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.