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?