Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas from the Men's NetWork

"In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with Child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn Son and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths and laid Him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

"And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, 'Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a Baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.' And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!'

"When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, 'Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.' And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this Child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them" (Luke 2:1-20).

May the Babe of Bethlehem bring you peace and joy this Christmas.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Over the River ...

Soon it will be time to pack up the family and head out for Christmas. Since Christmas is known as the one time of the year when the family gathers together, it is safe to imagine most of us will be heading for our parents' or grandparents' house, depending on our stage of life. Since we live in a time when families are separated by states and time zones, this trek usually entails a long car ride or a seemingly equally long airline flight.

Finances will dictate that most of us will load up the family sedan and head out on the road, with our toddlers strapped into age- and weight-appropriate car seats, and our pre-teens separated, so they can't touch each other. Teens old enough to drive usually can chauffer for a stretch and let dad sleep in the back seat. On the other hand, teens with a driving permit are hard to control; they want to drive, but tooling the family around may not be the best way to give them experience. That one's your call.

So I will assume you are headed out for a three or four hour (maybe more) junket and are looking for ways to keep the family calm and talking to each other.

A few tips I've picked up from some new parents are the following:

1. Have a DVD player, iPad, or other interactive device that entertains, informs, and otherwise keeps the crowd occupied. This will allow dad the quiet to actually concentrate on the game, while mom has the opportunity to read her book. Note: Be sure to either have a full battery charge or bring along an alternate power source. Nothing is as nerve-wracking as a child who can't finish the episode of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.

2. Kid-friendly snacks always give the option of filling tummies, without breaking a $20 every time you stop. Wise dads and moms bring along carrots as well as cereal bars. Note: be sure to bring water and make sure you clean out the seats when arriving at your destination. It is amazing how much food is stashed in the crevices of the car seats.

3. For grade school children a nice repertoire of songs and family stories can engage their minds, as they learn a little family history and traditions. Note: The stories and song route only lasts so long, so be sure to bring along the Nintendo or Gameboy to help pass long hours cooped up in the back seat.

4. For pre-teens and older children the headset connected to the iPod seems to last the longest. Note: Be sure to work out a signal to let the kids know when their vocal solos are too loud or off key.

For those who are making the journey by plane, the best advice I can give is make sure you get seats together and find as direct a flight as possible. Infants need something to relieve the change in air pressure upon take-off and landing.

But no matter how you're travelling, one thing I know for sure. Your presence on Christmas is often the best present you can give your parents or your children's grandparents.

Be sure to keep that in mind as you hear, "Are we there yet?" for the nineteenth time.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Read the Directions

I know we are guys and we can change if we have to, but most of us don't want to, especially when it comes to putting together those Christmas gifts marked "Some Assembly Required." Now I'm not saying the directions are too complicated. After all, I do have a college degree. It just seems to me happier times would be had if all the directions were presented in an easy-to-see, simplified version, with lots of pictures -- not clumsily drawn illustrations. I'm thinking along the lines of the one-page directions that come with electronic products. You know -- those "Quick Guide" ones. When it comes down to it, all we need to know is how many pieces get screwed together, with what screws, and where do we put the batteries. A few color pictures with some arrows marked "Step 1," Step 2," etc. should suffice.

Like most guys, I've put together my fair share of last-minute Christmas gifts, with the goal that whatever I put together lasts at least until dinner is over. That's because if it breaks after dinner, I've bought a couple of days to actually ponder the instructions and see what I did wrong -- or find someone or something else to blame the breakage on.

When it comes to paper directions, I understand why the precautions are legally necessary. Man is a funny being. Somewhere someone must have decided his bath water wasn't warm enough, so he plugged in his electric heater and tossed it in with him. He could have been related to the guy who thought it was a good idea to run his electric chord under a throw rug and then put his rocking chair over it. Still, it seems to me some of the directions given are just plain common sense. I really don't plan on giving my toddler a plastic dry-cleaner bag for his Christmas gift this year.

Then, of course, there is the exception that proves the rule. You know the time. It's when you are so frustrated you're ready to toss the toy through the window, rather than figure out tab A from slot C. And then, much to your chagrin, your wife picks up the instruction manual and explains the solution to you -- in terms a five-year-old could get. Not only is it frustrating, it's really humiliating.

To ward off these situations, I have made a new resolution this year: if I have to assemble it, I don't buy it.

And if it does come down to something I actually have to put together, I will make it a joint family venture on Christmas Day. That way we can all learn to work as a team!

After all, team sports are more fun anyway, aren't they?

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

End Times

On those long midweek nights without football and hockey, it's easy to remember the Mayan prediction the world will end in a mere 17 days on December 21. As tempting as it might be to max out the credit card at Best Buy, it would probably not be the wisest of moves. In spite of the best efforts of some doomsayers to convince us life as we know it will end, I'm pretty sure that December 22 will be life as we know it.

But all the talk about the end times has had some benefits. I know a few new dads and new husbands who have started thinking more seriously about their futures. They've drawn up wills, established powers of attorney, and put some health directives in place. They've purchased insurance policies to provide for their families, and they've even put some protection in force to pay for their kids' college diplomas -- should dad not be around to see them get their sheepskins. More young men are taking the time and effort to plan for their own end of days.

All this is a good thing. Thank you Mayan prediction-makers!

The provocative power of the ancients surely prompted some of my own soul-searching, especially as I drove to and from work, pondering what I would be remembered for if my life was over in a 17 days. Questions like "What will people say about me when I'm gone?" "What will I be remembered for?" and "What will my legacy be?" remind me my days are numbered, and the old axiom "there's no time like the present" couldn't apply more.

When it comes to legacies, most men want to be remembered as being a good husband and father, hard-working and well-thought of. This is particularly true for those among us who are new dads.

Being remembered for such things is not the result of a one-time event, of course; it's the honor that comes from living our lives in a certain way.

You know, there just might be something to this whole Mayan prediction thing, especially if it gets us taking a second look at who we are and how we live our lives.

Live the life today you want to remembered for tomorrow. If you do, I predict good things in your future.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Best Gift

Once again we find ourselves at the start of the gifting season. This year we had the opportunity to not only purchase great bargains on "Black Friday," but today's economy forces retailers to try new methods to attract consumers to make purchases. Thus we were enticed to start even earlier as some merchants geared up on Thanksgiving evening. Perhaps that was the start of a new shopping day: "Gray Thursday"?

But no matter when the stores open, we are still faced with the dilemma that has faced gift-givers down through the ages: how can one provide the best gift ever? Even though we are bombarded by TV commercials, and our mailboxes overflow with circulars and flyers -- all proclaiming the desirability of their featured products -- we still must make the final determination: what can I give to express my love and still provide something that is tasteful, practical, enduring and appreciated?

Gifting is challenging.

As you look over this year's list of recipients, you may find there are some on it that are easy. For example, there's the college-aged son who can use anything and everything, especially cash. There's the daughter who has her heart set on the latest electronic gadget all her friends have. There may be the thoughtful wife who puts her list on your dresser -- complete with stores and SKU numbers. If only all would be so easy.

But what about parents, friends, children and others you wish to give a special present to, yet you have no idea what would be the best gift?

Perhaps it would be wise to review the best gifts you have ever been given as a starting point. For example, one of the best gifts I ever received was two seats to a Yankee's game -- one for me and one for my dad. We spent an awesome day together. Another special gift I treasure was a shotgun from my wife, along with arrangements for a hunting trip with my friends. Each of these gifts involved more than an item received, it also included a built-in time with another person.

So when it comes down to it, perhaps the very best gift you can give those you love would be a way to share more than a carefully wrapped "thing." Try sharing something that includes giving yourself too.

Happy gift giving!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Say Hello

As we all know the calendar has become increasingly crowded with special days to commemorate this or that. Beyond the holidays honoring presidents, religious observances, military victories, ethnicities and civil causes, there are fun days like Valentine's Day, Halloween, Groundhog Day, and World Hello Day. That's right: World Hello Day. Founded as a day to make the world a friendlier place, November 21 is the day to dazzle that friend or co-worker by telling them hello. Now for those interested in promoting world peace and cross-cultural relations this could be done with an hola! a guten Tag! or an ahlan wasahlan! Then again, if Spanish, German or Arabic pronunciation worries have got you down, fear not! A simple "hullo" will do too.

Celebrated by people in more than 180 countries, World Hello Day began in 1973 in response to the Yom Kippur War between Israel and a coalition of Arab states. Its objective is simple: greet ten or more people on November 21. And the rationale driving this outlandish behavior? It's nothing less than the far-fetched notion that somehow personal, one-to-one communication is an important starting place for promoting world peace or -- if nothing else -- at least a little bit of goodwill. This annual day of smiles is the brainchild of brothers Brian and Michael McCormack, graduates, respectively, of Arizona State University and Harvard.

This simplest of gestures has been recognized by some pretty good company too. Thirty-one winners of the Nobel Peace Prize have acknowledged the value of World Hello Day, as an instrument for promoting peace and enhancing relationships between people everywhere. Now if you think about it, saying hello is not that big a deal, really. Yet, it's funny how a wave, a smile, even a nod cuts through our typical standoffishness like a knife through warm butter. Such is the power of this most basic of civilities that it seems to have a disarming quality about it. It's just a hello, but it's often a surprise to the person receiving it.

Cast a few out this Wednesday, and see what you get in return. You just might be surprised yourself.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Thank You

I watched her as she approached the door. With her youngest resting comfortably in the stroller, she pushed with one hand, her older daughter being reined in by her other hand. I waited and watched, as she calculated how to keep control of her children, while opening the door.

Then I stepped up. I swung the door wide and held it open. Her smile said it even before the words, "Thank you."

As I passed her in the aisle, I nodded a "you're welcome," and returned to my shopping. But her smile stayed with me: such a simple act was received with so much gratitude. I liked that.

Over the years I have been the recipient of unexpected kindnesses, so I can relate to her feeling of gratitude. I remember the time the mechanic checked out the engine, when the "Check Engine" light came on. He announced it was a loose gas cap: no worries, no charge. I recall the time the gate agent called me forward and asked if bumping me to first class would be all right, allowing a couple to travel together. I recall the time one driver stopped a line of traffic, so I could make a left-hand turn. This good deed allowed me to arrive at the hospital emergency room just as the ambulance crew wheeled her into an examination room. The "thank you" I spoke seemed so inadequate compared to the gratitude I felt, but it was all I had.

Sometimes we forget to thank those who offer an act of kindness to us. We do this without thinking; we simply forget. Perhaps we can seek out and thank those who offer us an act of kindness. Perhaps we can thank those whose profession it is to serve: the pastor, the teacher, the military person, the police officer, or the fireman. And then there are still others who offer a service to us -- the mail carrier, the bus driver, the company janitor, the store clerk, the DMV associate -- folks who often go unnoticed and unappreciated, doing their work for a public that often doesn't acknowledge the value of what they do.

I have tried to make a habit of thanking those who have offered me a word of kindness or concern, or who have given me the gift of their time, effort or service.

And thinking of that, allow me to thank you. You have given me the gift of time as you read this. It is appreciated.

Thank you also for all you're doing to be a model man in today's difficult world. It's a world where thank-yous may be in short supply, but that's the funny thing: when you do the right thing, it has a way of making you feel good anyway.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Rites of Passage

I remember it vividly; it was Christmas and dad and I were sitting at the kitchen table, solving the world's problems over a shot and a beer. The discussion was getting heated, as we started discussing how we would solve certain social issues. When the discussion turned to political parties, we found ourselves -- just as we were -- on opposite sides of the table. After my making a salient point, I could see dad's mind working doubly hard. He remained quiet and his face changed so much I thought he was in distress. Suddenly he smiled, reached out his hand to shake mine and announced, "Today, we are the same age."

I must admit I was not prepared for that.

What he meant was that he considered me his equal. I was still his son, but now he considered me an adult -- a man. He commented that he had co-workers my age, and he considered them men worthy of respect. He always gave me his love but, at that moment, he also gave me his respect.

That was a great day.

That day was like a rite of passage for me. From then on I was still the son, of course, and he was still the dad, but we were men who could discuss issues intelligently, taking sides, defending our position, and respectfully seeing the other's point of view. But that was only one rite of passage that defined my journey into manhood.

There was also the day I received my driver's license. We lived in a Snowbelt state, and dad would not let me drive alone, until I had skidded around a corner and buried the front end in a snow bank. We would get up before dawn and drive to the local parking lot. There, a huge pile of snow awaited us. He would tell me to slam on the brakes, while pulling hard to the right on the steering wheel. This would send the car into a skid, and the result would be that I would bury the front end in the snow bank. He would then exit the car, and watch as I tried to get out of the bank. Once I was able to get out by myself and avoid hitting anything in the process, I was pronounced "ready" for the privilege of driving on the road with him.

Then came the day it snowed and mom wanted something from the store. Dad tossed me the keys and announced: "Let the boy do it. He can drive like a man."

That was a great day too.

Men, what rites of passage did you pass through on your way to manhood? What rites of passage do you bestow on your sons?

Tuesday, October 30, 2012


A fail-safe device is one that, in the event of an operational malfunction, is capable of compensating automatically and safely for such a system failure. It does this in a way that will cause little to no harm to other devices, or danger to personnel. A common example is found in traffic lights. It incorporates a controller known as a conflict monitor unit to detect faults or conflicting signals, which will then switch an intersection to all flashing red, rather than displaying potentially dangerous conflicting signals, e.g. showing green in all directions. The traffic signal may fail, but the intersection will be "safe" in that all traffic will be required to stop, thus avoiding dangerous collisions. The traffic signal is designed to fail-safe.

Many other potentially dangerous situations are averted by fail-safe designs. Air brakes on trucks and trains will automatically be applied when there is an air-pressure leak. Lawnmowers and snow blowers will automatically shut down when the pressure lever is disengaged. Elevators have a system to stop the cabin from free-falling if the cables fail. Computers are designed to shut down if the CPU overheats. From ordinary fuses interrupting electrical power to the sophistication of Apollo moon landings, fail-safe systems have and continue to prevent injury and death.

I believe we also need to employ a fail-safe design when we raise our children. That is, we need to design an environment that allows them to fail safely.

When our children first enter the world of playgrounds, we hover and watch over them, protecting them from all possible harm and danger. Every young child is taught to slide with their feet first and sitting upright. Then, later on, we let them venture into the yard, where they can perfect their playground performances, perhaps experiencing a head-first belly slide. They may think we are not there, but we are, watching from the window, prepared to spring to their aid should the need arise. We then progress and allow them a short foray to the neighborhood playground unsupervised. We may not be at their side, but we are within our comfort margin. Soon, too soon perhaps, comes the time when we allow them to go to the playground, with friends, without any immediate supervision. But our years of teaching have instilled in them a fail-safe device; if they fail, they know they are safe with us.

I think it's important we build in a way for our children to fail -- and to be safe in their failing. I have watched too many children frozen to the point of inaction, gripped by the fear of failing and disappointing their parents. I have seen too many children hide their mistakes to escape the consequences of failure and, in the end, not receive the beneficial instruction that learning from their mistakes can provide.

I think it wise for us to build into our children a fail-safe mentality that allows them to risk, without the fear we will do them harm should they fail.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Lessons Learned on the Road

Over the years I've been on many road trips. Let's see, there's the one to that cabin in the woods; there's the family vacation; there's the three-day work trip; there was even the one that had me chasing a burger across state lines. These trips may have had different objectives, destinations and participants, but the time on the road was spent in some similar ways, so much so that I've been able to formulate a few tips for life. Here are three road-trip situations and what I've learned from them.

Scenario One: It's good to know the exact route to where you're going. Most road trips end in a much anticipated destination: a favorite lake, an amusement park, a secluded campground, grandma's house, a stretch of beach. Thus the time spent in the car seems to increase in proportion to the distance travelled from home. This equates to one mile feeling like five and the inevitable "Are we there yet?" questions. Therefore, knowing the route to your destination is crucial, as adding even the slightest amount of time to an already long trip will be unwelcome news for everybody in your car.

Lesson Learned: The same can be said of life. Knowing how we get to where we're going is the most important part of getting there. Without specific directions -- and then following those directions -- we add time driving that could be spent at our destination. Also, if we wander too much, we might not get there at all.

Scenario Two: Sometimes the sound of silence is golden on a road trip when the conversation lags. At those times it's best to just be quiet and live in the moment. Let the hum of the road and the passing landscape be enough. Driving is a perfect time for thinking. Spend some time mulling over the last good book you've read or how you want to make this trip better.

Lesson Learned: In life sometimes it's a good thing to just sit and be. That's it. Nothing more. Just be. See if something unexpected comes your way in such times ... like an observation or a novel idea or something you forgot about another passenger in your car.

Scenario Three: Bathroom breaks are important. Although I may have the ability to drive 500 miles without a pit stop, other riders may not be so gifted. Not pulling over for a break can cause angst, discomfort and considerable tension for others in the car. Thus, no matter who asks for the break, it is always good to try and accommodate your passengers.

Lesson Learned: In life I too must stop and take a break. Each day I need time away from my tasks to renew and refresh. Every week I need a day or two to recharge my battery. Yearly, I need time to disengage from my work routine and find something different, something entirely pleasurable to do. So taking breaks is good, even if it's an unscheduled break taken at somebody else's request.

There are several more lessons I have taken away from road trips. Among these are always carry a first-aid kit; bring along twice the amount of cash you think you'll need; watch out for the other guy; gas gauges are important; and if you miss the turn, don't panic!

But the most important thing I've learned from the road is this: take time to enjoy the view and the company you're with. After all, a big part of any asphalt journey is the time you spend on the road.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Texting is not Talking

It's been reported dads spend less than seven minutes a day talking with their children. Now I don't want to get into a debate over the exact amount of minutes dads spend in conversation, but I would easily concede that dads could be spending a whole lot more time talking with their kids than they do.

I mentioned this point at a recent gathering of men, and one enterprising man agreed. He said he was not spending enough time talking with his son, so he decided to start texting him. Now without passing judgment on motives or methods, I would assert that texting is not talking.

Now I can see some grabbing their phones and tweeting about how wrong I am, that communication is communication and that texting is a valid exchange. I can hear some say just get over it and start encouraging men to text their kids.

But then I would have to start a dialogue about the purpose and definition of conversation. For me -- and I think a lot of others would agree -- true conversation occurs when I can ask my child open-ended, real-time questions that reveal to me his struggles, fears, hopes and dreams. A conversation happens when I listen and he speaks; then I question and he explains; then I comment and he nods -- or not. A conversation is more than words. It is body language and non-verbal clues. Texting removes the head nod of agreement, the shrugged shoulders of indifference, or the wide-eyes of curiosity and amazement. Texting takes away the most important message for a young person: the hug that says I love you, I forgive you, or I am proud of you -- sometimes all three at the same time.

Men, texting relays facts and information, and that is important. It's also a way to keep in touch, celebrate victories, share defeats, and impart advice, and that is important. But I will still advocate we need to follow up our texts with a talk: face-to-face, man-to-man.

So I suggest we resolve to spend a full ten minutes a day in meaningful conversation with our child.

Ten minutes.

It just might be the best part of your day or, better yet, the best part of your child's day.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Buck Fever

It was my first rabbit hunt. The farmers had positioned me at the end of the timber stand, located at the far edge of the field. They were walking through the woods in an effort to kick up some rabbits and send them my way. For what seemed like an hour, but was maybe five minutes, I waited with my shotgun at the ready. My attention was starting to drift when all of a sudden I caught sight of something bounding at me: a giant rabbit. I shouldered my shotgun and pulled the trigger. The blast roared from the barrel, sending the deadly pellets toward the bounding hare.

Or so I thought.

The cloud of dirt and the bunny hopping away told the tale. Yes, I had succumbed to "buck fever." Unable to contain my excitement at the opportunity to bring home some hearty hasenpfeffer (German rabbit stew), I fired too soon, not bothering to actually aim. The hole in the ground three feet in front of me indicated I barely brought the gun up, before jerking the trigger. The farmers had a hard time suppressing their smiles. They generously suggested I might stand a better chance at bagging some game if I actually waited until the critter was in my sights before firing.

Almost every hunter has succumbed to buck fever at one time or another. For some it happened on their first hunt; for others it was when their trophy casually strolled out in front of them. No matter when it happened, the symptoms are the same. There's a rush of adrenaline causing the limbs to twitch and the breathing to increase. This is accompanied by the inability to fire the gun accurately or the uncontrollable need to fire too soon, exhibiting, as it were, a complete lack of self-control.

You don't have to be a hunter to experience a lack of self-control though, do you? Most men have succumbed to a loss of restraint on some occasion. Many of us know what it's like to have one drink too many, speak too freely, drive too fast, eat too much, or even watch football too long, instead of listening to the wife. All of us have experienced the consequences of a lack of self-control, and they usually end up badly.

What we need to do is learn from our lapses of self-control, i.e. when preoccupation blinds us to the world around us. We need to know when and where we might get caught off-guard -- like when that rabbit comes bounding toward us out of nowhere. Once we recognize these situations occur at any time, we can remain alert and be men who think on our feet.

For example, take the football thing. When I am watching a football game and my wife enters the room in mid-sentence, experience has taught me it's prudent to give her my attention. Does it seem like the right thing to do? No. Do I really want to pull away from the third-down-and-inches play happening before me? Of course not.

But when I give her my attention, there's a payback for it. She says what she needs to. I show her she's valued. And we both remember that it's all about us.

So I would suggest we all practice self-control in what we do; we will be better men for it.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

In over Your Head?

Do you remember as a kid when you'd jump off the side of the pool into the deep end? First there was the exhilaration of your body plunging into the depths, peacefully sinking to the bottom. Then, for me at least, there was the panic of trying to get my head back above water. This panic was apparently of the short-lived variety; however, since I usually jumped back in a few seconds later. I relished those times when I tested myself and my will. I still enjoy a good cannonball into the deep end, but I've found that time has tempered my desire to get in over my head.

Still, no matter how hard we try, there are times when we get in over our heads -- not in the relative safety of a pool, but in the dangerous world of real life.

Case in point: I feel the pain of the NFL replacement refs, as they struggle making their calls, having millions of people watching for their mistakes. I do not envy their situation.

In my own life, away from the floodlights and the TV cameras, and the tens of thousands of raving fans, my own male ego often throws me into the deep end. I find myself promising my wife to fix the plumbing, only to remember I'm not very good at sweat soldering. I find myself promising the boss I will have the project done by the end of day, only to remember I've lost a critical piece of data. Some days I hear my mouth making promises, only then to hear my brain say, "Now who do you think is going to do that?"

Yes, I get in over my head.

Every dad who has held his first-born child knows the feeling. Here is a little life that is totally dependent on you for every possible need: safety and food, sleep and drink, cleanliness and love -- everything that needs to be provided, needs to be provided ... by you. Looking at the babe in your arms gives you a sudden panic attack: "Hey, I'm in over my head on this one! How 'bout a little help here?"

And that feeling can come at any time: signing loan papers for college, or the car, or the house; watching your bride walk down the aisle to you; telling the boss what to do with his job; standing in front of a group of ten-year-olds, trying to encourage them after they lost their ninth straight game. Yep, the list is endless.

But there is good news in all of this. No matter how much you think you messed up, there is at least one other guy who has done the same thing before you. Every one of us has jumped into the deep end at some time in his life. Just like the first time the big kids were there to help you if you faltered, there are brothers nearby who will stand by you, advise you, and help you climb out of the deep end.

Seek them out. Better yet, find those guys in over their heads and stand with them.

They'll be glad you did.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Climbing Mountains

Voices echoed as we started up the trail. Challenges were issued to each other, as words and friendly taunts quickened our pace. In a few hours we would be at the top of the mountain, standing on the peak. Spirits were high as we anticipated the view from that lofty perch. As we pressed on, the horizon, formed by the rise and fall of lesser peaks, seemed impossibly far away. Below us, stands of evergreens followed streams and river valleys like a green ribbon. Above us, the edges of plump, white clouds, framed by the clear blue sky, appeared distinct, like they too could be climbed.

As we ascended our conversation dwindled, as our hiking team drew hard on the thinning mountain air. Footsteps became labored and pack straps started to dig deeper, as the trail gave way to rocks that now had to be negotiated and scaled. Pausing for rest gave us a chance to drink deeply from our thermoses, the cool water soothing our throats and providing relief.

As we pushed harder, our muscles began to balk at the unusual exertion we placed upon them. They rebelled, but they would succumb to our demands, as the top was in sight. It was a matter of sheer willpower now. Fatigued, cramped muscles had to be reined in. With lungs straining for life-giving oxygen, we bowed our heads in our final approach to the summit. Step by stubborn step we pressed on.

Then ... it was there. We made it! We crested the mountain. With the summit beneath our feet, we inhaled the rarified atmosphere, and took in the vista. There was a picture each of us imagined of what the world would look like from this vantage point, but this was something else altogether ... more beautiful, more amazing, more magnificent than we imagined.

Standing on the summit, the hurt, the pain, even our shaky resolve all gave way to the thrill of accomplishment.

Men, we all climb mountains in our lifetimes. For some these mountains are literal: the Rockies, the Cascades, the Sierra Nevada. For others these mountains -- these obstacles to overcome -- are figurative (but loom no less large): financial stress, tragic loss, health issues, broken relationships and more. Each time we start the climb we will be tested, tempted to give up, determined to find a way to return to the security of base camp.

Men, I suggest you continue your climb. Find the resources to get you up and over the top. Reach out to your brothers; ask them for a helping hand. Talk to those who have been where you are now; let them point out the obstacles and encourage you to keep pushing on.

The view from the top is worth it.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

National Cheeseburger Day

Today is the day the American food industry hails cheeseburgers. It's National Cheeseburger Day! On this day you are encouraged to fire up the grill, drop on some tasty burgers and top them with your choice of cheese. Some guys throw on a variety of cheeses in order to blend and enhance the flavors. Pepper jack and cheddar gracing a juicy half-pounder is a favorite for a friend of mine. Another buddy will fire up a few one-third pounders. When they are just about done, he wraps aluminum foil around the edges to form a border, laying in some shallots, a little garlic and lots of blue-cheese crumbles in the middle. Serve this with a chilly brew, and you could call it a holiday anytime. We sure do.

There is a small Michigan town that dedicates an entire weekend to the joyous celebration of the cheeseburger. Since cheeseburgers are great for lunch, dinner, or both, this holiday is a perfect time to tell the family you'll be doing the cooking today.

A quick Internet search indicates there is a special day for just about everything. Case in point: tomorrow is International Talk Like a Pirate Day -- Arghh! September 20 is National Punch Day; you can decide which type of punch you want to celebrate. September 21 is World Alzheimer's Day, and the list goes on.

We all like to celebrate and have fun. Holidays offer great opportunities to observe traditions, gather friends and family together, eat and drink special concoctions, make lots of memories, and just have a good time. After all, who can be sad while talking like a pirate?

Men, this might just be the year to declare a special "holiday" for your family. It could be "Garage Cleaning Day, "Eat Dessert First Day" or, better yet, "Forget The Chores And Go Golfing Day." No matter what the special day, you are guaranteed to make memories and enjoy smiles all around.

As for me and my house, we will be serving cheeseburgers today!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

"Are You Listening to Me?"

Like an unexpected wake-up call, you've probably heard these words before. They're usually uttered when you're engrossed in an important task like watching baseball, football or hockey, or are concentrating on a demanding task like driving the car, washing the car, or thinking about driving or washing the car. No matter what you're doing, when you hear them you have to stop and take notice. If you don't, trouble surely waits.

It typically plays out something like this:

She: "What are you watching?"

He: "Football."

She: (She shakes her head at how guys can find interest in a game where men spend the afternoon running into each other.) "That's nice. What do you suggest we do for my mother's birthday?"

He: "Whatever." (This is followed by shouts directed at the TV concerning the replacement officials.)

She: "I was thinking we could fly her into town to stay with us for a week or two."

He: "Whatever. Sounds good." (This is followed by comments about the coach's sanity, especially for calling a draw play on third down and 15.)

She: "Good, I'll call her now."

Perhaps, you can see where this is heading.

It's a good thing to build conversation skills with your spouse. Here are a few tips on improving your communication:

1. Take a few minutes in the morning and evening to speak with your loved one. Those few minutes can lead to unexpected and important results.

2. Engage in an after-work debrief. Spend some time reconnecting with the home front.

3. Silence the TV at dinner time. Eliminating this distraction can empower communication around the dinner table. It may be deathly quiet for a while, but this is where your considerable powers of communication take over.

4. Kiss and Hug. A daily kiss and hug creates a great connection and makes for a friendly wife.

5. Pray together. This can be jump started with some Bible reading first. Tapping into a written or audio devotion you both enjoy works well too; plus it gives you and the missus something to center your attention on.

Wives can be tremendous conversationalists, possessing vital knowledge on occasion. Rather than reluctantly hearing her out, embrace the idea -- and her. You just might find out something you didn't know -- like when you can expect to see your mother-in-law next.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Labor Day - 2012 "Here's To The Men!"

Here's to the men, who build bridges, roads, buildings and houses; here's to the welders, carpenters, operators and the craftsmen in the trades. Thank you for building our nation strong!

Here's to the men, who defend -- the police, fire, service members all, men who run to danger, heeding the call. Thank you for defending our strong nation!

Here's to the men, who teach and train -- teachers, professors, pastors, and all who impart their skill and understanding to another generation. Thank you for sharing your knowledge!

Here's to the men, who keep the stories -- authors, singers, actors and more, who tell their tales and are remembered forevermore. Thank you for your inspiration!

Here's to the men of action -- inventors, salesmen, entrepreneurs and other movers. Thank you for your inspiration!

Here's to the men, who value the rules -- lawyers, politicians, judges and jurors, and to all those parents who set firm boundaries. Thank you for keeping us honest!

Here's to the men of adventure -- hunters, fishermen, scuba divers, spelunkers, explorers and all those who get up close and personal with nature. Thank you for pushing us forward!

Here's to the men on the line -- men who do the jobs that manufacture the goods that bear the stamp, "Made in the U.S.A." Thank you for a job well done!

Here's to the men in the field -- farmers and ranchers, who raise the crops and animals of our nation's abundant harvest. Thank you for your stewardship of nature!

Here's to the men, who oversee employees -- bosses, middle-managers and supervisors, who lead by example and value those they manage. Thank you for your able direction!

Here's to all you who labor!

May God continue to watch over you and keep you safe.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Don't Forget To Have Fun

On the wall in front of my desk I've posted a reminder: "Don't forget to have fun - Every day leave yourself some time to enjoy, to be silly, to laugh." There are days when this sign mocks me, as the laughter is scarce, and the silliness is squashed by the serious. When the day at work yields little to no opportunity for fun, I feel drained and exhausted on the drive home. I then look for ways to find some fun at home, which is not always an easy thing, especially if I come home to an empty house. Compounding this frustration is the fact I am left to my own devices when it comes to my evening meal.

On the other hand, I've discovered the days that bring the most smiles are the days I am the most productive. I leave work energized, eager to go home. If I happen to enter an empty house, then I look for ways to have fun with the food at my disposal. I create concoctions with what items are available -- most of which are still edible. After "dinner" I watch some recorded shows that try to creatively prove or disprove what is portrayed in the movies. At other times I watch an obstacle course contest where nimble participants marshal wits and energy to compete on a course full of slippery balls, battering rams, and spraying foam that -- to my amusement -- always involves someone falling headlong into the water and wiping out. Afterwards, I may take a run with the dog or just kick back with the Xbox.

If family is around I enjoy shaking things up a bit. Maybe I'll play some Xbox with the kids, or watch a movie on Netflix.

One of the best nights I can remember with my dad was the night mom was working and dad let us stay up until midnight. We laughed, we played, and we enjoyed each other's company.

One of the best nights I remember with my kids was when their mom was working and we stayed up until midnight. We laughed, we played, and we enjoyed each other's company.

Over the years we've faced hard times as a family, but we never forgot the times when we had fun. It's interesting now that the days I forget to have fun seem to fade, but the fun times get etched into my memory.

As the summer of 2012 winds down, don't forget to have fun.

You'll be glad you did.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A Man's Man

If I were to ask you to define the phrase, "man's man," you would most likely start out by describing this man's characteristics. He'd likely be strong, courageous, educated, a true gentleman with the ladies, capable of handling his liquor and, of course,'fit as a fiddle. Many popular movies feature a man's man character in the lead role. It is this guy who successfully fights injustice and evil, even while persevering against impossible odds. Some actors are almost synonymous with the man's-man concept. Among these would be Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren, Chuck Norris, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sean Connery and John Wayne. Movie heroes are popular because they often portray real-life men's men. For example, John Wayne's character in the movie The Fighting Seabees is based on the real-life heroes of the Navy Seabees. His character in Hellfighters is loosely based on the real-life character of oil well firefighter Red Adair.

Beyond the fictional world of the silver screen, we have examples of men's men all around us. Police officers and firefighters respond with courage and speed to unknown disasters awaiting them; ambulance EMTs bandage the wounded and are faced with traumas requiring a steady head and hand; U.S. Armed Forces military personnel stand ready to deploy, engage and destroy the enemies of the United States of America.

The sports world offers examples of men who could wear the man's man label, too. Men such as Michael Jordon, Roberto Clemente, Jackie Robinson, Ted Williams, Jesse Owens and others have excelled not only on the athletic field, but in other areas of life. The just completed Olympics gave us a glimpse into future sports heroes, who may wear the man's man label in the future.

But, for me, a man's man is a man who accepts his responsibilities, honors his word, helps the needy, provides for his loved ones, gives and earns respect, speaks truthfully, lives his faith, and is not afraid to be authentic in his praise, emotions and admonitions.

Perhaps you know this man's man.

Perhaps to another you are this man.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Go Team

Watching the Olympics got me thinking about the concept of teamwork. When we hear the word "team" most of us probably picture our favorite sports team: hockey, football, basketball, soccer, baseball and the like. As a parent, we immediately think how many hours we will spend driving our children to and from practices, games and tournaments. If we play, we think of the fun we have being part of the team. It doesn't matter if we're a cheerleader or the go-to guy, who comes through in the clutch, we like being part of the team. It makes us part of something bigger than ourselves. Think back to how many times we witnessed this in the Olympics, as individual team members were inspired, encouraged and supported by their teammates. Individually they may not have qualified for the gold, but as a team they stood at the top of the platform.

It then occurred to me how we are all part of some team. At work I am part of a group of people that contributes to the whole. I do work much like an auto worker on the line: I perform one or two specific functions to the best of my ability and then pass the task along. By myself I do not produce an automobile, but as a team there is a brand new car rolling off the line -- regularly -- just like clockwork.

I am also part of a family. If I am married and have children, my wife and I are a parenting team. If I am not married I am still part of a team -- that team defined as my greater family. The members of the team each perform their tasks, making up the collective identity of the family. Some of you are the "keeper of the family tree"; some are the "teller of tales"; others play the part of the "dreamer" -- always asking what-if questions, which prompt families to host events like reunions and other celebrations.

No matter how many teams you find yourself on, it is your task as a team member to define and execute your role. This is no easy challenge, since these teams are frequently changing. You may move from team member to head coach, as you get married. You may move from coach to general manager, as you have children. You may even retire from the basketball league and start playing on the softball team. Then again you may move from softball to golf. Each change brings a new set of instructions and actions.

But no matter what your role, you contribute best to the team when you use your gifts and talents to the top of your ability, always growing in your knowledge and skill.

Game on!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Good, The Bad, The Olympics

I confess I have joined London and the rest of the world in following the Games of the XXX Olympiad. Due to time constraints and television schedules, however, I've only watched a small number of the 10,000 athletes from 204 countries compete in events. In the course of these games, I have witnessed incredible acts of courage, along with some not-so-great moments. To date, I think, one of the most inspirational races I witnessed was the men's 400-meter heat, where South African, Oscar Pistorius, qualified for the semi-finals. It's hard not to be inspired by a man who lost both his lower legs when he was a child qualify to race against able-bodied men in the greatest of all arenas: the Olympics. His race was one of the games' best moments.

In contrast, these games also have given us the "evening of shame," as eight badminton players were expelled, charged with "not using one's best efforts to win a match" and "conducting oneself in a manner that is clearly abusive or detrimental to the sport." I didn't see the match, so I really can't comment; though I can speak to the concept of allowing an opponent an apparent advantage in order to improve one's odds of winning. I've watched enough Major League Baseball to understand the advantage of an intentional walk. In these Olympic Games, I've listened to announcers for the men's swim heats suggest that easing up in the heats would conserve vital energy to go for the gold. I have watched soccer (football) teams intentionally kick the ball out of bounds, instead of trying to keep it in play.

But, on balance, these games have been more than inspirational, as individuals show the world what it takes to be the best competitors possible. These athletes have displayed how their relentless training and singularity of focus can translate into attaining goals seemingly impossible. The marvel of solid team play has also been evident, as players think "team" and not "individual." Here participants are supportive of one another, as they face their competition, being unified in purpose and goal. The games also show that in any given competition, each contestant has an opportunity to win the gold.

Men, there are valuable lessons we can take from the Olympic Games, as we lead and inspire others. Our objective may not be the seven grueling events of the heptathlon, and we're probably not defending a world record in handball or boxing. But we most assuredly can stretch our personal limits to reach goals thought to be beyond our capability and always give our best.

And while we're at it, let's remember our team members too, knowing that our experience and hard-won insights might be just what our brother needs to perfect his game.

And, who knows, he might have a few nuggets to share with us as well.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Lessons Learned from Watching Golf

This summer's protracted heat wave has forced me inside, abandoning my regular summer routines of working in the yard. In an effort to remain cool, I have found PGA golf. My new routine is to attend Sunday morning worship, have dinner, and then head to the "man cave" to watch the world's best golfers.

What started as an exercise in keeping cool has now becoming an eagerly anticipated routine. I've even begun following a few of the more notable players: Bubba Watson, Ernie Els, Jim Furyk, John Daly, and Zach Johnson. It's been interesting observing players as they navigate course layouts and conditions, interface with spectators in the gallery, and rise up to face the pressure of playing in these high-stakes tournaments. And my observing has not gone unrewarded either; I've learned some life lessons watching these men compete.

Here are seven for your consideration:

One: Never give up. Even if you dump your tee shot in a fairway bunker and your opponent is smack dab in the middle of the fairway, that doesn't mean the hole's a bust. You can still win it by reminding yourself it's a game where every shot counts. A great bunker shot against an opponent's fair-to-good approach shot has won the hole more than a few times in golf. The man who loses hope, however, might as well put his sticks back in his bag.

Two: Keep calm. Many a player going into the home stretch has blown his lead -- and the round -- by succumbing to pressure. I've watched plenty of golfers have their wheels come off, as they blow a short putt, shank one into the woods, or find the water. The ones getting their names engraved on the trophy Sunday afternoon are the ones who rein in their adrenalized nerves. The man who can keep his emotions in check is more likely to get the check.

Three: A miss is a miss. I've watched leaders squirrel away a first-place finish by missing a putt of a few inches. Those inches loom large when you consider the difference between first and second place. As someone once said, "Second place is the first loser." A miss by a foot costs just as much as a miss by six inches. Golf is not like horseshoes and hand grenades: close enough never is.

Four: Rules count. I've watched players drop a ball out of a hazard three times, before they could play their next shot. The smallest deviation from the rules requires them to drop again. A strict adherence and enforcement of the rules is important to the outcome of the tournament. The savvy man follows the rules, even when no one is watching.

Five: A great drive means nothing, if the next shot is a disaster. A golfer, who sends one through the stratosphere, positioning himself beautifully for a birdie attempt, can still bogie the hole -- or worse -- with an approach shot that sails over the green and finds the drainage ditch. It's a funny thing: every shot, every hole -- they all matter.

Six: Know when to lay up. I've watched as golfers try hard to reach the green, only to find it was outside their distance. The result? They lose the hole to their opponent, who, of course, more wisely, laid up, positioned himself for the putt and dropped it in the bucket for par. A man who understands his skill level can strategize his game accordingly.

Seven: Know the lay of the land. A golfer who misreads the break in the green will surely miss the cup. It's important to know the lay of the land (the breaks, dips, speed, ground hardness, etc.) and how the ball will react with the surface. A winner needs to understand his environment and how it impacts him.

Perhaps one of the reasons golf has such a broad appeal is the way it mirrors life. We can see ourselves in the game we play, when we're honest about it. We know instinctively how we should make a lot of the shots before us, but impatience, lack of confidence, nerves, or our roaming attention span has us giving away the hole -- and the game -- more times than we'd care to admit. We can expect more of the same, if we resist making the necessary adjustments to play better.

The choice is up to us.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Unexpected

Robert Burns, the Scots poet, wrote "To a Mouse, on Turning Her Up in Her Nest with the Plough," in 1785. One of the more famous lines from that poem is "The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men -- Gang aft agley." The English translation of the Scottish is even more familiar, "The best laid schemes of mice and men -- Go often awry" It is the "Gang aft agley" part I was thinking about the other day when I was watching the news. A four-story, 200-unit apartment complex caught fire, and when the smoke cleared it had been transformed into a three-story, 100-unit apartment complex. Every person in the complex had to be evacuated, with only minutes notice. One resident experienced the urgency firsthand, as the fire doors closed just after she exited the building. All the residents were safe; none were able to take anything more than the clothes they were wearing. They experienced a "Gang aft agley" moment for sure.

We all know what it's like to have our plans take an unexpected turn: the stalled train delaying our commute into work; the overnight snowstorm sidelining our vacation flight; the flat tire making us late for our daughter's recital; the Army buddy dropping in at work and taking us out for a quick one; the computer screen turning blue, the hail storm busting out the car window; the teddy bear stopping up the toilet; the conversation starting out, "Daddy, I love you ...."

Each time our plans "Gang aft agley," we can react in one of two general ways: accept what happened and move on or get angry and bog down. I observe that many times guys tend to respond with anger. Many are the times I have witnessed guys giving some gate agent a spirited piece of their minds over a delayed flight. I have also seen a fair amount of steering wheel abuse by men stopping suddenly because the car in front of them decided to prudently brake for a yellow light. Some of the most interesting words I have heard were uttered by men whose plans "Gang aft agleyed."

I mention this because I tend to be one of the guys who blurts out his frustration to those within earshot, especially if I am with my wife in the car. Just the other day, a lady parked directly in front of the doors of a store, causing me to stop and go around. I launched into my familiar speech, asking her who she thought she was and why she deserved such preferential treatment, taking pains to call into question her mental abilities as well. Just then I saw my wife smiling alongside me. As I concluded my heartfelt diatribe, I pointed out that smiling at an angry husband probably isn't the best thing for a marriage. I then stopped and calmly asked her why she was smiling.

She told me I reminded her of her dad when he got angry.

That stopped me cold. Do I want to be remembered as the man who was mad or the man who was able to face unexpected changes with calm and resolve? I would certainly rather be remembered as the man who could handle life's delays in stride, always finding a way through it.

Responding with a cool head to the sudden and unexpected hitches that come our way just makes sense.

How about you? How do you want to be remembered when life throws you a curve ball?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Lawn

This summer has been brutal on my lawn: the lack of rain, extended days with record-breaking heat, and watering restrictions put in force by the city have turned my once lush, green yard into a field of tawny scrub grass. Not that I am alone in this, as most of the country is experiencing conditions not seen since the Dust Bowl or days of the Dirty Thirties. Understanding my predicament does not diminish my feeling of loss; however, I hear the forecast for the next several days will be pushing the upper 90s.

I have been taking care of my lawn since I was 14. It was early May several years ago, and I was sitting on the front stoop with my dad, admiring our neighbor's lawn. Earlier we had moved into a brand new house with nothing for a yard but graded top soil. Our neighbor moved in the same week we did. As soon as the weather broke, the soil was raked, seeded and watered. Dad and the neighbor planted the same seed.

However, as we sat there we couldn't help but notice the neighbor's grass was growing in more lush and green than ours. As the sun started to set, our neighbor came over and sat with us a while. Dad offered him a beer, and we began a discussion about lawns.

As the fireflies began their nightly dance, dad remarked how he didn't have the time it took to coax out a beautiful lawn. Then our neighbor said something that changed my life, "Why don't you give the kid the lawn? Let him take ownership. You give him the materials; I'll teach him what to do, but it will be his responsibility: his lawn."

From that day forward I cut, trimmed, fed and watered my grass. The goal was to have the best (or second-best) lawn on the block.

From that day until now I still find great pleasure working in my yard. Such was the power of giving a 14-year-old boy responsibility -- and not just responsibility -- ownership. Dad may have thought he was getting his son involved in taking care of the grass, but he gave me a whole lot more. He gave me pride of accomplishment, lessons in stewardship, and a sense of striving for something bigger than myself. My neighbor taught me about lawns, but he also taught me the importance of an adult mentor. All these lessons have stayed with me ever since.

Men, what will you give your sons and daughters -- or your neighbor's sons and daughters?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Olympics

Soon the world will converge on London to witness the quintessential quadrennial sports event known as the 2012 Summer Olympics. This year athletes representing 205 countries are expected to compete in 300 events to earn the ultimate national bragging right: an Olympic gold medal. Tens of millions worldwide will follow and cheer their country's athletes, as they compete on the world's stage. Naturally, if an athlete from your country wins a gold medal, you are overjoyed. But it doesn't stop there. You become downright emotional when you hear your national anthem played, as the flag is raised to the highest position. The gold medal belongs to the nation's athlete; the pride belongs to its citizens.

So it will be that I will sit in front of a TV or a computer, watching and cheering my nation's teams, as they compete in track and field events, football (soccer), basketball, boxing, wrestling, hockey and weightlifting. But I will also follow my country's progress in events I would not ordinarily follow such as gymnastics, beach volleyball, table tennis and synchronized swimming. For a gold medal in basketball counts as much in the medal tally as a gold medal in table tennis!

But beyond the glory of winning a medal, I tip my hat to the way these athletes conduct themselves. For it is all about the games and not politics. For a few weeks every four years we get to concentrate on the pinnacle of human athletic excellence, the crowning achievement of lives spent immersed in the rigors of honing bodies and abilities to remarkable heights. I like that. Watching these gifted athletes give their best inspires me to give my best -- for my wife, my family, my profession and my country.

If these athletes can train for years to earn a few gilded moments on the world's stage, I can certainly train harder to be the leader I need to be -- for my family, my friends, and my country. Now worthy as these pursuits may be -- and they are indeed commendable -- this is not to say I haven't been honing my own individual sport.

That's right. If channel surfing was an Olympic event, I'd surely be a contender.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Fighting Stress

Stress is a normal part of living. Without stress we wouldn't have the drive to achieve more, improve the quality of our lives, fight the good fights of equality and justice, or simply take a vacation. Stress is the spark that pushes us to grow, change, fight and adapt. All life events, including the good ones, produce a certain degree of stress -- ask any man who has been married -- the wedding is a good thing, but the preparations cause stress, mainly in the form of wallet strain. Stress also stimulates our brains, so we don't suffer from boredom, lack of motivation, and low self-esteem. Stress does indeed have some positive effects.

Too much stress, however, can wreak havoc on our body, leading to headaches, chest pains, fatigue and stomach disorders. Large amounts of stress can impact our mood and lead to anxiety, anger and depression. The effects on our behavior such as eating disorders, angry outbursts, drug and alcohol abuse and social withdrawal can destroy our jobs and families -- and have done so for way too many men out there.

Stress, the silent destroyer, can be beaten down using a few simple techniques:

Laughing: laughter makes us feel good! Doing it aloud is contagious and spreads to those around us. A good daily belly laugh does much to release stress and get us refocused. Laughing at one's own mistakes is almost guaranteed to relieve stress, but remember that laughing at others can increase stress -- for them.

Sleeping: sleep relaxes and rejuvenates our bodies. It is probably not a good idea, however, to sleep on the job.

Exercising: the physical exertion of walking, running, playing basketball, or some other physical activity brings down stress levels and actually gives the body energy.

Eating: the healthy consumption of vegetables and fruits are really good for us. Yep, mom was right.
And then there are those bad habits we acquire: smoking, excessive alcohol use, illegal drugs, and other bad habits add to our stress levels. Your body will feel the positive effects almost immediately after you stop. NOTE: A glass of wine a day is a good thing; a bottle of wine a day is not.

Of course, there are other ways to reduce stress in your life, and these are some of the best ones available: talking with friends, placing your worries in God's hands, reading the Bible, praying, etc.

My personal favorite stress-reducer is laughter. I have a hard time being stressed out when I watch The Three Stooges in action. Oh, the comic genius.

What's your favorite way to reduce stress?

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Stand Up

Soon the United States of America will celebrate Independence Day. The Fourth of July typically finds its citizens enjoying cookouts, parades, family gatherings and spectacular fireworks displays. As we pause this year for our celebrations, permit me to offer a leadership suggestion for all men: stand up. Yes, stand up.

There was a time in our country's history when a lady entered a room, all the men who were seated would stand. The court official today still announces the arrival of the judge with the words, "All rise!" When the president of the United States enters a room, even his most outspoken detractors get to their feet.

And why do we stand? It is a sign of respect. A man shows his deference for a lady by standing. Those in a courtroom rise to accord the judge his due. When the president arrives, those in attendance stand up, honoring the office and the individual. No matter how much our culture changes, the custom of standing to show respect is still proper and appropriate.

There was a time in the not so distant past when the U.S. flag passed in a parade, people on the sidelines -- all the people on the sidelines -- would stand and place their hands over their hearts. To rise as the flag passes was -- and is -- considered a sign of deep respect for this venerated national symbol and the country it represents.

Men, recent observations have indicated the practice of standing for the flag is becoming passé.

The flag is much more than just a powerful emblem of our country. It represents the hopes and dreams of all those who have fought for, bled for and died to protect it -- and our nation -- from all enemies. Their sacrifices are the blood-stained threads that hold the flag together -- flying high and proud.

So men, let's start standing up when honor is due. We can stand up for our lady; we can stand up for the judge, and we can stand up for our flag!

May she ever fly free!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The B-25

The North American B-25 Mitchell was a twin-engine, medium bomber manufactured by North American Aviation. It was used by many Allied Air Forces as well as many other air forces after the war ended. Remarkably, it saw service across four decades. The B-25 was named in honor of General Billy Mitchell, a pioneer of U.S. military aviation. Armed with up to ten, 50-calibere machine guns and capable of dropping more than 3,000 pounds of bombs, the B-25 saw action in every World War II Theater.

This past weekend I was privileged to tour an original B-25. Standing next to the nose turret I could imagine the gunner and bombardier riding out front, exposed and alone as he took aim through his bomb site. I was able to stand on the ladder the pilot and co-pilot used to ascend to their seats. I looked into the bomb bay and marveled at the narrow space left along the fuselage for the tail gunner to crawl into position. I could imagine the roar of the engines and the explosive pops of the guns as they spit out their deadly fire. I touched the now silent machine guns and envisioned the explosive force the aircraft could deliver.

Then it struck me: these war machines were no better or worse than the men who manned them. It was their bravery and skill that made the B-25 such an awesome fighting craft. The young men who risked their lives every time they flew a mission were the real force of the plane.

So it is today. It is not about the armaments; it is about the heart of the men. Since the time of the B-25, man has developed weapons that can now inflict damage never before seen in history. But it is still the man behind the weapon that remains the most vital part.

Today, I am thankful for the men who flew and fought in the B-25.

I am also thankful for the men and women today who risk their lives in the daily fight that allows me to live in a land of freedom, which remains the envy of the world. They serve in police cars, fire trucks, ambulances and as first-responders to disasters. They are deployed in dangerous situations across oceans and continents far from home. They work on military bases throughout the world.

At home here in the United States, these men and women carry these traditions forward. They live lives of simple honesty and persistent courage -- faithfully raising their children, assisting their communities, and giving their best to their employers.

I pray we all may be found so willing to make this country the best that it can be.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

What We Wear Can Make a Difference

Men, as you're probably aware by now, we typically take a backseat to women when it comes to how we look. For us comfort outweighs looking good. Broke-in shoes, well worn slacks and a mostly clean shirt suffice for all but the most formal of occasions. We judge other men on how they perform, not how they look, especially on the athletic field. The man wearing shorts and tennis shoes who can sink a twenty-foot putt is respected more than the dude who looks like he came out of a Nike catalogue and two-putts from six inches. Guys generally don't notice what other guys are wearing.

But sometimes what we wear is very important. For example, you wouldn't think of wearing only camouflage when walking in the woods during deer season; at the very least, a bright orange hat would be a good idea. Likewise, running at night would seem to make a chartreuse or neon-colored vest a sensible addition to one's attire, especially when hoofing it next to a highway. At a wedding, it's the suit and shirt and tie that make an impression; at a funeral, donning black is the standard outfit.

One wardrobe item we can all relate to is the cap we wear. We proclaim our loyalties on the front of our hats. From John Deere to NASCAR to B.A.S.S.to the Cubs, we wear them with pride. We wear foam rubber head cheese, hard hats with cup holders, and are passionate about the brands we sport.

As for me, I prefer logo shirts. Whenever I travel I try to wear a Men's NetWork shirt. This past weekend I was winding my way through a long security line at the airport. I took off my shoes, emptied my pockets and, with all my liquids in a Ziploc bag, was ready to pass through the magnetometer. There was no beep, and the TSA man waved me through. I was good to go -- or so I thought.

But then the TSA agent stopped me. Now I'm thinking the machine didn't beep, so what's the deal? I was smart enough to keep quiet and listen.

He asked me, "The Men's NetWork ... what is that about?" He pointed to the logo on my shirt.

I gave him a quick explanation. Then he smiled and said, "I like that. I will check it out. Have a great flight!"

Funny -- but just wearing a Men's NetWork shirt gave me the chance to share some Men's NetWork opportunities with this TSA agent.

And I think the guy behind me heard too.

So there you have it: sometimes what we wear does make a difference.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

"Mine for a Little While"

Every dad understands that one of life's biggest joys is when he holds his child for the first time. It is then when you look into the face of pure innocence, complete trust and love, and life is changed -- forever. You are holding the promise of the future, and the future is nothing but secure, knowing your child is in the world. Your mind fills with peace and the prospect of a lifetime of father-child activities, and then your little one lets forth with a mighty cry. You stand helpless, wondering how such a tiny human being can produce ear-splitting sounds, without the aid of an amplifier. With this baby's cry, you immediately seek to comfort, protect and quiet your child. Thus begins your life with your child. It will be filled with times of wonderment, as you walk that fine line between giving your child freedom, without losing control, so no harm befalls him or her.

One of the biggest trials of fatherhood is letting your child go. From your son's first day of kindergarten to the day your daughter gets married and then begins having her own children, each milestone brings a parting -- a bittersweet separation. Such separations are good and right, but they still leave a scar on the heart.

Difficult as the above events are in the lives of fathers, none is so devastating as the death of a child.

This past week I stood alongside a close friend as we celebrated his daughter's heavenly reunion. Being there I could only imagine his pain, his overwhelming hurt. We sat together and talked about many things and yet nothing in particular -- afraid a prolonged silence might sharpen the pain.

Many questions, too few answers, but one very important fact emerged: his daughter was at peace in heaven. He was comforted in a major way, knowing his daughter no longer faced her daily pain, no longer struggled with her cancer, no longer had to fight for life; she could literally rest in heavenly peace.

Men, I pray you never have to stand at the side of your child's grave but, if you do, I pray you know the comfort that your child rests in heaven.

Through the grief of losing his daughter, my friend summed up his situation in a powerful way: "I thank God she was mine for a little while. I thank God she is His forever."

Lutheran Hour Ministries offers resources for those who mourn: consider the Project Connect booklet, What Happens When I Die as well as others on this topic. You can check out the list at the Project Connect website. There's also a new Men's NetWork Bible study that addresses the end of life: Death ... Then What?.

These materials are free to those who need them. They offer words of encouragement and biblical insight when life deals its toughest blows. Both our topical booklets and Bible studies are excellent tools to share with those facing life-death issues.

Sometimes it's an opportune word from an unexpected source that can make all the difference.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Do You Need a Vacation?

If we assume the average vacation time for American workers is 14 days, then it might be reasonable to assume many workers could use more vacation time. However, it has been determined the typical male worker does not even use all of the vacation time he's allotted. One figure I read indicates the American workforce forfeits 175 million unused vacation days at the end of the year. That would be some vacation!

American males, in particular, seem to look at vacation time as wasted time. Our work ethic kicks in so much that we are always "on the job" -- whether we're physically there or not. We tend to take our jobs home with us -- either in our briefcases or in our heads. It seems normal in a way, for many of us define ourselves by our work. We are what we do. If we're not doing something work related, we feel strangely disengaged -- not fully who we are. Hence we view a vacation as time away from who we are.

But is vacation time really just wasted time?

A real, recharging kind of vacation happens when one is away from the job -- physically, emotionally and mentally. One premium benefit of vacation time then becomes a rest form the daily pressure and stress of our jobs. Stress is a subtle danger too, often affecting us in ways we don't see or realize. It can impact our health on several levels. Time away from job-related stress allows our body to recover and restore.

Vacation time spent with loved ones also makes memories that can last a lifetime for everyone involved. I'll never forget the camping trips dad took us on, sizzling bacon in a cast-iron skillet, fishing in deep-water mountain lakes, hearing family stories over a campfire at twilight. Those vacations showed us a different side of dad -- one not centered on going to and from work.

I personally have given back vacation hours over the years, but this year I plan on spending some quality time away from the job. I'll be knocking around with my family, relaxing in an exotic location I haven't been to near enough lately -- my own backyard.

How about you? Do you need a vacation? Is there a backyard calling your name?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Memorial Day - 2012

Although designated as a day to remember veterans who have died in service to their country, Memorial Day has become a day to remember all who have died, regardless of their military status or service. This year will be no exception, as I will remember first those who have fallen in battle, then those who have worn the uniform but are no longer with us, and then those who have not served, but who have died.

This Memorial Day I will again reflect on the growing list of names of people who are no longer with us. I can examine my life today and be thankful for their influence and instruction. For among those whom I recall are those who introduced me to the Scriptures; those who taught me right from wrong; those who lived lives worthy to be emulated; those who pointed out my faults; and those who loved me -- warts and all.

Then I thought who will remember me on Memorial Days in the future; what will they remember me for?

Will I be remembered as a man who lived his faith or a man who lost his temper? Will a future generation recall me tenderly, glad I was a part of its past, or will I be recalled in less- than-friendly ways?

Perhaps now is the time to begin building memories those coming after you will recall -- fondly. The best way to build memories is to take time with those you love. Perhaps, not surprisingly, it's not the things you give away, but the time you give away that others remember well and appreciate long after you're gone.

The time you spend playing, sharing stories and letting people experience the real you will last for generations. Make this Memorial Day one that will find you doing things worth remembering with the ones you love.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


The driver pulled to the right of the long line of cars backed up at the intersection. She was turning right; they were cruising along a busy, four-lane highway. Now sitting at the front of the line and to the right of a van, she waited for a break in traffic to make her move. With a quick glance to her left, she hit the accelerator and started onto the highway. Three feet into her move was the unforgettable crash of metal into metal. A bus hit her car, spinning it across lanes of traffic, with the bus careening to the right, wrapping itself around a telephone pole. Neither the bus driver nor the car driver saw the other.

As the impact took place before my eyes -- drivers dodging flying glass and car parts, I sat transfixed, paralyzed -- my eyes seeing, but my brain not comprehending. A few moments after the crash took place, a surge of adrenaline kicked in. I quickly exited my car, dialed 911, and checked the condition of the people in the car that had been hit.

The woman was unconscious; her leg was obviously broken.

Reporting her condition to the 911 operator, I went over to the bus. The driver too had a broken leg and was on the verge of passing out. Two of the six passengers had head injuries; these were a mother and her 14-month-old son.

Other witnesses made 911 calls too, each adding more details and confirming the urgency of the situation. Police cars sped to the scene, sirens trumpeting their arrival. Ambulances and EMT personnel did their specialized work, tending to the victims, loading some for their trip to the hospital. This continued for some time.

After a while the wreckage was dealt with; the streets were cleared, and most all the signs of the accident had been gathered up or swept away.

But the event was by no means over. Many lives were changed that day. Those injured will have to endure the pain of their injuries; the drivers will have to deal with the nagging "if only" thoughts that naturally follow such an accident. Mother and baby have a shared experience that will play out for years to come. The other bus passengers will be anxious the next time they board a bus, and I am forever struck by how quickly life can change.

Men, in an instant our lives can be altered -- sometimes completely and forever. Now is the time for the family to hear, "I love you." Now is the time to play catch with the boys or take them fishing or golfing. Now is the time to break out the Bible and read some of it to the family. Now is the time to tell your bride what a difference she makes in your life.

Now is the time. Don't wait for a 911 call.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Hi Mom!

You have seen it -- the star athlete stands next to the reporter on the field after the big game; the camera rolls, and the player leans into the microphone to utter those famous words, "Hi, Mom!" Over the years, the phrase, "Hi, Mom!" has become synonymous with those sports figures that have made it into the big time, especially in football.

Perhaps the tradition started when Hall of Fame inductee, Detroit Lions tight end, Charlie Sanders paid tribute to his mother with the words, "Hi, Mom." The phrase was especially moving since his mother had died when he was two years old. He felt it was fitting he recognize his mom, especially as he achieved the highest recognition a pro football player could receive.

Wounded soldiers have been known to ask for their moms. Criminals facing execution have asked for their mother's forgiveness. Little boys seek their mom's comfort when they get hurt. There is a special place in a mom's heart for her son, which is mirrored in the heart of her son.

In a few days we will observe Mother's Day, when we celebrate and honor the important roles mothers play in our society. Anna Jarvis of West Virginia started the holiday in 1908 to pay tribute to mothers, but it wasn't until 1914 that President Woodrow Wilson made the holiday official by signing it into law.

Men, it is not too early to purchase a gift that expresses the love you have for your mom. It is also fitting you remember your wife's mom (always a good move) and your wife as well. Some would argue husbands don't need to remember their wives. After all, it is Mother's Day, and she is not your mother. Instead, it is reckoned that you should pay her the homage of being the mother of your children. The role of motherhood is no small thing.

Here's a simple suggestion I'm sure the lion's share of guys reading this already know: call your mom on Mother's Day; visiting her is even better. Let her know you love her. Let her know you care. Moms appreciate it when their sons make time just for them.

Perhaps you can still remember those immortal words spoken by your mother as you left for college or some other significant event in your life, "Call me!"

You'll be glad you did.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Old School

I am a typical male with a short-attention span, who enjoys many different activities. However, there is one activity that will always rise to the top of the list: grilling food over an open fire. Grilling has become so much a part of me that I purchased a gas grill in order to grill year round in all kinds of weather. Living in a state with four seasons, I've been known to grill in temperatures ranging from negative digits to upper double digits. When it comes to delivering grilled meat, I can definitely relate to the mantra of mail carriers everywhere: "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night ...." I figure if they can get me my mail no matter what, I can surely grill meat on less-than-perfect days.

Now over the years my gas grill has been updated from the one-burner to the current three-burner, deluxe, stainless-steel machine, complete with a side-burner for any foods falling through the grate. Once I even ran a gas line from the house outdoors, retooling the grill so I could cook with house gas, instead of propane. You guessed it. I'm a professional.

It should come as no surprise then that my passion for outdoor grilling is well-known by my family, nearby neighbors, people strolling past my house, neighborhood dogs, cats, and even other critters. Over the years I've accumulated an impressive arsenal of grill accessories: "executive" tongs for grippin' and flippin' flame-seared meat, specialized thermometers that let you know when you're "in the zone," hand-knit aprons, flame-retardant mitts and, of course, every griller's friend -- a cooler to keep your drink nice and frosty. Recently, however, I was presented with something I have not seen or used in years: a kettle grill designed just for charcoal.

Boy, talk about "old school."

So, in a burst of nostalgia, last weekend I decided it was time for an old-school lesson outdoors. My accessories were simple: a bag of Kingsford® charcoal briquettes, some Ronsonol® lighter fluid, a book of matches and, of course, a carefree spirit of adventure. When the flames hit that magic three-foot level, I recalled immediately the special thrill of old-school grilling.

After the coals turned cherry red, I dropped in some hickory chips, slapped on a couple of succulent 16-ounce T-bones, put the cover back on, and basked in the sweet, sanguine joy that only comes from inhaling the smell of roasting animal meat.

Talk about some good aromas! I can't remember a meal I enjoyed so much.

Just goes to show you, sometimes the old-school way -- though it could take a few more minutes to get there -- might just be the best way to go.

May your grills be hot and your libations not!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

What Will You Be Remembered For?

If it hasn't happened yet, there will come a time when you gather together with family and friends after a funeral service and reminisce about someone who has just died. Often the discussion starts out with the retelling of an incident familiar to many of those in attendance. Heads nod and people smile as they muse over the incident, recalling what it means to them. Then the discussion tends toward the personal, with each in turn recounting how he or she remembers the departed in some one-on-one situation.

Sometimes I picture how the conversation will go after I am gone. A few beers will be raised, and a soft voice will break through with a hymn of praise. Well, actually, that will probably not happen as I am not really known for my hymn-singing prowess. Still, it would be a nice way to be remembered.

More likely, someone, probably a family member, will offer some holiday yarns about how I embarrassed myself. Depending on the age of the teller and the power of recollection, these stories may go on for three or four beers.

Once these tales have been told, it would be my wish for someone to recount how I was kind to them. It would also be very nice to be remembered as a man who walked his talk -- who did what he said he would. I would also hope my children will comment on how good a dad I was. I would like to have someone share a story about how I really loved God and witnessed to Him with my life.

As a man, it's easy to get caught in the trap of wanting to be remembered for one's money, achievements, or even position. Isn't it evident, however, that even those things -- wealth, accomplishments, respect -- while noteworthy and marking us as a certain kind of man still don't provide the whole story?

In the long run, the most significant thing we will pass on to the next generation (and be remembered for) will be our love of God. It's that attribute that should permeate all we say and do as children of God.

So, if there is one thing I want said at my funeral other than "Look! He's still alive!" it would be "He was a faithful follower of Christ."

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Read a Good Book Lately?

It has been estimated the average person reads about nine books a year. It has also been forecasted this number will rise over the coming years due to the popularity of the Kindle, Nook, and other e-book readers. With the appropriate app, every iPad, Tablet, smartphone, or laptop can deliver books on demand. This convenience offers the opportunity to have one's favorite piece of writing immediately available, which, of course, can come in handy when trapped in the mall, waiting for the women to return.

With John Grisham, Tom Clancy and Stephen King available alongside our favorite non-fiction authors, we can experience all the benefits of a well-read man: sharper intelligence, reduced stress, improved analytical thinking skills, expanded vocabulary, enhanced grammatical comprehension and a more retentive memory. Now those are benefits well worth the effort! E-readers make books easy for men to get to, opening up the world of reading without the need for a physical book.

But a physical book an e-reader ain't! A physical book is a tactile, textured, savor-it-with-your-hands-and-eyes material object with hard covers, pages that turn and colorful pictures. In short, it's a child's wonderland.

There is nothing quite like the time spent reading with a child by your side. Psychologists and other academics have studied the benefits of reading to a child. They have found that reading to a child improves speech and communication skills, logical thinking, concentration and vocabulary.

But they neglect to point out the most important benefits reading to a child brings: laughter, bonding and lasting memories. It only takes a few pages of the Dr. Seuss' classic, One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish and the child is caught up in the story's fun. A well-placed "tickle fish" will bring on peals of laughter that can melt away the day's stress and insure mom will have a challenge calming her little one down for bed.

The time spent reading one-on-one with kids is prime time, if there ever was such a thing. It's a perfect opportunity for questions, teaching, stories and family history. The book Where the Wild Things Are can lead into the story of how dad was like Max and ran away from home, only to find out that life with mom and dad was really the best after all. Some of life's coolest, teachable moments take place over the vibrantly creative pages of a bedtime book.

The reason why a guy should read with kids is one of life's true no-brainers. We've got everything to gain from doing it. Think about it. We get to act out the story; we get to dazzle our kids with our humor and theatrical mastery; we get to share principles and ideals through the story's narrative and, best of all, we get to be their hero -- the one who took the time to read with them.

Read a good book lately?

If not, try dusting off the cover and get your kids ready to Hop on Pop.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Unexpected Benefits of Fishing

In the vast arena of athletic contests, there are purists who insist an activity can only be termed a "sport" if it involves the use of a ball. There are some who expand this definition to any competition that generates a score, regardless of the equipment used. Others would go so far as to include under the sports umbrella those activities that can be performed while enjoying a favorite libation: bowling and billiards, to name a couple. That being said, fishing remains one activity many still exclude from the category of sports altogether (though its relationship to libations is the stuff of legend).

Making this prohibition, I would submit, is detrimental to the truest definition of a sport. It would label as "non-sportsmen" that legion of individuals yearly plying the fresh waters of this great continent in search of big game fish. In fact, I make the case (based on considerable first-hand evidence) that fishing is not only a sport, it is crucial for the sound development of one's personality, psyche and -- depending on the species sought -- physique.

Long hours spent in silence on the bank of a river or in the back of a boat, casting a baited line into the watery lair of a finny opponent can and does give a person patience. Patience, in turn, can clear the mind of the fast-paced whirl of the world, replacing it with a sense of calm and tranquilitude (so much so that new words even begin to form in one's mind). An internal peace settles in the body and arranges one's constituent parts in such a way that out-of-whack skeletal structures realign, the mind renews and worn muscles take on a health and vigor unseen for decades. These muscles will, of course, be summoned to produce the effort needed to reel in lunkers. And landing lunkers naturally leads to peer accolades, which, in turn, boosts self-esteem and, in the long run, produces an overall better human being.

As you can see, patience won from fishing translates into a richer, fuller life. It's that simple.

Here's an example that might make the point more clearly: a man heading out on vacation with his family, who is stuck in city traffic, and who lacks patience will feel his blood pressure spike, his temples throb, his attitude sour, and his stomach grind. On the other hand, a man in similar circumstances armed with fishing-produced patience will experience only minimal elevation in blood pressure, a slight disruption to his frame of mind, an ability to make light of the situation, and an unflappable constitution.

Now do we see why fishing is so important?

I rest my tackle box.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Fish Don't Care

A man may walk down the street and judge other men as they pass by. A man may see a person and make assumptions about education, wealth and social status based on outward appearances. A man may purchase clothes, drive cars and acquire homes -- all based on social norms or status. A man may be enticed to a career path solely for economic gain. A man judges others, but fish don't care.

When a fish is swimming in a lake, stream or river, the only thing that matters is the bait. The fish doesn't care how much the rod costs that casts the bait. The fish doesn't care if the person cranking the bait is male or female, young or old, rich or poor, educated or illiterate. The fish doesn't even care what language the person speaks. All the fish sees is the bait.

Likewise on lakes, rivers or streams, people who are fishing see each other pretty much like the fish does. It's not about the person standing alongside them or those fishing in the boat at the other end of the cove. It's not about wealth, status, age, gender or any other distinction that separates people. Differences among fishermen are suspended when the quest for fish is on. The goal overrides the need to make distinctions between ourselves and those around us. It's all about fishing.

Those who are fishing are just glad to be there, and they're glad others are getting a chance to fish too.

Wouldn't it be a good thing if we all could view each other as fellow fishermen?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Bounty Hunting

It seems as if some NFL notables now join Steve McQueen, Clint Eastwood, Lee Majors, Boba Fett, Autobot Lockdown, Homer Simpson and Ned Flanders as famous bounty hunters. We know that "art imitates life," especially when one follows the problems among Dog -- the Bounty Hunter -- and his sons, Duane Lee and Leland, but who would have thought professional football players would be the next cast of characters to imitate art?

Not that bounty hunting is bad. There has always been a need for people to track down and bring fugitive criminals to justice, but for football players to do this? "Say it ain't so, Joe!"

Now compared to the issues of world peace, solving hunger or rising oil prices, the fact that NFL players actually injure opponents -- and get paid for it -- probably isn't that important. But I think it ranks right up there with the 1919 Chicago White Sox, the 2006 Tour de France and the ever-present (but never proven) professional boxing scandals.

For me, every professional sports scandal chips away at the integrity of the sport, the players and the nation. A nation that produces a "win-at-all-costs" mentality will eventually produce bounty hunters and cheats. Once it is tolerated at the professional level, the college level isn't far behind; then come the high school and, eventually, the sandlots and school playgrounds. Our children will grow up with a win-at-all-costs, anything-goes, rules-are-for-losers mentality that will translate into larger issues for society than the occasional coach suspended for a year without salary.

Men, we need to elevate honesty. We need to take the high ground, offering positive examples of honesty in action where truthfulness is valued. We need to be savvy to how our attitudes and choices impact those around us. And they do impact those around us.

We need to set an example for the next generation to follow.

Tall order? You bet. That what makes it so tough -- and so necessary -- to pursue.

Now this really puts me in a quandary. What will I watch come Sunday afternoon in the fall?