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.