Tuesday, December 31, 2013

New Year's Eve

Well, here's another one for the record books. 2013 is history. Are you satisfied with your conquests this year? Are you looking to repeat your performance in 2014? If not, does melancholy over what might have been dampen your enthusiasm?

How about the New Year starting tomorrow? Are there plans to make it a banner year? Have you outlined strategies to tackle your objectives and achieve your goals?

Whatever state we find ourselves in, the New Year is all about (Surprise! Surprise!) new beginnings or, perhaps better stated, a chance to radically revise some old habits from the year before. Sure, it's just another flip of the calendar page, but it can be more.

And with that, enough said.

May your New Year be the start-or perhaps the continuation-of great things in your life. May your relationships improve; may your direction be clear and reasonable to navigate; may your health and well-being take you to new highs. Above all, may your determination to become the best person you can be-to your wife or girlfriend, you family, your friends, and yourself-find you satisfied with your efforts 365 days from now.

Happy New Year from the Men's NetWork!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Eve

By the time you get this, your Christmas Eve should be in full swing. Hopefully, everything's bought that's going to be bought, and everything's up that's going to get put up. For grown-ups with kids there may still be some wrapping of presents, a little, last-minute decorating, or some other odds and ends, before the kids hit the ground running at 5 a.m. But for the most part ... preparations should be nearing an end.

As a kid in Chicago I remember one Christmas in the 1960s when I got my first G.I. Joe. That year my Dad was managing a neighborhood grocery story, my oldest brother was in Vietnam, and my Mom was on pins and needles. Around the house it was Johnny Mathis on the turntable, A Charlie Brown Christmas on our black and white TV, and wassail wafting from the kitchen. I was reading -- for the umpteenth time -- my Dennis the Menace Pocket Full of Fun Christmas edition, and watching quarter-sized snowflakes steadily cover the street outside our home, which was in the back of the laundry my Mom operated.

What a time of the year Christmas is for kids! I hope it's as fun these days as it was for us back in the Middle Ages. Things were less frenetic then, more homespun and simple. Certainly, the distractions were fewer. The fact that four-year-olds can follow a series of commands on a hand-held computer is nifty, but somehow with all this connectedness (and the stream of choices that goes with it) there's a disconnect too.

Sadly, it's often the same for adults.

As this evening rolls on and quickly disappears, take a moment, no, better yet, seize a moment to contemplate what it's really all about. Beyond the warm glow of flickering lights, beyond the heady aroma of baked cookies and sweet breads, beyond the prospect of unwrapping that present you're biting at the bit to unwrap, there was a life born in this world 2,000 years ago that changed everything-for everyone-for all time.

May your Christmas be merry with the gift of Good News that's yours 365 days a year!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Family Reunions - the Hard Way

It's a familiar story. Everybody in attendance hasn't seen most everybody else in attendance since the last time a family member died. Now, I may be wrong in this, but the fact we're all seeing each other more frequently is not the best of signs. Keeping up this pace is not the ideal either, as it means there are going to be fewer reasons for getting together -- and fewer people to get together with when we do.

And so goes life -- and death. When I was a kid, death was far away. The thought of losing my parents would send me into a sudden, cold shiver: a gut-dropping sensation would overtake me when the thought turned into a real possibility, no matter how remote it seemed at the time. Still, then, I could shake the feeling pretty quick. After all, I was young. My folks were sort of young, and everybody seemed to be in pretty good shape.

But, oh, how things do change. In the last four years, I've seen my Dad, my aunt, my Mom, my brother-in-law, and now, just this past week, my uncle, exit this mortal vale. There are births and babies, of course, graduations and marriages too, but the old guard is making its final exodus now, permanently relinquishing their posts as patriarchs and matriarchs of the family. And as they go, so have some of my dearest confidants, best friends, and closest allies.

Commenting on this at last week's visitation for my uncle, a cousin of mine was telling me how our fragmenting brood needs to find time to get together and reestablish the pattern of family outings that were so much a part of our lives when we were all kids.

I said, "Yeah, we do!" (Or something like that).

That was the easy part.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Best Present

I must confess I like giving presents. I especially enjoy giving Christmas gifts to my family. There are few things in life I enjoy more than watching my loved ones open their gift from me. It is then I might get a gasp, a smile, a squeal of delight, a tear, or an exclamation as they see what I have given them.

There's a little method to my gift selection I can pass on to you. I pay attention. That's right. I pay attention to those around me throughout the year, listening for some indication of what gets them excited, what they're really interested in. For example, my mind tunes into their hobbies, collections, interests, etc. A friend who's into pens gets a special pen; a friend who golfs, well, he gets golf stuff; the one who enjoys trains gets a train set, etc. I know. It's a pretty complicated method.

I've also been known to be so bold to just ask what they would like for a gift. This tactic can sometimes be frustrating, however. For when the loved one mentions the best gift they could ever get just so happens to be the best gift everyone else wants, well, then, it's often difficult to find it. It's then I go into my super-quest mode: determined to pull all of the stops to obtain that item which is unattainable so that my loved one is especially excited come Christmas morning.

Over the years I've had my share of successes, giving those special gifts that elicit a gasp, smile or squeal. One time I even got tackled as my loved one ran to give me a hug.

One thing I've noticed -- no matter what the gift is -- the best time of the day is simply being together. I have come to realize I could wrap up just about anything and the gift would be appreciated. Okay, maybe not anything, but you get my drift.

This brings me to one last item, and it's the most important point I want to leave you with. Guys, the best present you can give your loved ones at Christmas is your presence -- throughout the year. When you are home for meals, cheering at sports events, sitting next to your kids as they do their homework, reading a bedtime story to your youngster, or just taking a walk -- being with them is a gift they can't replace -- nor would they want to.

Most every present under the tree will be worn out, broken, lost or outgrown over the years. Not so with the memory of the times you've spent together. And in these times of pinching pennies, isn't it nice to know the most enduring gift you can give is yourself?

So the next time you wonder what's the best present you can give that special someone, try giving yourself -- your presence.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Christmas Decorations

As I drove through my neighborhood last night I was impressed with the number of houses decked out with festive lights, innovative lawn displays, and other yuletide items -- all hung, nailed, tacked, strung or otherwise fastened in the name of this merriest of seasons. There was one house in particular that looked as if it might double as an airport beacon, casting forth enough illumination to be visible from outer space.

Now, lest one deduce me to be the Grinch himself, I did put up my lawn decorations and house lights last weekend too. So it's not the idea of decorations I am opposed to, it's being tacky.

Now tacky I realize is a subjective measurement, for one man's plastic Santa placed next to a set of blow-up penguins playing keep away from a snowman using his head for the ball may be the next man's piece de résistance. Still, I find that for me, at least, the most meaningful houses are the ones with decorations honoring the magnificent spirit of this season.

I like lights strung along gutters and eaves that simulate icicles; I like trees decked out in lights. And I really like a crèche in the yard, depicting Mary, Joseph and Jesus.

Our Lutheran Hour Ministries' building has a large, lighted set that features snowflakes on either side of Mary, Joseph and Baby Jesus.

My home has a crude wooden stable with the figures of Mary, Joseph and Baby Jesus.

Of all the lasting childhood Christmas memories I have, the one that means the most to me today is when my dad would set out the manger scene. Every year there was one under the Christmas tree, and most years he placed one front and center in the yard. He would have us kids help him set up the figures and run the cord for the spotlight; then he would share with us his words immortal: "Boys, this is what Christmas is all about, not all that shopping stuff!"

I couldn't agree more.

Men, it's never too late to begin sharing a CHRISTmas decoration. If this is something you can add to your Christmas celebration, may this year be the start of a tradition your kids will remember 30 years from now.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013


This Thursday is the day Americans pause for some genuine thanksgiving. It seems to me the day will be less about "thanks," however, and more about "giving." It's about giving up time to watch football games, giving money to stores for the latest you-can't-live-without-it gadget, and giving up family togetherness as individual members often have to exit one family get-together to join another.

I'm personally not opposed to parades, football games, and commercial bargains, but in moderation, of course. What gets me most about the day is the simple nod of "thanks" we give to it, usually finding its most visible expression in the obligatory prayer we offer over dinner.

I am a one-person crusader determined to put more thanks into my family's Thanksgiving Day.

There, I said it.

I will wake the family in time to attend our church service, for it is important we start the day with thoughtful worship to Him who provides all.

I will hone my skills, roll up my sleeves, and gather with the family in the kitchen: each of us will take part in helping prepare the day's feast. I know it will be crowded in there, but I predict lots of laughter as we perfect our kitchen-dance routines. I also anticipate the food will taste that much better as we all have a hand in preparing it.

I will roast the turkey; some will fry it. And yes, I will make it a semi-elaborate production as I involve family members in getting the day's "star" ready for center stage. Naturally, there will be groans from the chosen child who plunges in to remove the great bird's innards, and there will be sublime joy for others who rub the turkey down with butter, using their bare hands.

As we sit down and prepare to feast, I will ask each abundantly blessed person at the table to share some of their reasons for thanks over the past year. My personal list includes my wife, my children, my job, and my church, as well as my ability to buy a house this year. I know there will be more reasons come Thursday.

After our banquet we will again gather as a family to clean off the table, store leftovers, and wash the dishes. No one will be allowed to watch the game, go shopping, or take a nap until everyone is able to. Thus I can see many hands making light work.

Guys, while parades, bowl games, and door-buster sales may scream for our attention, I believe fond family memories and time well-spent with others will win the day.

Happy THANKSgiving!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013


Last Sunday's intense thunder and hail storms tearing through the Midwest threatened 53 million people across ten states. In its wake it left tens of thousands without power. This one got personal as it tore into the town I once lived in, killing two, leveling houses, and ripping the steeple and roof off the church where my children were baptized. In the blink of an eye lives were changed forever.

I know the death toll could have been much worse if not for the fact the residents heeded the warnings and sought shelter. One couple who sought refuge in their basement emerged only to find their house completely destroyed. They remarked, "We may have lost everything, but stuff can be replaced."

Men, let us always be prepared.

Let us prepare our homes by having an evacuation plan, smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, fire extinguishers, and an emergency kit that includes water, light sources, radio, blankets, and a way to make noise if trapped under debris. On a personal note, I bought a flashlight powered by a crank that also juices a radio, produces an ear-splitting siren, and can charge a cell phone. That gadget is in my basement shelter since I live in an area prone to tornadoes.

If we live in the snowbelt we need to prepare our cars with food, blankets, shovel, kitty litter or sand, jumper cables, and tire chains. I found an app for my phone that will send a GPS signal to the nearest law enforcement station when I am stranded in the snow and cold. It will also -- now get this -- calculate how much fuel I can use before carbon monoxide poising sets in, and it will let me know how long I can run my engine for heat.

No matter where we live we should prepare our family with instructions and code words for places to meet after a disaster, how and when to dial 9-1-1, and our preferred modes of communication. My wife and I know we first try our cell phones, then Facebook, and then check with the relatives.

We need to maintain a working knowledge of first aid, emergency procedures, and how to act in times of disaster or unforeseen circumstances. Our family will look to us in moments such as these. It is best we remain calm, confident, knowledgeable and decisive -- even if we are not.

Now, especially, is the time to prepare. Heeding my own advice, I'm going to buy another fire extinguisher for the house. After all, Thanksgiving is coming, and one can never be over-prepared when it comes to turkey frying.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

When Does the Bullying End?

The NFL's news about Jonathan Martin leaving the Miami Dolphins after being bullied by veteran teammate Richie Incognito is yet one more incidence of bullying behavior. This story followed close behind the one of two Florida pre-teens arrested for allegedly taunting and bullying another 12-year-old girl until she committed suicide by jumping to her death. Another sad story reported on a Texas teenager who was arrested for allegedly bullying a special needs girl. The bullied girl received a barrage of threatening and vile messages, including one text that read "kill urself," according to North Texas police.

Some may argue the above cases are aberrations and not the norm. Others would say the word "bully" has become a smokescreen for people who can't take a joke, who don't understand the role of teasing, or who are out to make life miserable for others by "playing the victim."

I disagree with those who claim there is no bullying or who maintain it's just "kids-will-be-kids" fun that gets blown out of proportion by the media.

Bullying -- in whatever form it comes -- is a premeditated action intended to belittle, degrade or cause physical pain to another person.

Unfortunately, I have witnessed this sort of behavior among children and adults. I've seen kids at the mall go out of their way to make fun of the person cleaning tables at the food court or demean an employee on the janitorial staff. I've seen adults make fun of others, usually at a sporting event.

I've watched dads use harsh words, threatening their children with physical punishment to enforce obedience.

I've witnessed husbands raising their voices and slamming their wives' behavior, appearance or conduct in public -- seeking to mock and put them down.

Bullying is not an alternative method to get one's point across, nor is it a satisfactory means of expressing one's displeasure at a person. In every case, it's damaging, malicious, and the sign of an exceedingly weak ego.

Bullying stops when the perpetrator halts the behavior. Nothing short of that ends the problem. When the urge to bully is suffocated -- choking it off again and again when necessary -- then some real headway can be made. In time, the knee-jerk bully response can be defeated by the offender striving to show (oftentimes through great personal determination) a measure of self-control, kindness, compassion, and genuine concern for another human being -- no matter how different that person might be.

Perhaps the best way to stop bullying in its tracks is squaring off with it -- one bad situation at a time.

Doing it one man at a time seems the place to start.

I will do my part. Will you join me?

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Turning a House into a Home

Last week I signed papers documenting the fact that in 30 years I will be the sole owner of a house. Now some of you haven't been to the closing table yet, while for a few others once was more than enough. On the flip side, there are those who have been there many times. Regardless, there is something universal in wanting to own a house.

For me a house represents security and safety as I am surrounded by sturdy walls and a non-leak roof that have been inspected and found to be sound. A house presents opportunities to express my creative side with paint color choices, furniture selection and placement, and yard landscaping. It also represents a repository of memories as I get to pile and store box after box of mementoes, pictures, papers and keepsakes chronicling my life's journey. A house also represents obligation and responsibility as I must now meet monthly mortgage, tax and escrow payments, along with repairing all that falters or fails.

But still a house is a thing -- nothing more than wood, sheetrock, nails, paint, plaster and the rest. A house becomes alive when it becomes a home.

For me, home represents love and acceptance. The minute I enter my home all the day's assaults on me and my self-worth are wiped away. I am loved and accepted for who I am, not for my actions, dress, or demeanor. My accomplishments -- or lack thereof -- mean nothing to those who wait for me at home.

Home is not the ultra-modern kitchen, the manicured yard, the leather furniture, or the poster-lined "man cave"; home is the people who love and forgive, who help and holler, who accept me without judgment, without reservation.

For some, home might be a crowded apartment filled with family members who love hugs and accept one another, just the way they are. Then again home could be a trailer in the country with a faithful companion. Home might even be a condo shared with one person for more than 50 years, or an assisted-living site with a partner who no longer remembers.

To be sure, buying a house is nice, but a house does not make a home.

Houses last a while; homes are forever.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Shooting Pool

Before my father-in-law became my father-in-law, he invited me into his basement for a game of billiards. Now over the years I have dropped my fair share of quarters into tables in local drinking establishments. These early lessons from the street molded me into a competent shooter, certainly not a Minnesota Fats, but one who wouldn't embarrass himself either.

The first thing we settled on was the house rules: the game was eight ball with the option of calling the last shot.

We lagged for break and I won. I sunk a solid on the break, and we were off and running. About 20 minutes later I was lined up on a fairly easy eight ball shot. I called it in the corner pocket and slammed it home.

Game one: me.

We re-racked and dad scratched on the break. I took the cue ball and dropped a striper this time. Fifteen minutes into game two and things were rolling my way. Game over. Two won ... as were games three and four.

To make things interesting, dad suggested we make the game a little more realistic by betting a dollar on the outcome. Feeling pretty confident, I heartily agreed and off we went. After I was $15 ahead, he suggested double or nothing. This is my lucky day, I'm thinking.

It was then everything got a little fuzzy. He reached behind the counter and pulled out a black case. Opening it revealed two tapered cylinders of wood, polished to a high-gloss finish and, along the fatter end, exhibiting a tightly woven material for gripping the cue. Slowly screwing the two pieces of his custom pool cue together, he grabbed the chalk and began twisting his cue tip into it. Then, with a loud crack he busted the balls in every direction, sinking a stripe. Five minutes later he had cleared his remaining balls, dropped the eight in a side pocket, and emptied my wallet.

He smiled as he put his arm around me and said, "Son, you've just been hustled." It was then dad shared that he had once owned a pool hall and was known as an "expert" in the neighborhood.

He then looked me square in the eye and gave me some pretty good words of advice: "Son, there are lots of people out there who will gladly take advantage of you. Now that you're going to be responsible for my daughter I want you to be vigilant. Don't get in over your head; always be leery of easy money, and if it seems too good to be true, it is -- walk away. And the most important piece of advice is this: don't gamble. You will lose every time."

He then gave me a $50 bill saying, "And always take care of your family."

My father-in-law was a wise man. I have tried to follow his advice daily.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

A Father's Love

Cruising down some country back roads the other day I was wearing out the scan button on the radio, looking for a local station to help me pass the miles. Scanning from station to station let me focus on the road ahead and sample the local area's selection of musical offerings.

I was letting the radio do its thing when half way through the third cycle I caught an intriguing song phrase. It was something about a father's love. By the time I found the station again the tune was over, and the announcer was in a commercial break. After that the scanning continued, until I located some solid motivational music. Locking it in on a classic rock station, the rest of the trip was spent jamming.
Still, cutting through the guitar riffs and drum fills was that phrase about a father's love. I couldn't forget it.

When I returned home I did a YouTube search and found the song was called "A Father's Love," and was sung by George Strait.

I listened to the song more than a few times and was once again struck by the phrase about how a father's love isn't just every now and then; a father loves all the time.

Now I happened to be one of those lucky kids who had a dad who loved his sons -- no matter what we did. Sure, we paid the consequences for our actions, but we knew dad always loved us. Of that we were certain.

For example, there was the time I happened to squirt oil on the neighbor's house, meaning dad had to pay for his house to be repainted. I was wrong and I certainly suffered the consequences of my action, but I never doubted dad's love for me.

Perhaps you are a new dad wondering what the future holds for your young son. Then again, maybe you're a seasoned dad facing the terrible teen years. In whatever phase of life you're in, I suggest you let your children know you love them -- no matter what.

I do understand there may be some of you who don't remember much about your dads. And while I can't comment on your feelings, I can caution that if and when you do have kids, do as the song says and show them your love.

My dad is gone, but there is one thing I know: I will always love him, and he always loved me.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Going the Distance for the Ones You Love: Breakfast Omelets

It's been said breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but how many of us really know how to prepare one? Let's face it, pouring cereal into a bowl of milk, finding that straggler slice of pizza in the box under the couch, or downing a glass of OJ don't really qualify as great breakfasts ... but omelets do.

Let me tell you how I go about treating my family to this breakfast cornucopia: to begin with, I wash off the veggies, culling any specimens deemed inferior in appearance or freshness. I then rinse, slice and dice. While the girls fancy ground pepper, white onions, and sautéed mushrooms, the boys like green peppers, tomatoes, and are hit and miss on the 'shrooms. Oh, and did I mention bacon? Of course not. Who needs to? Everybody loves bacon in their omelets -- or on their cereal, in their coffee, and over their French toast.

But I digress.

Anyway, so I take all the veggies and arrange them in separate bowls. Then it's time to grill up the ham, fry up the bacon, and sizzle up the sausage, artistically displaying each in their separate bowls as well.
Then, and this part I truly love, I grate the cheese, making sure to shred a quantity sufficient to meet their needs -- and then I grate some more. After all, it's cheese.

Enough said.

Now comes the real magic. I crack the eggs, drop them into a large bowl, and whip them to a bubbly froth. When this is accomplished, my next performance is the hash browns. Sometimes I just pull them out of the freezer, but on special occasions they're made from scratch, adding Old and New World spices, along with a judicious smattering of select ingredients, hailing from the various bowls rimming the counter.

After this, I set out a loaf of white bread for toasting, complemented with butter, jams, jellies and cinnamon powder. (Bacon is optional, but recommended.)

Then, if somehow they've slept through the orchestra of sounds and smells wafting from the kitchen, I wake up the family.

Entering the dining area, each grabs a plate and a couple slices of bread. Successively, they drop them into the toaster and contemplate their forthcoming selections. They then start calling out their omelet orders. With spatula in hand, I begin conducting from center stage. The clockwork-like synchronicity required to field their requests and simultaneously prepare omelets takes years to acquire. Now, a controlled blur, I'm pouring eggs into two hot skillets, sprinkling in their chosen fixings, gently lifting the omelets' browning edges, expeditiously flipping over the firming mixtures, adding more cheese and, finally, heat searing the contents into a plump and radiant egg envelope. Careful to leave my signature -- a slightly tinged crust of wispy egg fluff -- I admire the finished product.

Now in case you're thinking I'm a one-trick pony, I also customize pancakes. Among the family faves here are big-eared bunnies, smiley faces, Disney characters, and Gothic initials.

Guys, the takeaway is this: fixing breakfast for your family is a way to show off your culinary skills and kitchen technique. More importantly, it's a way to bring your family together and, if necessary, earn some monster points with the woman you love.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013


I was talking with a friend who had a friend going through a rough patch. It seemed his longtime, serious girlfriend was breaking it off for good. Then he found out his job was in jeopardy. Then his car went on the fritz. Saddled with what seemed like a world of problems. He was having trouble sleeping, and his stomach was giving him fits. He had more debts than income, and soon what income he had might be gone too. All in all he was having a miserable week.

I'd venture to say most of us have been there at one time or another.

Perhaps you are there now.

It seems my friend's friend was having a time of it coping with his troubles. Not surprisingly, yelling didn't cure his ills; neither did alcohol, volcanic cussing, or putting his fist through the drywall in his basement. On a gut level, each of those actions did remove some of the anger, hurt and frustration -- but only for a little while.

He was feeling hopeless and unloved when he happened to reach out to his brothers.

Each one was able to listen without judgment, hearing his pain and hurt.

Each was able to offer words of affirmation: "You are important. You are valuable. You are loved"-words he so desperately needed to hear.

Each gave him a practical solution, or at least some words of wisdom and the prospect of hope-a way out of the dark place he was in.

Men, we need to be there for our brothers, not only those related to us by blood, but those who are in our sphere of influence. It may be the man next door, the man in the cubicle next to you, or the man next to you in church.

Each time you meet someone, whether they're longtime friends or new acquaintances, there's more to their lives than what meets the eye. You really don't know what's been going on in his life behind closed doors.

On average it's probably safe to say that guys tend to bear the weight of their problems stoically, refusing to reach out to others for help and, if it's offered, often making light of their need for it.

Men, if you are in a hard place, talk to your brothers. Ask them for help. Reach out.

Brothers, if a request is made, consider it thoughtfully. It wasn't easy for your brother to make it.

Be there for him.

We are family.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

TV Sports, Barbecue, Boxes ... Oh, My!

Every now and then there's a weekend where a constellation of sporting events creates two perfect days. This past weekend was one of those times as Saturday's weather was perfect for grilling pork steaks. The college ball games were exciting; my teams all won; and there was baseball I could follow when the gridiron action went to commercials.

When Saturday ended I was greeted by a deep and restful sleep. With a stomach full of exceptional barbecue and the satisfaction of knowing every team I cheered for walked off the field a winner, falling into a coma-like slumber was only natural.

Sunday proved just as superb. The weather was wonderful, and church was inspiring. Arriving home, the afternoon held the promise of more football and baseball games.

There was one unforeseen event, however. As I was grabbing the barbecue utensils off the wall in a back room, I knocked over a box of files. It hit the floor, spilling its contents: old tax records and paid receipts. A quick date check revealed these items belonged to history and were well beyond my need to keep them.

Now, as I switched channels between football and baseball games, sated from yet another plate of scrumptious victuals, I began emptying boxes. I sifted, sorted, shredded and saved. One box led to three others, and then I opened one that contained a pile of personal goodies: school notebooks, family greeting cards, awards, report cards -- a veritable treasure of significant papers and pictures from years gone by.

I took my time as I pored over these last items, pausing to remember the circumstances in which they were created and the person who made them. I was amazed at the distance that seemed to separate the person I am now from the person I was back then.

Soon the last of the boxes had been excavated and with the games over, I had time to sit and think.

There was also one box I began to update again. In it is a folder I call my "first-stop-when-I-drop" file. You know the one. It has all the papers someone will need -- insurance paperwork, wedding and birth certificates, military records, mortgage information, church records, property distribution plan, funeral options, my last will and testament -- you know, those sorts of things.

It felt good consolidating these necessary items while culling the extraneous paper pile that builds up over the years.

Guys, maybe we need to just take a day and empty all the boxes. Not only did I free up room in the closet to pack more stuff in, I was able to reflect on the person I was and, more importantly, the man I've become.

Not a bad takeaway from a couple of days watching football and eating barbecue.

Next weekend: golf and a fish fry

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

No Worries

Sitting at the Outback Steakhouse with a good friend the other night we heard the waiter comment, "No worries," when asked if a customer could have her salad dressing on the side. Now I know what the phrase "on the side" refers to but, "no worries"?

A quick Internet search yielded the factoid that "no worries" is an Australian-English expression. It means "do not worry about that," "that's all right," or "sure thing." The phrase is widely used in Australian speech and represents a feeling of friendliness, good humor, optimism and "mateship" in Australian culture. The phrase has been referred to as the national motto of Australia.

But I do worry.

In fact I spent most of the previous night worrying about how I would get a file I needed. I was out of town and left it at the office. I spent quality, sleeping time, lying awake as I worried about how to get the file.

At the table my friend suggested I simply call the office and have someone e-mail the file to me. That sure sounded reasonable. I did, they did, and three minutes later the problem was solved. I had the file.

So why do I worry?

Psychologists have written books on the topic, and ministers have preached sermons addressing it. About it, mothers have consoled, fathers have rationalized, and friends have commiserated. It's a worldwide phenomenon crossing all cultures and races. It plagues the young and the old, male and female, and shows no discrimination. For me, I think it boils down to the fact that I don't want to not be in control.

Sound familiar?

Guys, maybe we can learn a lesson from my sleepless night. Sometimes we just need to recognize we aren't always the ones in control. (In fact, truth be told most times we aren't the ones in control.) I would have done much better to shelve the problem and tackle it in the morning, when I could do something about it. Lesson learned: maybe it's okay to just accept the things we can't control.

It takes practice, but it can be done. It might even take adopting a sign from our surfer buddies out west. The next time you feel uptight about something, consider our Hawaiian friends, especially if your problem feels like you're facing a wall of water four stories high.

The sign's called the "shaka." It means "hang loose!"

Try it.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Things to Know

One of my favorite shows on television is Storage Wars. What I like best are the bidding battles. Having bid at more than a few auctions myself, I feel my adrenaline spike as my favorite bidder barks out his bids, hits his limit, and then -- a moment later -- is out of the bid altogether.

I have felt his angst. I know the feeling of being outbid when I've hit my limit. It was then I faced a split-second decision: do I go one more in the hope the other person drops out, or do I fold?

On one occasion my split-second decision to bid once more was rewarded with the purchase of a 1960's model Coca Cola bottle vending machine. On the other hand, there was the time I lost a chance for a 1920's era Coke cooler for want of a $5 bid.

It's important we know when to fold -- whether in auctions or in card games.

While I'm on the subject of things worth knowing, something else I've found useful to know is how to start a campfire. Now here I'm not referring to the knife on the belt buckle technique. Rather, I'm talking about the simple method of laying in the kindling, when to add the sticks, and how to stack the logs for a decent fire that will last throughout the evening.

I have found too that knowing how to iron a shirt has been extremely helpful, especially when applying for a job or impressing a date. It's also good to know how to finish off the ensemble by understanding how to polish dress shoes, tie a tie, and select a nice set of suitable cufflinks for the shirt.

When I was single it was important to know how to give a thoughtful gift to the girl I was wooing. To do this, I would take her to the mall and see what interested her -- what her likes and dislikes were. Once she commented or otherwise indicated how a certain piece of jewelry would look good with one of her favorite outfits, I was good to go. That Christmas she got the aforementioned item, and I impressed her.

My mom didn't raise no dummy.

In like manner, there are bits of wisdom and a few skills that have been imparted to me by other guys. These gems include knowing how to change the oil in my car, when to apply lawn fertilizer, how to create a beef brisket rub, and when to keep quiet.

But perhaps the best advice I received has been this: "Know a little about many subjects." This has come in handy many times over the years, especially when beginning a conversation with someone I've just met. And what's more, some of these conversations have led to friendships that have lasted years.

Well, what do you know?

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Cherish the Day

Awhile back I received news that two of my very best friends were involved in a fatal car accident. They were travelling to a doctor's appointment and were struck by a truck. At that moment they were called home to heaven, leaving behind a family who had to face life without their parents. The shock from the news still echoes in my mind.

As I was standing next to the grave I recalled the conversation we had the night before the accident. My wife and I were planning a "double date" to the Caribbean with our friends, and together we had started discussing which islands we would like to visit. We had also begun making arrangements for the following year.

As I was standing there, numb at the loss of these two dear people, I thought how each of them lived every day to the fullest. They would find creative ways to celebrate life's many events, making the most of their time together, cherishing each other's company. They were a couple that showed me the best side of a marriage.

As we were playing cards one evening we hit upon a question that resonated with each of us: "What if you were called home tonight?" One thing led to another, and my friends shared how they had their wills prepared, insurance policies paid and up to date, and provisions made for their property.

To their pre-planning and foresight, I added, "But we should also cherish each day for we do not know when we will be called home."

At this they smiled and replied, "We do."

Guys, I would encourage you to cherish your loved ones, your co-workers, your deeds, and your words. Cherish those who share life with you. Set aside a few minutes -- and do it frequently -- to dwell on those people -- spouses, kids, siblings, friends -- who make up your world. There's no guarantee they will be here tomorrow ... or even this afternoon, for that matter.

I would also add to be prepared with your final arrangements.

My friends had a strong faith in Jesus as their Savor. They knew they were saved by grace through faith, and they lived in this world confident of the next, trusting in the Father's gift of heaven. What's more, my friends passed on that knowledge to their family and friends, who now, though their loved ones are gone, take great comfort in the lives of faith they lived.

Cherish the day.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Dads and Daughters: a Few Guidelines

I have a daughter. She captured my heart the day she was born, and I'm sure she's got it for good. The other day she started a sentence with, "Daddy, I love you." (Only she said it dragging out the "dy" in daddy and really drawing out the "love" part.) I sensed there would be a request after that and was not disappointed. I really wanted to say "no," but in the end she negotiated a "yes" out of me.

There is a special bond between a dad and his daughter, just as there is something special between a mom and her son. Most of the time the daughter doesn't trade on this bond, but once in awhile we dads get the whole "But daaaaddddyyy, I really looooooove you" pitch. Then and there we know this could be trouble.

I recently came across "50 Rules for Dads of Daughters" by Michael Mitchell. I pass along a few here that are especially helpful to me:

1. "Love her mom. Treat her mother with respect, honor, and a big heaping spoonful of public displays of affection. When she grows up, the odds are good she'll fall in love with and marry someone who treats her much like you treated her mother. Good or bad, that's just the way it is. I'd prefer good."

2. "Always be there. ... She needs her dad to be involved in her life at every stage." In other words, don't just watch from the sidelines while her life goes rushing by; help add life to her years.

3. "Pray for her. Regularly. Passionately. Continually."

4. "It's never too early to start teaching her about money. She will still probably suck you dry as a teenager ... and on her wedding day."

5. "Dance with her. Start when she's a little girl or even when she's a baby. Don't wait until her wedding day."

6. "Teach her to change a flat. A tire without air need not be a major panic-inducing event in her life. She'll still call you crying the first time it happens."

And then there's my personal favorite: "Learn to say no. She may pitch a fit today, but someday you'll both be glad you stuck to your guns."

Now if I could only figure out how to say "no" without the tears, I would be a happy man.

You can read more of Mitchell's rules on the web.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Almost Accident

So I was driving to work the other day. It was a great drive in; the traffic was light; I hit every light green, and the radio played all my favorite songs. It was as if the entire world was revolving around moi, making every effort to please me.

I was coming up to the intersection where I turn left. As I did, the light turned green, and I was slowing up, making my turn. Just then I heard the blare of a horn and the sound of rubber gripping the road. I looked up to see a very large, black pick-up trying desperately not to hit me.

Evidently, in my hypnotic state of reverie I failed to notice my left-turn arrow had changed to a full green light. When this happens, approaching traffic has the right of way. (Just in case you didn't know that.)

Fortunately, the truck stopped -- came to a screeching halt, actually. I sped up, and we both had an I-almost-had-an-accident story to tell around the dinner table: he blaming me and me blaming me.

I almost had an accident because I was thinking about all the things I needed to take care of at work, home, and with the family. I took time later that day to write down everything I absolutely needed to accomplish. Beyond that, I let go of all the other worries as they raced through the windows of my mind.

The drive home after work was less eventful, for all I had to think about was dinner. Since I like almost anything I don't have to make, and because the wife was cooking, life was good.

Guys, sometimes we need a reality check that prompts us to let go of the clutter in our heads. We need to be alert. That's why this coming Labor Day is so important. Put away the to-do list and concentrate on resting, relaxing and reconnecting with your family and friends.

After all, you've still got four months before 2013 is history.

Happy Labor Day rest to you!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Boring Drive

The other day I was reading an article about our brains. It said our brains get high on participation. It further explained that when our brains are engaged and we experience pleasure, the brain releases a neurotransmitter called dopamine. Dopamine gives us a pleasurable feeling, so the brain is always looking for ways to create more. Thus when we are actively engaged in activities the brain has a better opportunity to produce dopamine, than if we are passive.

As I sat back and reflected on the article, I discovered why I do not look forward to the solo drive from St. Louis to Chicago, for there is little change in scenery, few obstacles to overcome, and it's an almost straight shot. (Now not to pick on the great State of Illinois, I have experienced similar boring routes in Texas, Montana, Iowa, Indiana, Wyoming, Arizona, Michigan, and a few others.)

Now some will argue the radio, CD or iPod can keep the brain engaged while driving solo. Still, I found that on especially long trips, I tire of sad country songs, too much of the blues, the beat of pop, and the pounding of rap. I once tried jazz and almost ran off the road. A book on tape isn't too bad, as long as I can finish it before I arrive. However, I am not the best at picking up a story line once it's been side aside for a while.

What I have discovered works for me is prayer. Now before you stop reading, let me explain.

Whenever I pass one of those green highway signs that announce a town, etc. I think of a family member. For example, I may pass the sign that says, "Highway 50, Exit 1 Mile," and I recall my wife. I remember her laughter, her voice, her beauty, and so forth. Then I say a prayer for her. I recall her until I pass another sign; then I think of some other family member and say a prayer.

If I run out of family members I recall the bosses I have had and say a prayer for them. Then it's politicians, world leaders, people who have yelled at me, and so on. I say a prayer for each of them.

I usually arrive at my destination relaxed, with a brain full of dopamine.

On the other hand, I also find that beef jerky and Mountain Dew help take my mind off of long, lonely stretches of highway, even as they energize me for the road ahead.

Tying it all together has me praying in between gulps of Mountain Dew as I'm shredding a strip of rawhide jerky.

What a way to go!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The View from 25,000 Feet

The other day I was flying across the country from St. Louis to Paducah to Baltimore to Detroit. The day was cloudless along the entire route, providing a clear view of the landscape. I was struck by the physical features below me, looking remarkably similar to the physical maps my teacher used in class. I was able to identify streams, mountain chains, forests and, of course, an ocean. The colors of the topography did resemble my grandmother's patch quilt.

Interspersed among the natural features were interstate highways, farm fields, electrical lines, and the occasional clustering of buildings, making up a city or town. The manmade features crisscrossed over, around and through the natural features, adding interest to the visual effect.

From 25,000 feet there was one thing I was not able to discern, however: individuals. I could pick out an occasional truck or car along the highway and, sometimes even a structure, but I could not see any people.

I started to ponder the concept that the things people do often last longer than the individuals who do them. For example, the highways I saw were built by people I didn't know. The buildings I saw were constructed by individuals I never met. The squares of farmland were plowed and managed by farmers I'll never know.

That got me thinking about my life. How will what I build -- my family, my reputation, my relationships, and my influence -- last beyond me?

Will the next generation be able to see how I impacted the world without ever meeting me?

I would like to think they will.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Back to School: Dads Get Involved

Soon children everywhere will participate in annual back-to-school rituals. For the child the event is usually celebrated with new clothing and shoes, fresh school supplies tucked inside a new backpack, and a sense of anticipation sometimes mixed with apprehension. Soon they will be entering a world designed just for them, geared to their needs, offering them opportunities to make friends, and grow intellectually, emotionally, socially and all of the other -allys there are to experience. Children look forward to going back to school almost as much as their parents do -- almost.

Parents see the first day of school as the culmination of weeks of preparation. This trial by fire begins with a number of school supply shopping ventures and continues through the drama of shelling out precious cash for new clothes and shoes -- each item squeezing an already limited budget. Parents of multiple children sometimes have an advantage here, learning from the older sibling how to prepare for the younger one's supply needs. All too soon, however, the days of preparations end as parents see their kids off to the first day of school.

For some parents the school bus gobbles up their child; others wave farewell from their front door. Some parents walk their child up to the school house; others queue up in designated car pool lines. For the first-time parent, this separation can prompt tears and anxiety over how their little one will be treated and, in turn, treats others. Veteran parents, on the other hand, smile bravely, still not completely free of the butterflies in their stomachs. Without a doubt, the first day of school can be stressful.

Part of the trauma comes in parents' desire to have their child do well. Every parent knows their kid is special, talented, intelligent and creative, and they want others to recognize these traits too. In addition, all parents want their child to get good grades, be confident, get along well with others, behave properly, and be healthy and happy.

Dads, research from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services has found that children with involved, caring fathers are more likely to be emotionally secure, confident, better at social interaction, less depressed, better behaved, healthy and happier. It is never too early -- or too late -- to be involved in your children's lives.

The easiest way to be involved in your child's life is to talk with them. Research indicates today's dad spends an average of seven hours a week with their child as opposed to 12 hours for mom. Dads, take time to be with and talk to your child.

It will make a huge difference.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Read Me a Story

The best time of the day is when I have the opportunity to tuck the kids in bed. We have a little ritual that starts with them crawling under the covers, with me tucking them tight. This is followed by prayers. Then they look up at me with their bright eyes and utter those magic words, "Read me a story! Pleeeaaase!"

I can't resist and ask one of them to get a book.

Off fly the covers as one after another jump out of bed, looking for the biggest book they can find. Little do they know I have pulled all the thick books from their shelf, leaving only the quick reads for them to choose.

They negotiate briefly, grab their top choice, hand it over to me, and hop back in the sack.

I proceed to read the story, and they point out the pictures. If I should happen to skip a page, they know it. They demand I stop and read that which I missed.

Once the book is finished we go through the sparring of "Read us another," followed by "I need a drink." Eventually, I reach the point of getting them tucked in, giving them a kiss, and making my stealthy exit.

Research says children who are read to will be better readers. Research says children who have adults talk with them will be better at social interaction.

Now that's research I can get behind.

But the fact is whether or not research validates this bedtime approach with my kids doesn't make any difference. The time I spend praying and reading with them before they drift off to sleep is one of the best times of the day. Not surprisingly, just being with them leaves me with a warm spot in my heart.

I'm already thinking about the time -- in the not-too-distant future -- when they won't want me to tuck them in or read to them.

I will miss it.

Maybe I can take him fishing then.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Over My Head -- Under Water

When I was a boy my mom took us to Jones Beach, Long Island, New York. This beach features miles of white sand fronting the Atlantic Ocean. We spread out our blankets and mom proceeded to lecture us about the dangers of the ocean: rip tides, killer waves, and fish big enough to swallow little kids in a single gulp.

She then set up her chair and took out her book as we ran for the waves. Her caution to stay within sight was lost as we plunged headlong into the waves, feeling the shock of the cold water hit our sun-baked bodies. Life was good that July day.

As was my custom, I ignored mom's warnings and headed down the beach out of her sight.

I happened on an area without other swimmers and ran into the surf. The wave hit me and carried me out, tumbling me head over heels. I held my breath and started to be dragged down into the depths of the water. My toes searched for bottom without finding it.

My lungs ached as I reached my hand upwards.

A strong hand held me and pulled me up out of the ocean. I gasped for air. This man had witnessed my wave encounter and swam out to pull me up and tow me to shore.

My experience of being in over my head -- under water is one I never wish to repeat.

Over the years I have had the same feeling of helplessness as I found myself in situations where I was in over my head.

Even if I can't always avoid these circumstances, I've learned to survive them. I relax and let go of my concerns, issues, worries and frustrations. When I stop trying to control the situation I experience that same feeling of a strong hand guiding me to the air.

Sometimes less struggle is the best way out.

It also helps to learn from our experiences to avoid repeating them -- like I did. From that day on whenever mom said to stay within sight ... I did.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Road Construction Ahead

In the northern half of the continent, there is phenomenon known as the "fifth season." There is summer, followed by fall, then winter and spring. That's four. But then there's the dreaded fifth season: road construction. At the height of the season, orange barrels, reduced speed zones, flashing marquees, cones galore, and restricted lanes offer ample opportunities to stretch the limits of one's patience.

It's interesting to observe how the rituals of road construction season are observed by some. For example, there is the "dance of the merge." This dance commences with the passing of the sign that proclaims a lane closure ahead. If the sign announces the left lane is closed then the alpha racer speeds forward in the left lane, cutting off fellow travelers who have dutifully lined up in the right lane. The dance is reversed if the right lane is closed.

Another ritual is the ever-popular "follow the leader." This game becomes more interesting when construction barriers tighten lane size, and traffic is narrowed into a single lane. The object of this competition seems to be to get as close to the person in front without actually touching them.

One situation not often seen is the "rolling barricade." This uncommon event happens when two semi-trucks ride side by side, forcing traffic into one lane producing the usual dance of the merge opportunities. Now the rolling barricade sometimes gives way to "shoulder rolling." This happens when a driver creates a new traffic lane by cruising the shoulder. Sometimes this move leads to an incident of "stopped by ambulance."

"Hide and seek" is a law enforcement twist added to some construction zones too. Here patrolmen lie in wait for those practicing "follow the leader" or the ever-popular and age-old "speeding game."

As a veteran of the fifth season, I've learned the smoothest way to navigate this periodic phase is to allow extra time, slow down and, above all, bring along lots of beefy snacks and CDs. Nothing removes the grating inconvenience of loony drivers or standstill traffic from road construction like an ample supply of beef jerky and some choice tunes.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

I Haven't Heard That One Before.

The other day I was standing in line waiting to board a flight and started a conversation with the man next to me. We talked a bit about where we were headed, where we live, why we were travelling, a little about our families and, finally, what we do for a living. He told me he's had the same job for 23 years. He then said something I haven't heard before: "I'm content."

A moment later his group was called to board, and I didn't get a chance to follow up on what he meant by that statement. That is, until I found my seat and saw we were sitting next to each other. As I was settling in, I turned to him and asked, "Did I hear you correctly about being content?"

He replied, "Yeah, you did. I'm really happy with my life. I like my job, my home, and my future."

Soon the flight attendant started her announcements, and the din of two jet engines curtailed further investigation. As the plane moved along the tarmac, he had given me something to ponder: how content am I?

For the most part, I'm content. However, there are days when a little dissatisfaction breaks through. This frustration usually stems from some decision -- or decisions -- I made in the past that have caught up to me now.

But then I sit back and think about it again, trying hard not to beat myself up every time I took the wrong fork in the road. When I remember that previous decisions were usually made with the best information available at the time -- and that I wasn't intentionally trying to make things difficult for me later on -- I can easily reflect on my life and be thankful that it is a really good one.

There really isn't much I would change.

So the next time I'm standing in line waiting for a flight and someone starts a conversation, I just might tell them something they haven't heard in a while: "I am content with my life."

How about you?

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Road Not Taken

I'm one guy who limits his poetry reading to the occasional limerick or greeting card. Now don't get me wrong, I do enjoy some good word play, especially if it's been shaped into a song. Tunes like "Time in a Bottle," "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck" and "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" are popular classics tying together catchy melodies and thought-provoking lyrics.

Notwithstanding what I just said about poetry, however, there is one poem that always gets me thinking about life.

Robert Frost, American poet extraordinaire, wrote a poem called, "The Road Not Taken," where he describes a man pausing at a juncture of two roads coming together in a wood. He details the man's thought processes, as he considers what path to embark on. In the end, the man opts for the path "less travelled."

Frost writes,

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

I know what he means. As I look back over my life, I see how choices I made have led to where I am today. For example, when I considered my undergraduate program I had to choose between a large state university and a small religious institution. While I'm convinced I would have succeeded at either school, the decision to trek the less-travelled road of the religious school led to the path that placed me in my current position.

But in everyday life I've been faced with travel choices too, as when driving in a city I do not know or confronting a detour without my GPS. Either way, I can follow the majority of cars, which I have done before -- only to end up someplace other than my intended destination -- or I could trust my instincts and my internal compass.

If I know I need to go north and west, I just keep turning north or west, whether there are people to follow or not. Most of the time I get where I'm going; sometimes I even find something interesting along the way.

The point is this: our choices have consequences. One decision leads to another. Each ends with a choice. The next decision does the same. Sometimes our choices seem obvious, a true no-brainer. At other times, we're faced with a gut-wrenching decision.

As the poet no doubt sensed, the clear-cut thoroughfare may be the easiest to travel, but upon arrival you may find your destination no different than that of the numberless masses.

Choose your roads (make your decisions) wisely. It could make all the difference.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Summer is Officially Here

There are certain surefire indicators summer has arrived. The NHL's Stanley Cup Finals are over; people are asking each other: "Hot enough for you?"; parents are rejoicing as children leave for camp; college students are busy filling burger-and-fry orders; and HR sends you a memo, reminding you how many vacation days you have left.

Many workers tend to disregard this advice to use their vacation time, preferring instead to use the season's increased daylight to energize them for working on the job. The extended hours of sunshine provide an energy boost that rival any canned drink. This leaves the worker feeling good, spending more time on the job, and ignoring family members who are pleading, "Let's go somewhere for vacation!"

Perhaps another reason employees prefer work over vacation is because vacations are work too, just in a different way. There are the hours, sometimes days, of vacation preparation; there's the juggling of finances required to pull off a nice stay somewhere; and there's the effort involved, sometimes considerable, to keep the kids reined in and at least acting as if they like each other. It's no wonder some guys find it more relaxing to remain on the job, where what's expected is familiar and there are no surprises.

Cost may hinder some from going on vacation. Since transportation, meals, drink and lodging all cost more away from home, some are discouraged from leaving at all, thus forfeiting vacation days. Many workers find it hard to hand over a day's wages to feed a family of three or more at a fancy restaurant, or tap into the savings account to fly the family to a resort destination. And they know from experience it's hard to hang on to bucks when the kids are whining for one more souvenir, another ride on the "Spin 'N' Flip," or begging for a $5 candy bar before the movie begins.

So what's a guy to do?

Well, here's my plan. This summer I'm taking at least two working days and staying home. My high ambitions are to sleep a little later, work on my hobbies, read to the kids, take the family to a matinee, play catch with the boys, and sweep my wife off her feet, as I grill burgers in the backyard.

I will take the time and walk into every room in the house, recalling again why I liked the place in the first place. I will read from a book. I will talk with my family. I will go outside in the evening, lay on my back, and try to remember the names of the constellations I see. If I'm lucky I might spot a "shooting star." If my eyes are really focused, I might pick up the faint speck of a satellite drifting through space.

The point to remember here is no one said a vacation has to involve stress or money. A vacation is time away from the job. It's time to relax and refuel. It's time to shake off the cobwebs and bask in the beauty of this world -- whether that's strolling a beach in Maui or between the flowerbeds in your backyard.

Vacation equals time away -- from the grind, from the office or plant or assembly line, from the frame of mind we have when we're at work. It's about breathing a different air for a while.

Someone once said, "I don't know anyone on their deathbed wishing they spent more time at work."

I couldn't agree more.

So I'll be out of the office come Friday. How about you?

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Fireworks: beyond the "Ohhs" and "Ahhs"

Chicago lights up the night over Lake Michigan; San Diego sends up its firepower over Mission Bay; for Boston the sky's ablaze over the Charles River; in St. Louis it's reflections across the mighty Mississippi; and in Washington D.C. the spectacle is held on the National Mall. All across America thousands of towns will hold firework displays over mountains, cornfields, forests and plains this coming July Fourth. The time-honored tradition of celebrating our country's independence with firework displays began in Philadelphia in 1777. It continues strong to this day.

Fireworks have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. From childhood to now, the evening of July Fourth finds my family armed with blankets, lawn chairs and a cooler, as we head out to claim the best place to maximize the viewing experience. Our exuberance over watching the rockets' red glare can sometimes backfire, however. One year we got so close the spent shell casings were dropping all around us. That was too close.

We know what to expect, and we love it every time. Each year the boisterous crowd quickly quiets down as the first shell explodes over head, signaling the beginning of the barrage. Throughout the evening the crowd shows its appreciation for the pyrotechnic brilliance with gasps of "ohhs" and "ahhs." The shell that swells into a giant red star rates a subdued "ohh," while the mortar that erupts into a blossom that fills the night sky in brilliant color rates a hardy "ahh!" The finale is always a crowd pleaser, prompting a multitude of "ohhs" and "ahhs" along with a thunderous ovation, as the last spark fades from the sky.

As I join the crowd in applauding this year's Fourth of July production, I will once again be reminded of the great cost paid for our country's continuing freedom. From the time of the "shot heard 'round the world" until now, our country has had brave men and women willing to bear arms against all invaders in the defense of this magnificent nation.

The boom and spectacle of the fireworks overhead remind me of the roar of the cannons fired in battle throughout the years. The repetitive bursts of the finale call to mind the bombardments that shook our forts and encampments -- then and now.

The dazzling colors, smoke-filled air, and smell of gun powder bring to mind sacrifices paid in life and limb.

As I view this year's annual celebration, I will remember what has been done for me by those who knew me not. And I will pause to reflect on their great service -- a service fueled on the unshakeable premise that all men are born to be free.

Thank you -- from the bottom of my heart -- thank you.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Losing Power, Gaining Perspective

Have you ever noticed how much we take electricity for granted? We flip hundreds of switches a day without ever giving a second thought the electricity won't be there. We're so used to power on demand that if it ever does go out we're caught off-guard.

Awhile ago the area where I live was a victim of an EF3 tornado. Fortunately, my house only experienced a few missing shingles, a tree pushed over, and some fence blown down. I was very blessed when compared to others who lost their homes and possessions.

However, we all were without electricity -- and not just for minutes or hours, but for days. It was then I understood just how much I take instant power for granted. I had to scramble to figure out how to charge the phone (a car charger works fine); get up in the morning (a wind-up alarm clock does the trick); and wash the dishes (dish detergent in a sink full of water still does the job). Each day I'd walk into a room (sometimes several different times), flip a switch, and expect a burst of light -- only to be reminded there was no juice. Here's where flashlights come in handy, by the way. My problems were compounded on Sunday afternoon when, sitting down to watch golf, I hit the power on the remote and, you guessed it, no TV.

Following the lead of my ancestors, I grabbed a book to read.

This got me to thinking, and I started contemplating all the other things in my amenities-rich life I took for granted: fresh water, frozen food, sizzling bacon, country music, news broadcasts, microwave meals, and the list kept growing.

Soon I shifted from things to people. Topping this list are my wife and kids. More often than I care to admit I take these choicest of gifts for granted. I didn't have to think very long on how glad I was they were in my life, but yet how infrequently I let them know this. It was then I resolved to move them from the taken-for-granted list to the lucky-I've-got-them list.

Being without electricity is one thing, an inconvenience to be sure. Being without the people who matter most to me, well, that's a problem the local utility company just can't fix.

And then, staring at the lifeless TV, I thought how Father's Day is coming up. I think this year I'll let my wife and kids know how very thankful I am to be her husband and their dad.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Numbering Our Days

Can you remember back when you were a small boy? For many of us, nights were times fraught with fear, as we knew there was a horrible, boy-eating monster lurking in the closet, waiting for the lights to go out. In the dark it would spring out and gobble us in one bite. For some of us the horrible monster was the older brother in the bed beside us, who took great pains to insure our sleep would be marred by dreams of flesh-eating bugs, snakes and other monsters.

For others of us, childhood fears matured into more frightening phobias like arachnophobia, acrophobia, trypanophobia, pteromerhanophobia and the ever-popular glossophobia. But no matter if your childhood fears translated into an adult fear of spiders, heights, injections, flying or public speaking, one thing is almost certain: we all have fears.

As we age we may fear losing our hair, our job, our income, or our ability to rank highly on Google. Men often begin to fear their own aging when they bury their father. As we stand beside dad's casket, we're reminded it is us who now keep the family's hopes, dreams and honor. No longer will we be able to call dad with a question about relationships, finances, our future goals, or just to bask in his wisdom. We now are the ones to be called, and we fear letting our family down.

One of the fears of aging is the sobering realization our days are numbered, and there is less time we can make our mark on this world. For men, leaving a legacy is a big deal. No matter our station in life, we want to be remembered -- and if possible, fondly. A boyhood fantasy of putting one out of the park in the ninth inning of the seventh game of the World Series with two down, a full count, and bases loaded -- and his team behind by three runs -- is a young boy's hope of leaving a permanent mark of greatness on the world that will stand the test of time.

Many men consider a lasting legacy something that is tangible: a building, a policy, a speech, an event. Some men have edifices named for them; others have their faces carved in stone; others have their figures memorialized in marble or bronze.

While this is all well and good, it's my contention the greatest legacy a man can leave is the values he passes on. Fathers have the distinct ability to influence future generations through the lives of their children. Men who mentor youth create bridges between generations and have the power to extend their positive influence through these relationships -- and through the relationships those they mentor have with others.

Having your name etched in the side of a building is dandy, but when your great-grandkids can say, "I am honest because that's what my great-granddad taught our family," then you have laid a cornerstone for something that will truly last.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Be Spontaneous

There is much to be said about pre-planning and minimizing risks, especially when one is preparing for retirement, a dream vacation, or building a house. These endeavors require superb attention to detail to decrease chances for failure. Keeping surprises to an absolute minimum when planning for retirement, dream vacations, or building a house is always a good thing.

But ... there's also something to be said for sheer spontaneity.

Think back to when you were a kid. What memories come to mind? How about as a teenager or a young adult? Is there anything you can recollect from those days that left an indelible impression on your mind, as a result of some spur of the moment decision?

I can think of a couple. One evening I asked my mother a question. It was a simple enough query: "What's for dinner?"

She responded, "Ice cream sundaes!" Now that meal is definitely in my top-ten list of memories. She caught me completely off-guard. As a result, her spontaneity -- along with her exquisite choice of cuisine -- is fondly recalled today.

On another occasion my brother came to visit me in Michigan. We were talking about Niagara Falls and how we went there as kids. One thing led to another, and we decided if we left immediately we could be there in ten hours. So we did. That's another entry in my top-ten list of never-to-be-forgotten days.

Spontaneous events aren't just supposed to happen to kids though; spouses also savor an out-of-the-blue suggestion once in a while. Here's three to get you thinking: a surprise dinner at a favorite restaurant of hers; a Saturday afternoon movie (again, with a flick she likes); the miraculous appearance of a babysitter 15 minutes before you whisk her off to hockey game. These are all wonderful experiences to be warmly recalled later.

Naturally, planning and routine have their place and function in our world, but the occasional spur- of-the-moment, unplanned event can create a memory lasting a lifetime. Sometimes, too, those really big, unplanned moments even become part of the family's lore and history -- like when my grandpa said "yes" to a blind date at the drop of a hat.

It was that event -- way back when -- that eventually kick started our family -- and all the kids, grandkids, marriages, and everything else that has gone along with it.

Spontaneity ... who knows what it will bring?

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


In early medieval times, one's "honour" (honor) was defined as the group of manors or lands one held. Thus an honor was an estate that gave the owner a certain dignity and status. Hence if one would say, "on my honor" he was pledging his estate as surety that he would fulfill his pledge or forfeit the estate. To pledge one's honor was not something taken lightly.

Medieval knights lived their lives by a code of honor, commonly known as the Knight's Code of Chivalry. Among the various nuances of the Code of Chivalry, the concept of "honor" was at the core. Knights vowed to respect and protect the honor of women, guard the honor of fellow knights and live an honorable life in word and deed.

Today a man of honor is one worthy of respect, usually having earned it through honest actions, high morals, and fair dealings.

When a man of honor pledges "on my honor," he no longer pledges on his estate, but on his reputation and good name. A man of honor will keep his pledge or forfeit his position of honor.

As the United States honors fallen veterans, it is fitting we look beyond the sacrifice they made -- beyond their military record -- instead, we need to look at the person inside the uniform.

There we will discover a person of honor. We will find a person worthy of respect, which has been earned through honest dealings; a person of high morals who treats others fairly. And just like the medieval knights, we will see a person who is honest and upright, defending his country, preserving the dignity of others, living a life of integrity and worthy of emulation.

It is altogether fitting we honor our fallen comrades. However, thankfully, one does not have to fall in battle to be a person of honor.

Men, let us strive to live honorable lives. Let us be fair, just and respectful. Let us pledge to uphold the honor of those unable to defend themselves. Let us respect and defend the honor of all women. Let us be true leaders in our family, in our community, and in our workplace who daily display honor and respect.

Let us take seriously the promise, "on my honor," and by our actions and attitudes live lives worthy of honorable mention.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Man of Integrity

Dwight David "Ike" Eisenhower, 34th president of the United States, five-star general in the United States Army, and supreme commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during World War II has commented thusly: "The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office."
Integrity is defined as the quality of possessing -- and steadfastly adhering -- to high moral principles or professional standards. The mark of a man of integrity would be a man who consistently lives out high moral principles, even when no one is looking.

It has been my ongoing goal to be a man of integrity, but I have found it increasingly difficult, as I am pressured to retreat from some values in the name of conformity.

For example, I try to obey the laws of the land, even those that govern how I operate a motor vehicle. Doing this, however, can be a mixed bag. Thus, when I am driving 60 mph in a 60-mph speed zone, I often become the recipient of moans, groans and comic pleadings from the back seat to step on it and go faster. Most often I hear, "Dad, everyone else is passing you. I can't believe you let yourself get passed by a mini-van. I just hope no one sees me in here."

Internally, I wrestle with the integrity issue. Do I maintain my values as a law-abiding citizen? Do I capitulate in order to save face in front of my children?

I struggle with the whole honesty issue too. Frequently, I hear of sports legends, Hollywood celebs, politicians and business leaders who are seemingly rewarded for their less-than-honorable actions. And this goes on while others choose the high road, making the tough decision to forego dishonest gain. Too often those that abide by the rules are overtaken by those who have figured out how to fold, bend and even break them.

Still, when it comes down to it, I'll continue striving to live a life of integrity, as best I can. I will stop at stop signs, keep my eye on the speed limit, and even give myself a penalty stroke when I play golf.

Even when nobody is watching.

Now that's the kind of courage even a guy like Ike would like.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

You Do Matter

We've all been there. You run up to the store to grab a single item and get stuck behind some slowpoke engaging the cashier with idle chit-chat. It happened to me the other day as I found myself stalled behind an elderly lady. My usual impatience ran out even more quickly as this woman with the booming voice bore an uncanny resemblance to my grandmother. Locked in place with lines on both sides, I started paying attention to her conversation. Is it eavesdropping if she was speaking loud enough to be heard two aisles over?

The conversation started out with the usual discussion about the weather and how she hoped it would not rain over the weekend. I didn't see anything interesting there until she continued with why she didn't want rain: "The men in my church are going to change the oil for the widows and single ladies this weekend, and I sure want the oil in my car changed."

She continued. "Yes, there was one man in my church who started this service and now we have lots of kind men who are helping out us older gals. I'm on a fixed income, you know, and can't afford to take care of some things the way I should, let alone my car. It's good of these guys to help out, and there's no charge. Can you believe that? No charge! I am praying for good weather, and I sure thank God for these men."

She smiled at the cashier, paid for her few items, and left me standing there.

Men, what we do does matter; this woman is a testimony to how much it does.

I don't know what church she attends, but I'm encouraged by the fact that somebody had a good idea and others followed, giving their time, ability and finances to offer a simple service that is often taken for granted. This woman reminded me how something as basic as an oil change can mean so much. It meant so much she publicly thanked God for the guys who were doing it.

Wouldn't it be awesome if each of us found one simple way to provide a service to others?

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Shopping Trip

Every now and then my wife approaches me while I am watching a game on TV and asks me a question. I've learned the default for most wife questions is "Yes, dear," spoken with as much verve and enthusiasm as I can muster with a count of three and two, or it's fourth down and inches, or there are seven seconds left, or it's a long putt in a playoff, or any one of a number of other sports scenarios.

And here's how that default answer can get you in trouble. On a recent Saturday morning, I awoke to the announcement that this was the day my wife and I were going to pick out her new dress for the upcoming party.

Oh, goody!

Now I must admit my first words were not that well thought out, as I inquired when in the Sam Hill I would have ever consented to such a trip. She then reminded me of the "Yes, dear," reply I had given her just hours before in the final seconds of an NBA game. Not wanting to go back on my word, I headed to the mall, hoping the ordeal would soon be over, since the third round of that week's PGA tournament was being televised that afternoon.

Wandering into the dress section was pure revelation, I didn't know the store was that large; there was a whole floor dedicated to ladies' wear. She started through the racks, her eyes drawn to things like color, style and fit. As she shopped I flipped price tags from dress to dress. It was during this review, I made the mistake of laughing out loud and saying, "They can't be serious; the cost of this dress could feed a family of four for a week." And with that maladroit remark, all eyes within earshot were turned my way. I caught my wife ducking around the corner, shamed at my comment.

Well, it was now "game on!" I was determined to find her the perfect dress at a reasonable price. I queried her (tactfully) about her size, her preferred color and anything else that seemed important. I then headed into the maze of dress racks.

Finding the discount racks was easy, as they were all labeled "Discount Racks." Following the crowd I dove into the floral jungle and scoured every hanger looking for the perfect, bargain trophy. After a couple of stern glances and what felt like a body check thrown by a woman old enough to be my mother, I found three dresses that would do the trick -- all in her size and under $25.


I tracked down my wife and handed her the prized selections. She looked them over and with a measured response, said, "I'll try them on, along with the one I found."

I have to admit it's a whole different world waiting for your wife outside dressing rooms these days. This store nailed it too. They had couches, easy-chairs and ESPN on a large screen TV. As I settled in to watch Sports Center, my wife flitted in front of me and asked me about the dresses she had just shown me. My response to her vague question was, of course, "Yes, dear."

And with that, I emptied my wallet of another $200 and took home not one -- but two -- dresses.

The moral of the story: watching TV is expensive.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Dinner and a Song

Recently, my wife and I were eating in an Italian pizza place. This was the real deal too -- complete with a roving accordion player who could play pretty much any song you requested -- as long as it was Italian or "Happy Birthday." Dining there that evening was a table full of people, enjoying their meal and some lively conversation -- all in Italiano. It was a large, extended family of about 30, and they were celebrating a young man's birthday.

As soon as we walked in we were swept up into the joyful atmosphere. Everyone who wasn't eating pizza or drinking wine was smiling, talking and enjoying the evening.

As we were shown our table, the group welcomed us with smiles and a hearty "buonasera!"

Our waiter took our order, and we settled in for the evening.

The evening was delightful, as the place was abuzz with robust talk and much laughter. We savored our dinner, which was "molto buona," and we basked in the warm glow of the place's conviviality. Just as we were getting ready to leave, the accordian player started on a tradionial Italian folk song, a "tarantella." This anthem brought an elderly, Italian grandfather to his feet, who sang a succession of verses -- complete with appropriate gestures. Those in the restaraunt clapped and joined in as they were able; the place was jumpin'.

After a few song requests by the locals (as you can see, we didn't make it out the door), it was my turn to pick a number. The only Italian song I could think of was "That's Amore" by Dean Martin.

And what do you know? Our virtuoso accordianist knew it -- and played it well.

As he did, I serenaded my wife, and the restaraunt cheered. It was "fantastico!"

Some 50 strangers were united for a time by the power of a good song, good food and good drinks. We left with smiles on our faces and humming.

Then I thought to myself. Wouldn't it be nice if every now and then we could just break into a good song and enjoy the moment?

Hmmm. I wonder what's going on this evening at the German bierpalast (beer hall) down the street.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


Recently, I heard the story of a policeman who came upon an accident caused by a man swerving into a truck. When the police officer checked on the driver of the car he found the man had no pulse. He immediately began applying CPR. He continued until he was relieved by the medical responders.

The car's driver had suffered a major heart attack and clinically died, causing the accident. The actions of the first responder, along with the medical professionals at the hospital, were able to revive the driver, save his life and, ultimately, return him to his family.

When the police officer was acknowledged as a hero he commented he was only doing his job.

Down through the ages a hero has come to be defined as a person who displays great courage or noble qualities. A police officer who continues administering CPR, even when it appears his efforts are futile, definitely displays noble qualities.

It is my belief each one of us has a hero inside -- waiting to be released.

An "unsung hero" can take many forms. He might be the guy who spends Saturday mornings down at the homeless shelter, sorting through boxes of canned goods in a back room, separating them out for distribution. He might be the guy who's spent the last three years -- or more -- volunteering and ready when needed by his county's rural fire department. He might be the guy who stops to help a stranger change a flat tire. He might be the guy who speaks up for the rights of others, or for some thorny social or faith-based concern, even when doing so is unpopular.

When a man displays heroic qualities, he inspires others by his courage and his resolution to act on what he believes. If you are a family leader, you have the unique position to influence your kids to be a hero in someone else's life. They, in turn, can inspire others, who inspire yet others, and so on.

Inspiration: it's the energy that transforms the ordinary into the astonishing.

I encourage you to be a hero today.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Baseball Lessons

It doesn't matter if you're decked out in blue, orange, red or pinstripes; this is the time of year when life takes on a fresh start. The crack of the bat, the smell of cut grass, and the springtime anthem "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" all mean baseball has finally arrived! Hot dogs piled high with sweet and savory fixings, chilly beverages, salted peanuts in the shell -- all add to the exuberant feeling. Fathers toss out grandstand clichés like "Good eye!" and "Be a hitter!" and "Wait for your pitch!" as they instruct their sons in the finer points of the game. Scorecards are dutifully kept and then tucked away for safekeeping, to be treasured later by the son who serendipitously finds one in the bottom of a drawer and remembers his day at the park.

That's the beauty of baseball. It isn't just the game played in monster stadiums by the pros. It's summer camp and city park games, Little League and T-Ball competitions too. All these offer serious competition, bleachers loaded with enthusiastic and loyal fans, and a chance to snag a hot dog, a bag of nuts, or a Popsicle. Baseball, it has been said is "America's pastime." Its popularity is firmly entrenched in the American psyche and, like spring, renews itself every year.

As I was thinking about the upcoming season I was struck by the life lessons that baseball teaches.

1. Just because you fail doesn't mean you are a failure: Ty Cobb holds the all-time batting average with a .366; that means he got on base less than every four out of ten times at bat. Ty Cobb failed to hit 60 percent of the time, yet he wasn't a failure. We shouldn't beat ourselves up for failing, as long as we keep trying.

2. Be ready, stay ready: of the nine players on the team, only two are guaranteed to touch the baseball in any given inning. Those two are the pitcher and the catcher. If the pitcher is doing an exceptional job, then it's possible an outfielder can go the entire game without ever getting near the ball. However, if the ball is hit to him, he better be ready. Whether we're at home plate ready to swing or out in left field, we need to keep our eye on the ball.

3. Strategy counts: a two-strike bunt may not be the best move, but if it's unexpected, it can be a game winner. In life we need to plan our strategy accordingly; sometimes the unexpected is just what we need.

4. Bad manners get you tossed: a player or a coach expressing foul language, excessive arguing over an ump's questionable call, or displaying poor sportsmanship generally gets booted from the game. It's important to exercise good manners and use appropriate language.

5. Take a seventh-inning stretch: nothing is more fun than standing with 45,000 other fans and singing, "Take Me Out to the Ball Game!" We need to gather our family together to take a seventh-inning stretch too.

6. A walk is as good as a hit: a player can only score if he gets on base. Walks and hits accomplish the same thing: they get you on. Sometimes we look for the big solution to our problems when a simple one will do.

Perhaps the best lesson baseball gives for life is that a game is always better when shared with family. Men, take your family to a game; you'll be glad you did.

Play ball!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

What Will The Kids Say?

Anyone who has been around kids knows they speak openly and honestly about what they hear and see at home. No matter how softly you whisper they still hear. If you think they're sleeping and can't hear you, think again. They can and do. Children have the uncanny knack of hearing what parents wish they hadn't, and then remembering it -- much to the parents' chagrin, especially when what was not meant for their ears re-surfaces later at an inopportune time. Many a parent has been mortified to hear their words repeated by their children.

Children not only mimic what they hear, they often adopt the attitude and habits of their parents. This point was finely illustrated just the other day, as my two brothers and I remembered our dad's birthday.

Dad passed away many years ago, but his sons remembered his birthday in a fashion he would have appreciated.

Dad was a man who enjoyed a glass of beer and a shot of whiskey before each evening meal. His beer preference varied depending on the market price, but his whiskey of choice was Jim Beam. He would pour the whiskey into his shot glass and offer his toast -- always the same, always one word: "Sta-goy." His choice of whiskey and his spoken toast never changed.

On his last birthday celebration, his sons raised a shot of Jim Beam and in unison they shouted, "Sta-goy!"

We then spent hours trying to figure out what "sta-goy" meant. To the best of our knowledge we concluded this was a made-for-dad word, with no other meaning than it sounded like a good toast.

Afterwards I began to think what will my children remember about me? Will they remember how I went to church, loved their mother, prayed over them? Will they remember how hard I worked, how I tucked them into bed, and went to their activities? Or will they remember the brand of tobacco I smoked, my favorite cuss words, and my favorite TV shows?

None of us can fully predict or guarantee the kind of legacy we will leave our kids and families. We can, however, ink more entries on that side of the ledger that show us to be loving husbands and fathers, trusted confidants, and practical men of God.

It is within our power to do just that.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Happy Easter, Bunny!

Permit me to share a little of my story. My wife was born, "Arlene," but when her Daddy first held her she had pink ears and a little pink nose. He declared, "She is as cute as a bunny," and she was "Bunny" ever since.

I called her Arlene on our wedding day and sometimes when I was less than happy, but any other time she was Bunny. Every Easter morning I would awake and begin the first of our Easter traditions, as I greeted her with "Happy Easter, Bunny!" Then the other traditions would begin:

New Easter outfits for the kids

Family sitting together at church, hearing the Easter story

Dinner featuring ham and a home-made, red-velvet, butter-creamed, frosted lamb cake (with memories of one Lamb that "bled" raw, red-velvet dough when cut into -- not a pretty sight)

Easter baskets: one hidden in the bathtub, one in the oven, others behind furniture

Egg hunt, featuring plastic eggs filled with jelly beans and an occasional coin

Easter lilies on the table

No matter what the family situation, no matter what the finances, no matter what was the chaos that surrounded us -- the familiar Easter traditions provided a day for stability, comfort and joy. This day and its traditions surrounded our family with a peace. No matter what the future would bring, we would awake, shout out, "Happy Easter, Bunny!" and hear once again the Good News of the open tomb.

Today, the family is separated by time and distance, with the kids separated by time zones, as well as an ocean. Our kids are now on their own, with children and traditions of their own.

Bunny has been called home to her Heavenly Father, no longer present to hear, "Happy Easter, Bunny!" Yet, in the dark, quiet hours of this coming Easter morning, I will awake and speak the words, "Happy Easter, Bunny," and will be comforted. I will not hide baskets or eat a lamb cake, but I will look at the Easter lily in church. My eyes will tear and my throat will close as I hear the words, "He is risen!"

And I will whisper, "He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!"

"Happy Easter, Bunny" reminds me of a lifetime of love, joy, happiness and traditions. I will recall the past and delight in His gifts of today: another wife, a new family, new traditions, and the opportunity to share Him in all I do.

I thank God for traditions. I thank God for memories. I thank God for promises. I thank God for new traditions.

Happy Easter ...

This was first published for Easter 2010.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Lessons from the Penalty Box

With the end of this year's abbreviated National Hockey League season fast approaching, fans across North America are looking to the rink. Although the NHL has a smaller fan base compared to Major League Baseball, the National Football League, and the National Basketball Association, these fans are some of the most loyal and engaged in all of sports. Even I, though not a dedicated hockey buff, will watch my favorite NHL team in action, when I get the chance. As I watched a game the other night, it struck me how we could learn some life lessons from this fine sport.

Now some would argue absolutely nothing good can come from hockey: a fiercely aggressive sport with a real knack for violence. In fact, so prevalent are the game's displays of open hostilities, it has given rise to a fairly oft-used expression, which captures the game's propensity for settling scores with one's fists: "I went to a fight the other night, and a hockey game broke out."

We've probably all seen violence in major league sports: the bench-clearing brouhaha that erupts after a batter's been tagged by a gunning pitcher, the NFL's late hits and cheap shots, and the flagrant fouls of the NBA are all examples of tempers flaring, passions rising, and a distinct lack of self-control. Of course, violence in the NHL results for the same reasons. Interestingly though, the consequences for the offending player's team in the NHL are different than other sports. If a baseball, football or basketball player is penalized, that player stays in the game, and the teams remain evenly matched. On the other hand, hockey players penalized for any reason, including violence, serve their time in the penalty box, off the ice. While there, his team may not replace him, thus giving that team a disadvantage in the number of men on the ice. And, of course, there are real and immediate game consequences when playing a man down. The individual pays for his mistake, and the team suffers the consequences.

To me this parallels life in many ways: my negative actions may well have consequences beyond me. When I am caustic or embittered or show aggressive tendencies at home in front of my family -- yelling at the neighbor, cussing at the dog, reading the "riot act" to some business person on the phone -- the family is upset, i.e. they suffer. I need to remember my actions impact more than just me. If I've put myself in the penalty box -- if my actions are detrimental to the family unit and our ability to thrive together is hindered by my unseemly behavior -- we all lose big time.

And one more thing: have you ever paid much attention to the guy sitting in the penalty box? He's not only publicly shamed for his conduct, he also has to deal with the opposing team's unruly fans, rattling the glass behind him, jeering and egging him on.

I guess the only thing really nice about sitting in the penalty box is you've got a front-row seat to watch the other team score.