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