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.