grew, my brothers were there to provide instant feedback on how I looked, acted or drove. Their honest appraisal saved me from many a fashion faux pas, inappropriate action and, of course, traffic tickets. When I messed up, they offered words of comfort and care. The older I am, the more I appreciate and lean on my brothers.

I have been blessed by brothers who share a common interest or tie with me too. There are men who share a relationship with me through my wife -- my brothers-in-law. They love their sister enough to honor her love for me by allowing me into their lives. Our tie is not by blood, but is as strong as if we were joined by a common ancestor. I also appreciate my brothers-in-law; they have stood with me in trials, and they have taught me valuable lessons.

I have been blessed by other brothers who have become my brothers through trials or shared experiences, such as facing a common enemy, working for the same goal or sharing a work environment. These men also have stood with me through those dark times in my life, providing the support and strength I needed to move to the next stage in my life. Some of my brothers are keepers of my secrets and trust me enough not to repeat theirs. Some of my brothers are wise men I can ask for and receive words that instruct and inspire. These generous men are not shy about sharing their experiences and their wisdom. When they do, I -- and the company I keep -- all benefit.

In a world as vast as the one in which we live, it's a remarkable thing to have a brother -- blood or otherwise -- who is there for us through thick and thin and loves us enough to keep coming back for more.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Never Too Old - Never Too Young

I admit I was one of the million-plus people that watched the movie Courageous this past weekend. As I settled into the theater seat beside my wife -- it was our date night -- I was struck by the wide age-range of people seated around us. There was a church group of men and women, a few grandparents scattered about, some dads sitting with their families, and others -- all waiting for the show to begin. The lights dimmed, the speakers crackled a bit and I settled in, ready to be entertained and challenged.

The movie did just that too, as it was fun to watch and got me thinking. I will refrain from sharing the plot, but I would like to share some of its challenge.

I came away from the movie with the thought that one is never too old or too young to have a meaningful conversation about one's life journey. Each of us has a story to share -- one that has shaped who we are today. Some can share about the death of a family member; some can talk about being fired from a job; some can offer revelations about temptations that seemed impossible to resist; some can reveal how their life path was permanently altered by the influence of a parent. We are who we are today because of what has happened to us in the past. It doesn't matter what our age is. We have all been shaped by people and circumstances that have come into our lives.

I think it's important we share our story, if for no other reason than to give permission to others to share their story with us. As we tell our story -- especially if we are men of faith -- we can instruct and uplift our brothers by relating how God has been at work in our life. Sure, it can be risky disclosing our weaknesses and failings, but there's an upside to this honesty: we understand our situation more clearly and our brothers gain from our experience, just as we gain from theirs.

There was encouragement in knowing there are men out there who have struggled with temptations and experiences like I have. I thank them for sharing their story with me for it empowered me to do the same with others. As a result, I resolve to share my story with those who will listen. I hope you will do the same.

One is never too young or too old to learn from a good story.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Act Like You've Been There Before

Isaiah Mustafa is a name you may not know, but you probably know his face. He is the man on today's Old Spice commercials. You might also recognize him from his appearance in the film, Horrible Bosses.You may even remember he played in the 1997 Rose Bowl for the Arizona State Sun Devils and went on to play for the Titans, Raiders and Browns -- albeit on their practice squads. He recently was interviewed for a magazine article and shared some insights about the role his father and other male role models have played in his life.

He shared how his dad used to support the family as a limousine driver. He even dropped him off at school in a limousine once when he was in first grade; the other kids thought he was famous. His dad gave him a status in the school community, even if it was an accidental event.

Mustafa credited a football coach with some advice he still uses to live his life. The coach told him, "If you score a touchdown and do a crazy dance in the end zone, it tells a story. The story is that guy's never been there before. Instead, flip the ball to the ref, run back to the huddle and make your next play -- act like you've been there before."

It's interesting to watch all the dances, celebrations, leaps and taunts that NFL players exhibit after they sack a quarterback, intercept a pass or score a touchdown. As I view these gyrations, I appreciate the words of the wise coach who schooled his receiver, "Act like you've been there before." There is something to be said about the player who makes an excellent play and then calmly goes back to the huddle to do it all over again. The message is simple, but it comes through loud and clear: I've done it before and I'll do it again.

Perhaps this is a lesson we can pass on to our children: do you best, always. If you are a receiver, you are expected to make touchdowns. When you do, don't act like it's the first time you've seen the end zone. Instead, show others it's simply the last time you've scored, and there's plenty more where that came from.

In today's society we tend to think short term, focusing only on today's task. We often lose sight of the broader horizon and the knowledge that success comes with hard work and persistence. Maybe we can teach our children that the quiet dignity of a job well done is its own reward. Simple and understated, it makes the doer look like he regularly gets the job done right, and there should be no surprise he did it again.

On the other hand, there are those individuals who rarely get noticed for their unsung jobs. Let's hold the end-zone jigs and nutty dance moves for those rare times when a defensive player picks up the fumble and lumbers in to score.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Some Flowers for You

Recently a speaker posed a question to his audience: "Ladies, suppose your husband came home one day and held out a bouquet of flowers for you. What would you think?" Without hesitation and with one voice, the women in the crowd shouted, "What did you do now?"

Guys, are we really that predictable?

Now it isn't that men haven't ever given women gifts like flowers. We are guys and we can give gifts if we have to, especially during the dating process. When we meet that special lady we want to spend our life with, we draw upon resources buried deep down inside and perform that which will put us in good stead with our intended. We give her flowers, hold doors open, return phone calls and even write letters. That's right. We can do some pretty amazing things.

But somewhere after the "I dos" we seem to fall into a lackluster routine when it comes to wowing the lady of our dreams. We tend to lapse into a mentality that says, "I love you. I said it once. If it changes, I'll let you know." Oh, once in awhile we step up and give her a surprise. For example, when my first child was born I gave my wife a dozen roses; after number two came around I gave her a dozen daisies; after number three I gave her a potted plant, and after number four I went the plastic flower route -- just in case number five came along, I was covered. Yep, we can rise to the occasion when we have to.

I did hear of one man whose wife had terminal cancer. He dug gardens all over the backyard and planted flowers so that no matter what the season, she could look out and see blooms. He also made sure there was a bouquet of fresh flowers on the kitchen table every day for her. He did this for three years until she passed away. He refused to buy funeral flowers. He said he had given her the flowers when she could appreciate them. Though this may sound extreme, is it really? You decide.

Still, perhaps we can hit a happy medium?

How about this? After you read these few words, why not go out to the grocery store, buy a nice bouquet of cut flowers, bring them home and present them to your wife? Then let us know what she says. You can send us an e-mail at mensnetwork@lhm.org.

Now if there is no wife, how about calling your mom, your sister, your aunt or some other woman in your life just because, and for no special reason. I bet that would be as unexpected as flowers.

Doing fun and unpredictable things for the women in our life lets them know what they mean to us.

And that's a good thing, isn't it?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

9/11 ... Plus Two Days

Last weekend I joined my brothers and sisters around the world in honoring the memory of those who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks of 10 years ago. It was hard not to show emotion as family members were ushered into the Memorial to find, remember and honor their fallen family member. It was hard not to show emotion as the children read the names of the lost and added their personal comments and memories. It was hard not to show emotion as the bells tolled in the peaceful countryside of Pennsylvania as the heroes of Flight 93 were remembered. It was hard not to show emotion as I viewed the wreckage of the Pentagon. It was an emotional weekend.

I was one of millions that watched the documentary made by Jules and Gedeon Naudet, two brothers who started out documenting the "coming of age" of a young New York firefighter and ended up documenting American Airlines Flight 11 crashing into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. The film also included scenes from inside the North Tower lobby when the South Tower collapsed. The scenes were graphic reminders of the magnitude of destruction that happened on that day.

The filmmakers remarked how they were trying to document the journey from boy into man as they followed the life of a single firefighter. They expected the journey to last many months but, instead, the boy grew into a man in one very long, very tragic day.

It dawned on me that many of us have grown because of the circumstances we face. We have faced natural disasters: fire, floods, hurricanes, tornados, blizzards and all other manner of natural disasters. These calamities have tested our courage, will, resources and faith. We have been victims of crime and violence that lead us to thoughts of revenge and retribution. We have heard doctors share a diagnosis -- either for us or our loved ones. The doctor calmly sets out a course of treatment, looks us in the eyes and ends with the words, "We can't guarantee results." The words "courageous" and "hero" have been used many times in the last few days and with good reason. I would apply those words to all of us who have faced the trials that life hands out, as well.

It also occurred to me how the truly courageous man is the one who lives his life with integrity and transparency. He resists the changing winds of popular culture and the fickle nonsense of public opinion; he seeks a steady course. In so doing, he leads his family, performs his work and influences his community with word and deeds that strengthen and build up. His life inspires others -- not because he's a well-known national hero -- but because of the courageous life he lives every day -- with his wife, with his children and when he's alone.

What the courageous man gives contributes to the benefit of everyone he knows. He makes a difference, and the world is better for it.

Thank you for your courage and heroism.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Lessons Learned Bowling

With more than 100 million bowlers in some 90 countries -- 2.6 million of those in the United States alone -- bowling is certainly one of the world's most popular sports. Tracing its long history down through the centuries, the earliest form of bowling balls and pins found thus far come from an ancient Egyptian boy's tomb. Today's bowling interest can be traced back to the movie Grease 2. This 1982 film was responsible for a new generation of youth bowlers, which has fueled the increase of bowlers since then. Another more recent boost for the sport came when Wii introduced a modern version of virtual bowling in its gaming system. Wii bowling is enjoyed by game players aged 2 through 92; it even inspires players to try their hand at the real deal.

I rolled my first strike when I was eight years old when my class went on a field trip to the local bowling alley. It was in the fifth frame, and I've been hooked on the game ever since. I started league play when I was in sixth grade, joining a father-son league with my dad. I graduated to a mixed couple's league in high school, on to a men's team in college and, finally, a Friday night league with the guys. Over the years I have learned some valuable life lessons at the bowling alley:

1. Boundaries count. Stepping over the foul line will activate a buzzer and announce to the world that one committed a foul. There is no "wiggle room" here. Once the boundary is crossed, the penalty is assessed. Too often in life we try to wiggle out of the consequences of crossing the boundary and breaking the rules.

2. It is about the team. No matter how good or bad I scored, it took a team to win the championship. Each one of the championship teams I was a member of had one thing in common: it was a team win. Over the span of the season, each member took his or her turn leading the way. Too often the emphasis is placed on the individual, not the team.

3. It is not how hard you throw the ball, but how accurate you are. I've watched bowlers hurl a lightweight ball down the alley as hard as they could, only to erratically hit the pins or dump it in the gutter. I've also watched kids push the ball down the lane with two hands and get a strike. It is all about how accurately the ball hits the pins. Too often in life, problems are approached with a heavy hand, when a light and precise touch is what is needed.

4. Shoes have to slide. If a bowling shoe sticks and doesn't slide on the approach, the bowler risks serious injury. In life too sometimes we need to slide and not worry about the steps.

5. It is my privilege to be the dad of a man who has bowled a perfect game. That's 12 strikes in a row, and it ain't easy. I am proud of his accomplishment, for it takes concentration, skill and patience to bowl a perfect game. I am also proud of him as he demonstrates the same qualities of concentration, skill and patience as he leads his family and raises his son.

Who would have thought all those hours spent in the alley would have paid off?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Labor Day

This is the weekend we pay tribute to those men and women who have built America: its workers. Labor Day was begun as a commemoration of those who died in the 1894 Pullman Strike and has evolved over the years to a celebration of all workers and the unofficial end of summer. Labor Day today is a time for picnics, barbecues, fireworks displays, water sports, rallies and parades. I plan on spending this Labor Day like many of you, enjoying a day off, firing up the grill and perhaps taking a drive -- just to watch the sunset. But I will also spend this Labor Day in a time of remembrance and commemoration of one of the hardest workers I have ever had the privilege to know: my father-in-law.

My father-in-law (Dad) counted his life in many parts. Born in 1906, his early years were spent on the home place in rural Indiana. He was brought up to respect honesty and God and he went to church every Sunday. He was a young man during Great Depression. He took to riding the rails as a hobo, searching for the elusive job that would let him settle down. He told stories of how he worked as a soda jerk, saloon keeper, pool hustler and radio singer. It was this last career that led him to his wife: he would sing hymns on the radio and she just had to meet the man with the gentle voice.

The next great era in his life revolved around his family. He settled down in a small, two-bedroom home and raised five children, making sure each one went to a Lutheran school and attended church every Sunday. He worked long, hard hours at the local steel mill, standing in front of a blast furnace, absorbing the heat of molten steel as it was poured out of the giant ladle to be molded into ingots. The blast furnace took its toll on his body and arthritis ate away at the joints of his hands, neck and back. But he never quit, always making sure his family had a roof over its head, food on the table and clothes to wear to church.

Sadly, I only knew him at the end of his life. Shortly before he retired he was able to walk his daughter down the church aisle to place her hand into mine. We all had tears in our eyes as he whispered, "Good luck and God bless."

His lifelong dream was to see the home of Harry S. Truman in Independence, Missouri. He drove his bride of over 40 years to see Truman's house and shortly after, he was called to heaven. Dad was a working man who had his priorities straight. He was loved and respected by all who knew him. He judged no man, but was judged honest by all who knew him. His word was his bond and he worked hard to give his family something that lives beyond him: sound principles for living and an enduring example of the value of knowing God.

This Labor Day I honor one of the best laborers I've ever known -- a true workman in God's Kingdom.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Hurry Up and Wait

For many of us, the saying "hurry up and wait" brings back unpleasant memories of standing in long lines, sometimes in the dark and cold, waiting for something to happen. Men are not built to stand around and wait. Unfortunately, patience isn't usually one of the traits men are best known for. Nope, on the contrary, action and drive would definitely trump patience in most men.

I witnessed the hurry-up-and-wait phenomenon the other day on the highway. The flashing road sign let drivers know the left lane was closed one mile ahead -- and that's all it took. It was as if a red flag was waved in front of a bull, as car after car sped up and pulled into the left lane. And what was their destination? Why the front of the line, of course. That was the hurry-up part. The wait part came when the cars in the left lane had to slow to a stop until some generous soul in the right lane let them merge. I confess there are days when I purposely box out the hurry-up drivers so I don't have to wait.

For many guys patience is a word that doesn't quite capture a trait they possess. Many businesses know this quality about men and have made their products accordingly: quick-dry paint, instant glue, the car pool lane, the airport fly-by, check-in line, the-ten-items-or-less grocery check-out line, and one of my favorites: quick-set concrete.

While these conveniences are handy, still, sometimes the hurry-up thing isn't the best route to take.

I admit I use a gas grill, but for an Omaha Steak I get out the Kingsford briquets, douse them with lighter fluid and patiently wait for the coals to glow red orange. Sure, it may take longer, but you know and I know it's worth it. The same principle applies with primer and paint. I've used a paint-and-primer concoction, but nothing beats a coat of primer followed by a few coats of premium paint -- a day or two later. And here's one we all probably know. It may be faster to step on a chair to change the ceiling light bulb, but lots of pain and suffering can be avoided by taking the time to get the ladder out of the garage.

Patience is also a good thing when it comes to raising children. I have found it better to take the time to listen to why they came home after curfew than to hurry up and ground them when they open the door. It's also beneficial to wait until all the facts are given when listening to the teacher discuss your child's behavior. And it's always a good thing to sit patiently in the passenger's seat and hold one's tongue when teaching a teenager how to drive.

Men, there is a time for everything -- even patience -- and getting some is worth being in a hurry about.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Welcome Back Football

It seems it's been a lifetime since the Green Bay Packers defeated the Pittsburg Steelers at Cowboys Stadium to capture the Super Bowl XLV championship. It seems even longer that the Montreal Alouettes bested the Saskatchewan Roughriders to capture the 98th Grey Cup Championship. Even the Auburn win over Oregon to capture the BCS Championship game is fading from memory. I ran through my checklist the other night just to make sure everything was set for the new season.

DVR ready - check!
Recliner oiled - check!
Beverages stocked (with fail-safe strategy for replenishment) check!
Sports channels set as "favorites" - check!
Foam finger, hats and pennants cleaned - check!
Snacks secured - check!
Ready for some major football - check!

Looks like I'm good for the go and if was just me, well, I'd be set. But, of course, there's my bride to consider too. Now truth be told she doesn't always appreciate the fascination I have for TV football. She is of the opinion that time spent watching game after game is time that could be spent better. I explained to her that watching football gives me the chance to learn some helpful strategies for life. Not surprisingly, she appeared unconvinced, until I gave her some concrete specifics.

For example, it isn't always the biggest player who wins; sometimes the kicker can save a touchdown with a tackle. Strategy: I need to remember I must not depend on brute force, but that a well executed approach may be just the thing to tackle a big problem.

I learned any given team can win on any given day, regardless of past success. Strategy: This translates into the knowledge that I can't coast on past successes; instead, I need to constantly be learning new skills and practicing old ones.

I've observed the player with the dirtiest uniform usually is the one making the biggest contribution. Strategy: I have to be involved and get into the trenches to make a difference. I can't just sit on the sidelines and watch the game; I have to play.

Important as these strategies are that I've gained from watching football on TV, I did make a helpful discovery based on my wife's observation. It even led to a game-changing decision.

I will watch one less game of football a week this coming season and take time to be involved with my wife and family.

Looks like it's going be a winning season for me!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Back to School

Nothing brings back memories like a familiar smell, and few smells are more memorable than a new box of crayons, fresh pencil shavings and creamy, white glue. Together these signal the greatest of all seasonal events: the start of the school year! Millions of North American children are busy preparing for the start of classes. Soon these same children will step down off of school busses, disembark from the family car and enter school classrooms (loaded with their own characteristic smells, by the way) where they will hang on every word their teachers have to say. Okay, that last part is a bit of an exaggeration. Nonetheless, every one of us has experienced that first day of school angst.

Guys, it's also back-to-school time for us. Now for some it is literally a time to go back to school as many look for a new degree, a new skill or a new knowledge to serve them well for an uncertain job market. For most of us, however, back to school is something we look back on and not forward to. But maybe this school year we can be more than the ATM that pays for school supplies. Perhaps this year we can figuratively go back to school and become involved in the lives of the school children around us.

For fathers of school-aged children, this is fairly easy to do. Make it a point this year to be at your child's parent-teacher conferences, recitals, field trips or sporting events. It would be a great thing for you and your child if you took a lunch break and ate with your child at school. Get involved with their homework. Share your knowledge and impress the kids with your grasp of life. Dads involved in the school make memories that will last for generations.

If you have no school-aged children, you can volunteer at your local school anyway. After a simple background check, you would be welcomed as a story reader for younger children, or you could be a homework consultant. One school district I knew of had dads come in after school and teach the children how to build birdhouses and other simple workshop projects.

Men, check out a local school and see if you can get involved. You will be glad you did.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Lead Us Not Into Temptation

Do you remember when the future held nothing but promise? The uncharted lands over the horizon were as tantalizing as the prospect of finding a new continent. Somewhere up ahead, an exciting career, a luxurious automobile and a beautiful wife were just waiting to be discovered. It all seemed perfectly sensible. Sure, intertwined with the advances in income, the warehouse of personal goods and the wife who - amazingly -- got lovelier with age would be an occasional setback. I mean you weren't totally unrealistic, right?

Nowhere in your playbook of the future did long hours at work, unreasonable bosses, unsatisfying honey-do jobs and costly car maintenance, endless kid issues, rising interest rates and falling property values, a tanking economy and the daily aching of your body come into play.

Nevertheless, even with these disappointments, you know you're lucky. You still have the beautiful girl you married, and she's hung with you -- through it all. You remember it well. The day she walked down the aisle to be your "lawful wedded wife," she was a vision of loveliness: one that quickened your pulse and put a smile on your face. What a day it was the day you married! Your new lives were underway.

But time has a way of changing things, doesn't it? Perceptions shift. Unshakeable resolves come into question. Commitments seem negotiable. The melancholy of discarded dreams, the disillusionment of family life and the financial millstones that want to drag us under all lay heavy on the heart.

It is in these times when temptations to do wrong -- to abandon what we know is right -- can make a convincing argument. Times of testing are faced by every man and they define what he is made of. For some temptation comes in the form of a bottle and the escape drunkenness brings. For some temptation comes in the form of "me time" -- a distraction that mutes the world of responsibilities. For some temptation arrives via the television or Internet, which offer an endless stream of fantasy images that preoccupy our minds and derail our devotion.

When we're weak, tired and worn out, temptations strike for the jugular. It's then when just about any suggestion, no matter how outlandish, seems somehow ... plausible. No man is immune from temptation, but every man is capable of resisting, especially with other guys at their side -- men who have fought the fight and can offer encouraging words of practical advice and hard-earned wisdom.

But even as valuable as our brothers' support and good sense is in our struggle with temptation, there is still a better way. And that's turning the temptation over to God and relying on the One who was tempted in every way as a man -- but never sinned.

His Name is Jesus, and in Him is the fullest life possible.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Be the Dad

Being a father is hard work, especially as our children face unprecedented trials and temptations. Today's children have access to more information than any other generation in the history of the world. Today's children face an uncertain economic future loaded with escalating financial burdens for education, taxes, healthcare and a rising cost of living. Today's children live in a world where the church is deemed unimportant, irrelevant and intrusive. It is hard to parent as we were parented, for we are living in a new world.

Recently, Universal Music Group vice president and father of three, Tom Sturges, who recently penned the book, Grow the Tree You Got & 99 Other Ideas for Raising Amazing Adolescents and Teenagers, shared a few of his golden rules for staying close to your kids in Spirit magazine:

Embrace Kindness. "Be nice every chance you get," says Sturges, whose own father, the legendary film director Preston Sturges, died when Tom was just a boy. "Even if your child did something that disappointed you, or he's in the middle of studying, walk in and give him a hug."

Keep It Down. "You're going to get upset with your children. But when you do, whisper rather than yell. I always try to show the greatest respect in everything I do, and by whispering when I'm upset, I believe I underscore how much I do, in fact, respect my child."

Build Seven Bridges. "Parents need to have more than one route into their child's life. You can't leave it at 'because we live together we're close.' Strive to build at least seven bridges into your son or daughter's world. Maybe that's a team you root for together, a hobby you both enjoy, or a spiritual element you share."

Let Them Be Beautiful. "However your children feel beautiful, let them be. If your son wants to grow his hair past his collar, say, 'OK.' If your daughter wants to wear camo, let her choose her beauty. It's the parents' job to help their child figure out the person she's meant to be, and then help her become that person."

I would offer one more suggestion to his list:

Build a solid foundation. Read the Bible to your child, Talk about the personal, significant parts of the Bible, share how faith is important to you and pray for your children -- and with them -- aloud.

Much of being a dad is being there.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


With the majority of the country under an Excessive Heat Warning, Red Flag Warning or hazardous weather outlook it will be ridiculously hot in the days ahead. This week's severe heat wave will likely set new records in the burn zone as daytime temps in more than 40 states are expected to crest the mid-90s -- or higher! Once the humidity is factored in, it will feel like it's somewhere between 105 and 110 degrees out there. Hello summer!

Weather extremes have been the unfortunate norm lately: record winter snowfalls, severe spring rainstorms, floods and tornado warnings have now given way to scorching heat. The damage to crops, real estate and the economy is brutal, but it pales when compared to the loss of life inflicted by these events. Adding to death tolls from this winter's and spring's weather events, it's expected at least 200 more people will perish on account of this summer's oppressive heat. Both the elderly and the very young face increased risk this time of year. And what's more tragic -- and more avoidable -- than the death of a child left alone in a car while his or her responsible party runs an errand?

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, "a locked car sitting in the summer sun quickly turns into an oven, with temperatures climbing from 78 degrees to 100 degrees in just three minutes and to 125 degrees in 6-8 minutes." Children's body temperatures warm at a rate three to five times faster than an adult's, and it only takes a core body temperature of 107 degrees to prove deadly. A young child can perish in a very short time locked in a hot car. And that goes for pets too.

Men, weather warnings and heat-index ratings are given to protect life and minimize injuries. There have been so many warnings this past year we might be starting to downplay or even ignore their severity. We do so at our peril. In this world where alarms of all sorts are increasingly common, be sure to stay sharp to the realities of a blistering summer sun and the suffocating heat that can build up inside a car in only a few minutes -- even with the windows cracked.

Men, I cannot imagine what it would be like to cause the death of a child who has been left to suffer in a hot car. I would not want anybody to endure that loss. Think about the life of that kid who's riding with you. Probably the last thing on his or her mind is their personal safety.

For that, they're counting on you.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

All Stars

Thousands of fans from around the world will descend on Chase Field in Arizona tonight to watch the 82nd Major League Baseball All-Star game between the best of the best from the National and the American League team rosters. With the National League holding a slight advantage in wins (40-38, with 2 ties and no game played in 1945), the boys from the American League will look to better their record, while the National League sluggers will go for the win and increase their margin. It promises to be a fun, good-natured rivalry and a chance to see the best players showcase their talents. It's also a time we can pause and remind ourselves there just might be a few heroes left in the world for kids to look up to.

Down through the years young boys have shared one common dream -- to be just like their favorite baseball player, hitting home runs, striking out powerful sluggers, stealing bases and snagging fly balls to the wild cheers of the crowd. Pitchers and fleet-footed runners are exciting, but the homer brings the fans to their feet. The names may have changed through the years: Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Ernie Banks, Ken Griffey, Jr., Mark McGwire and Albert Pujols, but the long-ball hitters are the guys boys want to be like.

But alas, summer does not last forever. Once the leaves begin to fall and the air starts to chill the boys of summer start to fade. Though kids may still tack up posters, trade baseball cards and re-hash the season just past, they'll have to wait months before they're outside again throwing sliders, catching grounders, and hitting home runs. As they wait for next spring's green grass, they can lose sight of the traits their hero passes on: hard work, dedication, loyalty, teamwork and commitment.

It's not just MLB players that have those traits: dads, step-dads, grandfathers, uncles, brothers, brothers-in-law and others go quietly about their day demonstrating hard work, dedication, loyalty, teamwork and commitment. They may not be batting .375, have an ERA of 1.2 or have a Gold Glove Award. Still -- and more importantly -- they step up to the plate every day serving their families and doing what it takes to make a positive contribution. They don't work for headlines, trophies, titles or endorsements; they labor for the good of their communities, their churches, their employers and, most of all, their home teams.

These guys are the real All-Stars, and we salute you!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Road Less Travelled

When I was a freshman in high school my Dad came into my room one evening and asked if he could talk with me. He shared a little from his life in high school, you know, what it was like "back in the day." He spoke about his favorite subject, his teachers and his dates. We reminisced for awhile, and then he delivered some lines of poetry he learned in his high school class. It was a poem by Robert Frost. You may have read it yourself. It's called "The Road Not Taken."

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

My Dad hesitated on the last stanza. I thought he had forgotten the words, but he spoke them loud and clear. He paused and then recalled some of the roads less traveled he had trod in his own life.

He then asked something of me that to this day strikes me as profound. He wanted me to remember the road less traveled -- though it may appear hard and lonely -- is one that charts new territory and moves to the beat of a different drummer. And while it may appear to wind away from the crowds and the familiar, it is -- for that reason -- traveled in honesty and guided by one's own compass.

Over the years I have gratefully remembered that night and, because of it, often taken the road less traveled. And while there may have been an easier passage, there was none truer.

I pray each dad will share with his children that the road best taken might just be the road less traveled.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Independence Day

The "whomp" announces the ignition of the blasting powder; the tail of sparks traces the flight of the rocket into the night sky; the sudden burst of color and the thunder of the explosion announce to the world that our country is celebrating its national birthday. Yes, this weekend countless people across North America will crane their necks heavenward and take in the sights and sounds of a yearly fireworks display. For Canadians the celebration of Canada Day is July 1st; for Americans, of course, the celebration kicks off on July 4th, Independence Day. Each year a nationwide barrage of modern rockets are let loose on the summer skies, orchestrated to inspire a sense of wonder and patriotism as exploding colors sparkle the night to the "ohs" and "ahs" of crowds below registering their sense of awe and appreciation. These fireworks remind us the cost of our freedoms came at the expense of the fight our forefathers waged.

Each year I join with my countrymen and find thrills and inspiration at these displays of fireworks. The spectacle also triggers sobering thoughts about the hefty price our freedoms have cost. The cliché "freedom is not free" is one of the world's all-time great truths. Throughout our country's history brave and determined warriors have followed their convictions and fought for the belief that this country's citizens have the right to live free from oppression. Today, that determination of living free is still a hallmark of service in our armed forces. And so it must be. For the battle against tyranny never stops and each generation must take up the cause afresh.

This weekend I will pause to thank and honor those who have fought for me. I am thankful I live in a country where I can worship God freely and openly. I am thankful I live in a country where I am free to express my faith. I am thankful I live in a country where I can share the Gospel openly.

As the dying embers and rocket debris fall to the ground when the fireworks have ended, I will remember that our freedoms are not only earned and protected -- but like muscles, they are to be exercised. I will flex mine by sharing the Gospel through my words and actions -- thankful that Jesus earned my eternal freedom through the life He gave for my -- and the world's -- sins.

Try thinking about that the next time you feel oppressed.

Happy Independence Day!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


After the record snowfalls of last winter and the savage storms of this past spring, today, June 21, we welcome summer. What summer will bring is yet to be seen. But no matter what is ahead, one thing is for certain: summer remains that time of the year when millions head out on that annual respite known as "the family vacation."

Whether sailing the high seas or jetting to some distant destination, families are looking forward to exploring exotic locations, while getting pampered in the process. During these much-anticipated junkets parents look forward to their children being entertained and fussed over while the grown-ups enjoy time alone for adult activities. The demands of home and job are forgotten as the family is taken care of in a way that will make life-long memories.

Some families will be driving across the country to experience the sights and sounds up close and personal. They look forward to showing the children the history and beauty of this nation, seeing with their own eyes the places they read about in history books. Long days of road tripping are washed away as the family jumps into a motel pool and savors local fare at an area diner. Parents relish their family's time together as they share classic anecdotes, favorite stories and songs they've all sung for years. Children call out with the obligatory "Are we there yet?" as they scan a countryside they've never seen before or haven't seen since last year's trip.

Some families are taking to the roads to connect with far-flung kinfolk who live at the end of the journey. Here the grandchildren get bounced on their grandparent's knees, nieces and nephews catch up on the exciting events taking place in their lives and cousins relive the days spent at the "children's table." Visiting family members living in different parts of the country ties the generations together with the thread of common experiences.

Some families opt out from hitting the road and try the "staycation" route. On this vacation, routine goes out the window as children get ice cream for supper, roast hot dogs over the grill for breakfast and parents are the ones sleeping in. On this go-nowhere venture, parents have to be careful not to slip into an un-fun routine of working around the house though. Nothing takes the sweetness out of time off from work than time spent working at home. Done right this break is perfect for movie marathons, going to ballgames, family bike rides, a day trip to a local museum, kids camping in the backyard and loads of sugar.

Summer vacation -- it's when the days last longer, the stars shine brighter and a field of fireflies turn on and off like little, floating lanterns, waiting for kids to cup them in their hands and drop them in a mason jar, complete with air holes punched in the top.

Whether you are planning a road trip or a stay-at-home vacation, I would suggest one activity that would be beneficial would be to let the family see a different side of you. Use this time to let your kids know what it was like when you were their age; tell them what you dreamed about as a kid; let them know you were young once -- and cool! Summer vacation is also a good time to tell them about their grandparents and the great parents you had. Through it all share with your kids how important God is in your life. Fortunately, the easiest way to do that is by just being there with them, loving them and having a blast together.

And isn't that what a summer vacation is all about?

Happy first day of summer!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Father's Day ~ 2011

Let's face it, it's often easier to surprise dad with a gift on Father's Day then it was to surprise mom on Mother's Day. Now I may be stretching it a bit here, but I believe it's because dads are easy -- at least when it comes to gifts. Most guys are happy with anything that has buttons, electronics or makes noise. Hence, any electronic or techno gizmo satisfies a man's gift expectations. So, an iPad, iPhone or anything with an "i" in front of it is sure to be a hit. Also anything requiring batteries is good, as would be just about anything related to a sport he enjoys, such as tickets to watch his favorite team play. Also high on the Father's Day gift list is stuff he can use to grill: BBQ tool sets, mitts, a meat thermometer, even a light to hook on his grill cover for overnight cooking. Always appreciated too are gifts of clothing. Steer clear here though of replacing his favorite garb, such as well-worn, workshop duds, beat-up T-shirts or loose-fitting sweaters when the weather turns cooler.

Equally appreciated are those special one-of-a-kind expressions of love hand-crafted by children and presented to dad. Some of the best memories dads will recall are opening gifts of plaster-cast molds of tiny hands, cleverly made construction paper cards and abstract clay creations that bear a faint resemblance to a bird or a vase. When I look at these special crafts today, I'm instantly transported back in time and relive the moment when I looked into the expectant eyes of my child, who was anxiously waiting to see if I would love their present. Those eyes will always remind me of the great gift I received with the birth of each of my children.

Father's Day is more than a time to honor dad, it is a time when dads cherish their role as fathers. Whether you are "dad," step-dad," granddad," "great-granddad" or "dad-in-law," you have a special place in the hearts of those who call you "dad." You are their leader, their model, their mentor, their teacher and their pattern for how to deal with life. Your individual characteristics, well known phrases and social values are all placed before the next generation to model and emulate. Your values shape theirs; your actions are a living illustration on how to act; your words are often repeated -- for better or worse -- verbatim. It is how life is -- like it or not. You are the dad, the leader.

For me, the best Father's Day gift this year would be seeing how the good I've contributed to my children is easy to spot and how the bad has been -- graciously and lovingly -- forgotten.

Happy Father's Day!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Of Jackie Gleason, Homer Simpson and James Bond

Television has been shaping the attitudes and views of children since its inception. Young minds absorb the images from the glowing box and emulate their favorite TV characters in dress, dialogue and actions. If the TV hero du jour fought for "truth, justice and the American way," while flying through the air with his cape flowing behind him, thousands of young boys tied towels around their necks, jumped off chairs and stood boldly with their hands on their hips. This was done, of course, with the hero's hapless villains bouncing rubber darts at his chest. If the hero du jour worked as a bus driver and threatened his wife with a one-way trip to the moon, thousands of young men grew to be husbands who also demanded their wives be subservient or they too would get a free trip to the moon. If the hero du jour worked in a nuclear power plant, drank beer and was self-absorbed with the moment -- ignoring his wife, children and neighbors -- then thousands of young boys felt empowered to talk back and live only for themselves.

Sometimes you will hear television writers maintaining the programs they create do not negatively impact societal values or conservative mores. Rather, they insist their programs are more like a mirror showing us who we are within our culture. The old question of "does art imitate life or does life imitate art?" seems to be answered in the first postulate. If that is true, I wonder what our society is really like in how men (husbands) treat women (wives).

It appears to me that for a long time the prevalent standard was that women were nothing more than second-class citizens designed for housework, mothering and waiting on their male counterparts. Women were viewed as weak, both in mind and in body. The show in which Jackie Gleason starred -- The Honeymooners -- regularly portrayed this attitude about women's supposed inferiority and servile status -- though Gleason's character, Ralph Kramden, did get his comeuppance on more than one occasion.

Then along came the 70s and the societal shift to the empowerment of women. Women were roaring as Helen Reddy sang to a nation. They were able to handle job, family and every other demand on their time and abilities. More recently, it's cartoons like The Simpsons and that family's patriarchal dolt who shows himself preeminent in being both incompetent and boorish. Such caricatures of men render them as self-absorbed dullards, needing women to care for them.

In today's culture a true "man's man" -- i.e. one who is confident, controlling, detached and self-preoccupied -- is the core stuff of movies and television programs everywhere. He is "the man" -- large and in charge. He's the brooding loner women whisper about, "the leader of the pack" who rallies lesser men, the alpha male who kicks butt and could care less about taking names, the super stud who drives women crazy and the attitude-adjusting biker who knows no bounds when delivering punishment.

Guys, I think we're more than a Jackie Gleason, Homer Simpson or James Bond. I think we are at our best when we honor our commitments, cherish our wife and are involved in the life of our children. I believe it is not the roar that gives us respect, but our role. It is our true, God-given vocation to be strong for our family -- not only with our muscles, but in our character.

Look around. There are dozens of examples we can follow, but only One is worthy of our attention.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Lessons Learned Farming

This is the time of year when farmers all across North America are in their fields, preparing the soil and planting seeds that will grow into the food products that will feed their families, their communities, their nation and the world. With more than 309, 600,000 acres of harvested farmland in the United States and another 167,000,000 acres in Canada, the task of preparation and planting is huge indeed. Yesteryear's single-bottom, walk-behind plow pulled by a mule has been replaced today by huge contraptions like the John Deere 3710 10-Bottom Plow pulled by a monster tractor complete with GPS, air conditioning and satellite radio. Still, regardless of the machinery farmers use to work the ground, farm families typically shares traits of honesty, hard work and respect.

Sitting on the seat of an open-air Allis Chalmers D-19 plowing rich bottom land at sunrise is one of the best memories I have. The rich, organic smell of the soil being turned over as it mingles with the diesel exhaust forms a memory that brings a sense of peace and contentment. Knowing the land would soon yield an abundant crop instills a sense of purpose to do the best possible job. The solitude of the field and the simple mechanics of the task naturally lead to some musings about the lessons one could glean from farming.

Make hay when the sun shines. This oft-repeated axiom reminds us we must do the task at hand when the time is right -- not before and not after. Trying to cut and bail hay in the rain is not only difficult, but destructive in the long run; warm weather with dry clover makes for bails that will feed animals throughout the winter. This phrase also reminds us we must prioritize our tasks. Cut hay that's waiting to be bailed takes priority over most anything else.

It's hard to straighten a furrow after a crooked start. No matter how much effort, the first furrow needs to be accurate. It must be straight and true since each furrow thereafter will take its shape from the first one. We must always start our tasks on the straight and true for everything else is built on that first pass. It is true for plowing, and it is true for most tasks: we must build on a firm and true foundation. This works with relationships and raising children, too; we must start right.

Don't count the chickens until the eggs are hatched. Once a friend of mine shared he had a 120-bushel-an-acre corn growing, just waiting to be harvested. The only problem was his crop was sitting in five feet of water. His harvest was lost to a late summer flood that prevented him from getting the crop out. Another friend shared with me he lost his entire soybean crop to a severe spring, complete with storms, hail and wind that stripped the leaves off his plants. He had to write off the crop and try something different. Storms, water, wind and lack of rain can all turn a potential bumper crop into a total disaster. Knowing the harvest only counts when it's in the barn keeps one focused on the important things. Each of us can learn to not count on the "what ifs" and "if onlys" we encounter, but instead work for the harvest that lasts.

A little hard work never hurt anyone. A day filled with hot sun and hay bales will stretch muscles that one never knew one had, and makes for a deep night's sleep. Hard work is something not to be avoided, but to be embraced as a way to accomplish great deeds.

Thanks to all who work the land. We pray you have seasonable weather and good crops.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

In Memory

The lone bugler stands away from the grave site, often beyond the family's view. The flag is respectfully removed from the top of the casket and folded in a tradition filled with symbolism. The command is given and the rifle volley echoes across the land. The bugler snaps to attention, brings the bugle to his lips and begins the slow, mournful tune of "Taps." The honor guard bends and presents the folded flag to the family and offers the thanks of a grateful nation for this: the supreme sacrifice. The last notes of "Taps" are lost in the wind as the family slowly leaves the graveside -- filled with emotion.

For those who have stood next to the flag-draped casket of a loved one killed in service, the sound of "Taps" serves as a poignant reminder of their fallen family member -- an individual who offered his or her all so others may live free. For those who have stood next to the graveside of family members who have died after returning home from service and now are being laid to rest with full military honors, the sound of "Taps" is just as haunting and memorable.

The powerfully expressive notes of "Taps" remind the family of the sacrifice and honor their son or daughter exhibited in behalf of a nation and its citizens. And in that tune's somber cadence is embodied the soldier's sacrifice, which is measured in so many ways: the sacrifice of time spent separated from loved ones, the horrors of unspeakable atrocities witnessed and forever etched on the mind, the injuries to the body and spirit -- some visible, most invisible.

This Memorial Day I will gaze on the framed tri-folded flag from my father's casket and voice a silent "thank you." I will thank him for many things. Chief among those will be his service to help ensure freedom for me and this country. In that service, he -- and the countless multitudes that have joined him in military service -- gave their families and all generations to follow a reason to say thanks and an example of valor to live by.

Our country was forged by the heat of battle and paid for by the blood of its combatants. On this important fact we cannot let down our guard, for there will always be those who would claim for themselves what is not theirs. To this day, our nation sends warriors to stand in the path of those who would strip us of our freedoms, our liberties and our way of life. I will always say "thank you" to those who have served and those who will follow. I pray that God would keep each one safe, so they may return to their families, their loved ones, and reap the benefits they have so valiantly fought for.

In memory of those who have served and died I will always rise to attention and place my hand over my heart as the flag of our nation is carried past me. In honor of those who still serve I will rise and sing, "The National Anthem," always thankful that we have this nation. In memory of those who have served and are now departed I will honor them with my words and deeds.

Memorial Day ~ a time to remember, a time to be thankful, and a time to count the cost of the days ahead.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Lessons Learned in a Wood Shop

I never tire of the smell of fresh sawdust. I walk into the workshop and can smell the pine -- not from a bottle -- but from the tree, and I breathe deep. Other smells come forward: stains and varnishes, the pungent odor of burnt wood and the sweet fragrance of cedar. The odors bring back images of past projects. Among them are shelves, cradles, even a table. The smells are a powerful reminder of many hours spent planning, sawing, sanding and fashioning a piece of timber that becomes something both functional and practical.

I always smile when a project is finished. The project started out as an idea in my head and took root. Soon the idea grew into plans that took the form of crude drawings that outlined the basic design, shape and look. Then the plans were revised over and over again until the project appeared -- bold and possible on the paper. Soon a list detailed all that would be needed to complete the project: more wood, some fasteners, glue, stain, etc. Then the real fun starts: putting it together.

It is the construction phase of a project that appeals most to me. I am always amazed at what the tools can do. Whether I am using a handsaw or a power lathe, each tool shapes and molds -- but only as directed. I am in control, if just for a moment.

With each segment completed, the project slowly rises up as one piece is fitted to the next. I always pause when the raw project emerges. It doesn't matter if it is a simple shelf or a complex piece. It is always something to behold when the plan actually comes together. After that, the finish is applied and the project is ready to be shared.

Each completed project reminds me of the following:

"Measure twice -- cut once." I need to check my measurements to avoid costly mistakes. I sometimes heed this advice when tempted to speak out. I measure my words twice before I speak them.

"For want of a nail, the battle was lost." This old rhyme about a battle being lost due to the lack of a rider, due to the lack of a horse, due to the lack of a shoe, due to the lack of a nail reminds me that each piece -- no matter how insignificant it may appear -- is important. The joint may hold together without glue, but it will not last. The small action I take today may seem insignificant, but it may have serious implications in the future.

"Haste makes waste." When I get in a hurry and rush steps, the finished project suffers. If the paint is not dry before I touch it, my fingerprints will remind me to give it time. If I put pressure on a joint before the glue is set, the joint fails. I need to slow down and complete each part fully before moving on. It is true in wood. It is certainly true in life.

"Use the right tool for the right job." Each tool is designed to perform a specific function, and it is best to use the right tool. If I try to use my legs as a vise, chisel with a screwdriver, hammer with a pair of pliers, or turn a screw with a coin the results are usually poor. I must also be sure to use the right tools in my life. I can't use discipline when understanding is called for, anger when action is needed, or apathy when empathy is required.

"What you don't see is as important as what you do see." A coat of paint may hide a bad piece of stock, wood filler may obscure a weak joint and a lap joint will not be noticed where a dovetail joint is called for, but what is hidden often determines the real quality of a finished project. I need to make sure there are no weak links in my construction.

On that note, I gotta go. There's wood to plane and nails to pound before I sleep.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Who Is Watching You?

Ever since the late 60s, the concept of our government invading an individual's privacy has been a popular subject for novels, TV shows, films and a small army of talk show hosts. People traveling on airplanes know just how much the government watches you, especially as you stand still with your hands over your head posing for an X-ray scan. Even if you aren't singled out for a scan, the agent with the wand can get very friendly in an effort to get to know all about you. Now, don't misunderstand me, I fully agree passengers boarding airplanes should not carry weapons or have more than three ounces of fluids. And in this I applaud the government's efforts to thwart would-be terrorists.

Driving recently through a construction zone, it was brought to my attention again how the government is watching me, or at least how fast I am driving. The sign proclaimed something along the lines of "Speed Photo-Enforced." I had a mental image of a giant photo, flashing red and blue lights, pulling me to the side of the road.

Wherever there are opportunities for substantial money losses, cameras are used to keep track of people and record any wrongdoing. That's why you see them in banks, department stores, casinos and (perhaps the joint with the largest potential cash loss) gas stations. Yes, our movements are watched and recorded, along with our e-mails, website visits, and phone calls -- often for training purposes.

Okay, we are being watched -- a lot -- by all sorts of agencies and identities. But that is not the most critical. An honest man has nothing to fear by being watched. I smile at bank cameras and chat with TSA agents. I even slow down for construction speed limits.

I do get a little nervous when my children watch me however.

My spouse and my children see me at my best ... and at my worst. They overhear the anger and they notice the disconnect between actions and words. I may tell them it's important to go to church, but if I play golf instead of attending, they get a strong message that golf is more important than church. If I bellow at them to stop fighting and encourage them to act civil, but then start yelling at the news about how I disagree with what is being reported, I send a strong message that my commands are not to be obeyed -- since I can so easily break them. If I promise to be at their game and stay late at work instead, then my children understand they are second place in my life and will treat me as a second-place father.

Guys, you are being watched by little eyes and heard by little ears. And for better or worse those little eyes and ears will remember.

Who is watching you?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

"Until Death Do Us Part"

Like most of the world, I witnessed a couple getting married this past weekend. However, unlike most of the world, I had a seat in the sanctuary and heard the entire ceremony firsthand. The attendants processed slowly down the aisle, and the littlest ones almost stole the spotlight. The bride was radiant as she approached the altar to take her position next to her nervous groom. The ceremony began, the preacher spoke and vows were exchanged. The groom had a bit of a problem with the bride's ring, but all ended well with the couple's first kiss applauded by an enthusiastic audience.

Yes, I attended the wedding of a close friend this past weekend ... in the United States. Did you think I was in London?

As I heard the couple exchange their vows, I re-lived the day that I, too, spoke those words of commitment, words pledging my faithfulness and oneness for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and health, to love and cherish, from this day forward -- until death do us part.

Until death us do part. That is the vow. At those words I looked at my wife and thought about some of the situations in our marriage. These range from semantical discussions about being "on time" to being "late." They extend to thermostat settings and length of showers. They consider everything from dirty socks and the subdivision of closet space to ordering food and selecting movies. That's right, trials we have had. But I also look at her and remember the times she loved me and cared for me when I was more than unlovable. When I was sick, she loved me. When I was ill, she brought me soup and aspirin -- and a smile; she even let me know I was her first concern.

I gazed at my bride and heard the words, "Until death us do part." There is no wiggle room in that line, is there? It's for life. The vow wasn't "Until I find someone better" or "Until my needs are unmet" or "Until I fall out of love." No, the words take it to the very end: "Until death us do part."

Guys, take it seriously! Love your spouse; treat her as you would treat yourself -- only a whole lot better. Take care of your part. Pray for her. Pray with her. Show her you love her. Speak kindly to her in front of the kids; talk to her honestly and affectionately. Help with the chores. Appreciate her beauty; spoil her and cherish her until death parts you.

You may not have married an English princess, but you did marry the most beautiful, gifted, talented and wonderful woman in the whole, wide world.

Sometimes it helps to be reminded of that, doesn't it?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Be Prepared

This past weekend will long be remembered in the Saint Louis area -- particularly by those living near the airport when the tornado hit. The terminal's architecture didn't stand a chance against the storm's fierce blasts. Twisted metal, broken glass and open sky where a roof should be -- all attested to the power of 100-mile-per-hour winds as they slammed into the structure. But the airport wasn't the only property damaged. Hundreds of homes and businesses suffered structural damage and, in some cases, complete destruction. Worship was suspended at Good Friday services in many area churches as parishioners headed for structurally safer areas. One congregation emerged from its shelter only to find the roof of its building had vanished. But St. Louis was only one affected area in the country. Violent weather, pounding rains, lightning, hail and strong winds buffeted states from Texas northward. In the process it spawned tornadoes and property destruction across several Midwestern locations.

Unfortunately last week's storms may be merely a nasty preview of damage that spring floods may bring as snow melt and fresh rains swell streams and rivers beyond their banks and levies. As bad as the destruction from this past weekend's storms was, the costs pale in comparison to losses incurred from the Japanese tsunami and the Haitian earthquake.

We have experienced a very interesting weather pattern this past winter and spring with record levels of snow, rain and storms wreaking havoc on people and property across the country. So, it may not be a question of "if" but rather a question of "when" will a disaster impact you and your loved ones? Sometimes we have a few minutes' warning before bad weather hits. Sometimes we don't know about it at all. Either way, we -- and our property -- are vulnerable.

Are you prepared?

We hope so. There is great value in regularly reviewing your disaster plans with your family. This instruction includes everything from having easily accessible contact info for family members and emergency personnel to knowing where to meet in the event of a disaster. It includes having a pre-made "go bag" on hand filled with essential supplies, and it means family members can find critical information immediately when it is needed.

You can find information for disaster preparation from many sources including www.ready.gov, www.redcross.org, and others.

Men, your emergency preparations for your family can mean life or death in a disaster. It is also important your family can operate in a self-sufficient manner should you not be there to provide the leadership they need.

As one of those parishioners who had to find shelter during the church service last Friday, it was a relief to know preparations were in place to provide for our safety.

Men, how prepared is your family for an emergency?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Lessons Learned Turkey Hunting

In certain states, now is the time when hunters head to their favorite spot to bag a big tom -- turkey, that is -- longbeard. Hunters are lovingly cleaning their shotguns, checking their camo and tweaking their calls to gobbler-enticing perfection. After all, there is nothing so tasty as a big tom bagged in the woods. Turkey hunting is also a time to learn some good life lessons.

Patience is key. The turkey hunter may sit still for hours, calling out, only to have his efforts fail. Does the hunter give up? No, the hunter will regroup and try again. Over and over the hunter will call out the seductive calls the tom loves to hear, until such time as the light fades, the season ends or the turkey is in the bag. Patience is the virtue that separates the successful hunter from the unsuccessful one.

Patience is a virtue all men can use -- not just hunters. The man who practices patience will ultimately prevail over the man who charges ahead, trying to outrun everyone else. Sometimes a man has to figuratively sit with his back to a tree, calling out to those around him, luring them in. A man that can sit still and wait for the right opportunity will have more success than the man who can't sit still.

Act decisively. The hunter who lines up his shot, only to hesitate, will find his shot missing the mark more often than not. Once the hunter has the tom in his sights, he must act. He must act deliberately, but act he must. If he waits, if he hesitates on the trigger, he will have nothing but a loud ringing in his ears instead of a nice dinner.

Decisive action is another virtue men should use. Deliberate, decisive action can lead men through the path and pitfalls of life, while indecision and hesitation will often sidetrack and derail a man. Think about that infamous question wives ask: "What do you want for dinner?" The man who answers deliberately and decisively with "steak" will more often than not see a big, juicy steak on his dinner plate. The man who hems and haws around with an "I don't know. Whatever" will likely get just that: some steamed zucchini, a nice bowl of roughage and, if he's lucky, a char-grilled veggie burger -- but no steak.

Use the right call. A "cluck" works to get a tom's attention, a "purr" means contentment and a "putt" sounds an alarm. If a hunter putts when he should purr, the tom flees. Hunters need to use the right call to bring the tom within striking range.

Guys, we need to use the right "call" words for optimum results. If we yell when we should soothe, we hurt those around us instead of helping them. Guys, choose your words carefully and then work on how you deliver them. Saying "I'm sorry" in an angry or sarcastic tone of voice doesn't quite convey a sense of apology.

The best part of turkey hunting just may be the time spent in the woods, however. Sometimes we need to get away by ourselves and recharge. Hunting may not be it for you, but something is. Perhaps it's golf, reading a book, watching a movie, cutting the grass, walking the dog, changing the oil or something else that gets you outside your routine and helps you take time to recharge and be a better husband, father, coach and friend.

I can't wait to get away. Gobble, gobble!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Trust Me

It seems many people in today's world want our trust. Politicians, salespeople, phone solicitors, TV news reporters, teenagers and a host of others pitch themselves as worthy of our confidence. "Trust me," they say, in an attempt to win us over. Once that switch is flipped and our allegiance is given, the other party has made an inroad into getting what it wants: politicians get our votes, salespeople get our money, phone solicitors get our order, TV news reporters get our attention, teenagers get our car keys -- and so on.

The old saw goes like this: "Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me." That seems to sum up our feelings about trusting others. For example, I went to a carnival once and was drawn into playing a "game of chance." Now it seemed as if the game was honest. It seemed as if there were actual winners. It seemed as if it was a minimal risk, so I indulged. It only took the game operator five minutes to relieve me of my discretionary funds. It took my wife less than three more to escort me away from the game before I dug deeper, still somehow sure the contest was basically honest.

These days I enjoy walking through casinos. I admire the architecture as I people watch and eat free hot dogs (at least in the better casinos). What I rarely do, however, is gamble. I simply don't run with feelings of greed and easy money anymore. I've learned to see beyond the mirage that promises a big payout for a tiny investment. I should thank the carnival guy for this, I suppose, but I'm still mad at him. Okay. I must confess: he did teach me a valuable lesson -- made even clearer by an astute wife.

A good friend often quotes this line: "Nothing puts a bad business out of business faster than good advertising." His point is good advertising can and does generate customers, but if the customers are lied to, cheated or have their expectations unmet -- they will stop coming. Furthermore, they tell everyone they know not to shop at that business. Needless to say, the business suffers greatly -- sometimes with irreparable damage being done.

It's easy to see how trust is broken in the political world. Most campaign promises are deemed null and void once the politician is warming a chair in his or her new office. I can be cynical here as I remember the days when a man's word was his bond. In other words, if a man promised something he would deliver. Even politicians back in the day would deliver on campaign promises.

These days, both the business and political worlds are often viewed with deep skepticism. And why shouldn't they be? They've earned our mistrust. But what about your own house? What would it take for your family to mistrust you? How many broken promises would it take before your children begin to question your word? (Just guessing here, but I would think you get like one shot at it.) How many burned dinners would it take for your wife not to trust when you will come home from work? (Again -- just guessing here -- but maybe two?) How many missed appointments, missed trips, missed outings and missed allowance raises before your word carries little to no weight at all?

Trust is a funny thing. It seems solid when you feel people believe what you say. But it's so easy to forget how painful it is when they don't -- and when their reason for not believing what you have to say is because you can't be trusted.

Trust needs to be constantly earned. Once trust is lost it seems it then takes an almost ridiculous amount of time and action before it is restored. Sometimes it never is.

Who do you trust? That's probably a pretty easy question to answer.

Now flip it over. Who trusts you? That's a more important question -- trust me.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

I am Sorry

It has been postulated that the three most important words in any relationship are "I Love You." Important as those are, however, I would venture to guess those three words are probably number two. To me, "I am sorry," should be the number one phrase for any relationship. It may be hard to say, "I love you," but, in my opinion, "I am sorry," is by far harder. When somebody says he or she is sorry, that person is acknowledging a mistake has been made. Whoa! Now how many of us can admit to that?

For example, how many of us would be happier blaming our wives for getting us lost then admit we didn't know where we were going? C'mon, you know what I am talking about. You give her the map, pretty much convinced you already know where you're going, and then you come to a fork in the road. Naturally, you ask her, "Which way?" She stammers and ventures an educated guess. Unfortunately, it's wrong, and you go straight for the jugular, blurting out something like "If you'd learn to read a map, then we wouldn't be lost!" Boy, it felt good to get that off your chest, huh? The problem is whose responsibility was it to know where you're going? Whose responsibility was it to teach her the route? Who is really to blame? So, rather than go off on her, what about taking the responsibility and confessing, "I am sorry. I got us lost"?

That, as we all know, is a bitter pill to swallow.

Not too long ago I left something very important in a hotel room. The item was mine. The item was important to me. I left it. But the temptation when I found it was missing was to blame my wife. For after all, she was supposed to check the room to see if I left anything! No, I had to say, "I am sorry." I was the one who left it. It was my responsibility.

I make mistakes. I am not above taking responsibility for my actions. I mess up and I must confess and ask for forgiveness. It's not easy, but I learned from a master: my Dad.

My Dad's temper was legendary. He could yell, curse and argue with the best of them. One time I witnessed him rattle a store manager into giving him a cut of meat at a reduced price -- even though the ad was wrong, and the manager explained how it wasn't the store's fault. By the time Dad was through "explaining" his viewpoint, he -- and all the other shoppers that had gathered to witness this brutal exchange -- received the same discount. Such was his wrath.

I was on the receiving end of his anger many times growing up. But one thing I always remember is this: most of the time I deserved his discipline, and all of the time he would apologize to me for losing his temper. On one memorable occasion he berated me and banished me to my room with the words, "You are worthless."

That hurt.

Later that evening Dad came into my room, sat on my bed and confessed he was out of line. He explained how he said things in anger -- things I shouldn't believe. I was not worthless; I was worthy. The tears in his voice betrayed his emotion. From that day on I knew that no matter what the words were, he knew I was worthy.

When he said, "I am sorry," he made me who I am today -- a worthy child.

Not too shabby an outcome for three little words.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Opening Day is a Shout Away!

The grass is green, the mound is raked, the seats are all scrubbed and the hot dogs are ready to go ... baseball's opening day is here! The season looms large before us, filled with the hope and promise of warm, sunny days and star-filled nights. Baseball is more than watching our favorite team in an athletic contest. It's a tradition, a memory, an event and ... an opportunity.

A baseball game is a great time for fathers to teach sons -- and daughters -- about the wonders of the game and the beauty of its storied traditions. In the stands, fathers share the mechanics of balls, strikes and pitching styles, tapping into their own first-hand experience dealing with curve balls and sliders. They delineate the finer points of taking an inside pitch against uncorking a missile to the rafters. Teachable moments get mixed in with sharing a bag of peanuts, repositioning a jalapeño slice on a cheese-covered nacho and sipping a frosty beverage. In fact, when it comes right down to it, the game is merely the backdrop to the best thing taking place in those two seats: the making of bright memories between dads and kids.

When not filling out the scorecard with "Ks" dads can share words of wisdom with their kids, using the game playing out before them as a perfect object lesson. The player who "crosses" himself before batting, the manager who goes ballistic over a bad call and the little kid who's scrambling on the field as a bat boy -- each give the dad something to talk about with his own kids. Baseball games last long enough that dads can get past the sheer excitement of the game and can steal some powerful bonding time with their kids. These exchanges are not soon forgotten either. The game itself reinforces these lessons on the memory, creating an impression that's remembered fondly in an atmosphere of fun and enjoyment.

And this camaraderie isn't just for dads and their kids either. Guys sitting together in the upper deck have the chance to share more than a drink and an opinion about the manager. They can talk about what's on their minds: their hurts, their dreams, their lives and their families. Fortunate is the man who can share a game with good friends.

Even more fortunate is the husband who can take his wife to the game -- and she enjoys it! That man needs to buy season tickets!

It doesn't matter if it's a major league team, a minor league team, a little league team or just a backyard pick-up game -- watching baseball is an excellent way to make the "All-American Pastime" a truly memorable event!

Play ball!