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.