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Monday, March 23, 2020

Greatness Amidst Displacement, Commuting and Quarantine...

Just getting started... 
Life is about adjustments.

In the natural scheme of things, people adjust in one way or another from the time they are born until the day they die.

Unfortunately for me, I'm not much for change.

I've written about it in the past.  I'm a creature of habit.  I like the comforts of routine, consistency and familiarity.

Well, my routine, consistency and familiarity were uprooted about eight weeks ago when we were forced out of our home for some much needed renovations that included, fixing our roof, re-plastering the exterior walls, installing hurricane impact windows, removing mold from the ceiling and several walls, making a small room for my son, opening up a wall in the living room, knocking down a wall in the kitchen, re-tiling the foyer and kitchen floors, redesigning our kitchen, adding recessed ceiling lighting throughout, refurbishing our wood floors, remaking our closets and moving our water heater, among other things.   

Then, about six weeks later, when we were just starting to settle into our new routines of living four days at my parents' house in Miami Springs, the weekends at my mother-in-law's condo in Key Biscayne, and driving about town from our son's school, my gym and home in Coral Gables, to our daughter's school in Coconut Grove, to dance in SW Miami, to baseball practices in West Miami, Westchester and Kendall and games in NW Miami and Flagami, we get hit with another whammy; the coronavirus outbreak!

As the news hit, our older daughter was forced home from her state university.  Shortly afterwards, our kid's were sent home from school, restaurants, bars and night clubs were shut down, ALL professional sports were postponed, March Madness was canceled, my son's baseball season was put on hold, our church, parks and recreational spots closed down, as well as cigar shops and liquor stores!  Even my barber shop, when I was about to get a haircut, was shut down.  I told friends that long hair and a beard may be the tipping point for my wife and it's getting worse by the day!

Did I mention my mother-in-law lives in a one-bedroom condo?

Needless to say, our already topsy-turvy living conditions took a turn for the worse.

We went from life on commute to life in isolation and, obviously, with our college daughter back in town, I was ousted from the weekend retreat in Key Biscayne and separated from my family due to a lack of space; talk about a lifestyle enema!

It's as if God was using the old Cuban saying with me, "Aquien no le guste el caldo, que le den 3 tazas." (which translate to: whoever doesn't like soup, give them 3 cups)   

And, speaking of God; if there is one semblance of normalcy in my life, it's the fact that we are in Lent, and I've established a new prayer and meditation routine and, since our parish started live streaming Mass because of the lock down, am tuning in via Facebook every morning.  I've also been praying the Rosary every night as I walk the dogs and praying the Our Father slowly (to make it last 20 seconds) each of the zillions of times I wash my hands throughout the day.

It's the only thing that has helped me keep my sanity through the turmoil.  In fact, while people around me are freaking out and wracked with fear, faith has given me peace.  That, and the promise I made to myself before the coronavirus to try to make the move as least disruptive for my family as possible.

Now, to climb off my high horse, I realize that, at least partially, this is a bit self-serving.  I goes back to comfort.  The logic is that if I make things things more comfortable for my family, they, in turn, will make things more comfortable for me.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI once wrote, "The world offers you comfort, but you were not made for comfort.  You were made for greatness."

Hopefully, the unprecedented level of discomfort and havoc in this Lenten season of displacement, separation, commuting and quarantine, leads us all to greatness.

As St. Catherine of Siena said, "Nothing great is ever achieved without enduring much."...

Friday, March 6, 2020

Faith, Coronavirus and the End of the World...

China was hit first... 
"When men choose not to believe in God, they do not thereafter believe in nothing, they then become capable of believing in anything."  -- GK Chesterton

To me, it's surreal.

It seems like the world is going delirious over the coronavirus outbreak and, in all honesty, I just don't get it.

Maybe, it's just me.  I have a tendency of downplaying things (although my wife might differ).  Despite working in news in Miami for almost 30 years, I usually don't get rattled about developing hurricanes in our region, even though we attract storms like Trump attracts congressional investigations.  I live by the motto of a former co-worker, who would say, "Eso no viene pa ca!" (translation: this is not coming this way!).

But, even some of my friends and colleagues are saying this coronavirus thing, otherwise known as COVID-19, is getting a bit ridiculous.

Obviously, the news media can't get enough of it.  I know that firsthand from my ongoing debates during editorial meetings.  Everything coronavirus-related is reported on; to the point where, I heard on the radio that the Baby Yoda toys may not make it into stores on time unless the virus is controlled and the workforce is back to full force by June (Just the thought of not getting Baby Yoda in time makes me shudder!).

In South Florida, we have music and street festivals being cancelled. Stores are running out of baby wipes, anti-bacterial soap, vitamin C, and surgical masks (which are as effective at stopping the spread of the virus as Michael Bloomberg's $700 million TV ad buy was to his election campaign).

Meanwhile, school boards are making contingency plans for distributing computers so students can work from home and the stock market has taken more hits than a University of Miami quarterback sitting in the pocket.

Even the Catholic Church is taking precautions.  Because of the hysteria, as of this week, the Archdiocese of Miami implemented new guidelines, which among other things, discourages parishioners from shaking hands during the sign of peace (which already proved challenging when I was lector for morning Mass and the Eucharistic Minister and I went to shake hands then realized and shook each other's forearm), or hold hands during the Our Father, the suspension of distribution of the Precious Blood Christ during Communion, and the emptying of holy water fonts at church entrances (Shhh, don't say anything but our parish still has holy water!). 

Casualty of the Coronavirus... 
Private companies are also implementing measures like installing anti-bacterial lotion dispensers, requiring quarantines for employees that travel and encouraging personnel to wash their hands regularly.  I already have co-workers whose hands are pruning and chapping! 

Mind you, this is all for an illness that has, thus far, been responsible for a total of eleven deaths in the United States and thirty four hundred people worldwide (As of this writing).  That's three thousand, four hundred out of 7.7 billion!

To put this into perspective, consider that, according to the CCD, the common flu (aka influenza) was responsible for the death of over thirty four thousand people in the United States in 2019!  The Swine Flu, which my younger daughter got during the outbreak in 2009, was attributed twelve thousand lives.

Moreover, doctors say that 80% of those infected will experience mild effects.  Some may not even know they have it.  The extreme cases, and those most vulnerable, are people with compromised immune systems.   

Now, I'm not saying that eleven deaths are anything to dismiss or that the numbers attributed to coronavirus won't rise over the next several months but, the mass pandemonium and doomsday predictions of economic collapse by news coverage, pundits and politicians (who are using this for political gain) appear, at least at this point, to be a bit disproportionate to the reality we are currently living.

During a conversation one recent Saturday morning at our men's group, one of my friends made a poignant observation.  He said, "This just goes to show that as much as we think we are in control of our lives, our finances and even our health, we're really not in control of anything.  We are dependent entirely on God and every breath we take is a blessing."

I was driving my son to school one recent morning and an ad came on the radio for a new apocalyptic "paranormal" syndicated show, titled Ground Zero, where the announcer was talking about the end of the world.  My son must have been paying attention, a rarity on our commute, and says to me, "You know, Dad, everything they said is probably not real.  Why do they do that?"

I thought of the Chesterton quote and told him, "Do you know what buddy?  The problem is that many people don't believe in God.  And, when you don't believe in God, you end up believing anything."  And, even those of us who do believe, at times like these, need a little more faith.

I have a holy card of the Divine Mercy in my journal that states, "Jesus I trust in you" and to me, it's as simple as that.

Let's be vigilant.  Let's take precautions.  But, let's not go crazy.  There's nothing to fear.  The economy is not collapsing.  The world is not ending.  As the old adage states, this too shall pass...


Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Beards and the Fight Against Gender Neutrality...

An attribute of manhood... 
"For God wished women to be smooth, and rejoice in their locks alone growing spontaneously, as a horse in his mane; but has adorned man, like the lions, with a beard, and endowed him, as an attribute of manhood, with a shaggy chest - a sign of strength and rule."  -- Clement of Alexandria, circa late 2nd Century.

OK., it's gotten to the point, where I'm getting a lot of flak for the length of my beard.

When I got back from a 3-day silent retreat recently, the first thing my wife said after kissing me hello was, "I think it's time to get rid of that beard."

Our 15-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son concurred.

My wife says her friends are asking how long I'm going to grow it because I'm starting to look like I can go to a street corner and beg for money, which, come to think of it, may not be a bad way to pay the Christmas debt I accrued!

Then, I get to work this week and a friend says, "So, what's the deal with the beard?  How long are you thinking of growing it?"

For months, people have been asking me the same question in one form or another.  But, lately, it's been a barrage.  I must be resembling Grizzly Adams but, as I told my wife, channeling Michael Keaton in Mr. Mom, "The beard is in a transitional stage right now, that's all.  But when it comes in, it's going to look great!"

When my Mother-In-Law asked about the facial hair last month, I told her, "I'm growing it because I don't have a red corvette.  I don't have a mistress.  So, I decided to grow a beard."  I'm not sure how that went over but at least she laughed. (Maybe, she was thinking, 'My daughter married an idiot,' but she played it off well!)

At first, people were calling me "The Most Interesting Man in the World," after the Dos XX commercials' white-bearded guy.  But now, five months into my new, I want to say Vikings-look, but my wife and kids would say it's more like Santa Claus (including the robust physique!) or, as a coworker says, "You look like Fidel Castro," I'm getting push back.

I think my wife could handle the shorter beard look that some Hollywood actors have brought into style, but not the scruffy look that some millennials, professional athletes, old hippies,  Hell's Angels motorcyclists and The Lord of the Rings' dwarf Gimli sport.

Now, that's a beard... 
For generations, men with long beards were commonplace.  In fact, it was expected.  It was a sign of virility, respect, honor and wisdom.  Whether on kings, philosophers, saints or, even Jesus Christ, beards were a symbol of masculinity.

Yet, after the industrial revolution, when people started moving into closer proximity in urban settings, a kinder, gentler, less barbaric version of manhood emerged.  The clean-cut look became widely accepted; to the point where beards became obsolete.     

In recent years, however, it seems beards have made a comeback.  Young men have made it a thing and with athletes like Ryan Fitzpatrick, Julian Edelman, the Boston Red Sox (name the player) and the man they call, "The Beard," James Harden wearing them, it seems the scruffier, the better.  Now, it seems everywhere you look, there's a guy with long whiskers.

In fact, there seems to be a bond among bearded men, as I discovered one night out with my wife, when a bearded waiter, went out of his way to approach me and say, "Nice, beard."  See.  It's not that bad!

So why are beards back in style?

At first, the reason I started growing one was that I wanted to see if I could do it, or even have the patience to grow it long like those men of yore (I'm reminded of the Friends episode where Rachel bought the Apothecary Table at Pottery Barn, which Phoebe hated and she told her she found it at a flea market!).  Not to mention, it hides my double chin.

I'm sure the reasons that men grow their beards are as varied as the men who have them but, as I reflected on this for some time, I keep thinking there may be an underlining reason.  It may even be a sub-conscience reason that most men don't think about.  It may be a rebellion against the cultural push for gender neutrality.

Let's face it, men today are constantly being told that they need to stop being men!

In the fervor for women's equality, the rise of gender identity, the radical feminist movement and the "woke" and "cancel culture," men's reputation and, to be honest, self-esteem has taken a hit.  Our every word and action is scrutinized and, when we don't conform to political correctness, the term "toxic masculinity" is liberally tossed about.

In its wake, an unnatural animosity and suspicion has been created between men and women, who are meant to be complimentary and completing.

Moreover, in the push for gender neutrality, where roles are interchangeable, we've lost sight of the fact that we are different!  Even though we are equal, we were made for different roles.

Men can never be mothers, no matter how much they try and women can never be fathers. 

Tossed out with the bathwater, is the greatest icon for womanhood; and that is motherhood.  Women are told that children keep them from accomplishing their true purpose in life, even though the greatest purpose we can ever aspire to is love and the love between a mother and a child is possibly the deepest and most sincere.  There is no greater purpose or fulfillment in life than being a mother (or father, for that matter!).

I have two daughters and I want them to be strong and independent but also want them to fall in love, get married and have a family; a family that they commit to and are dependent on.

I also have a son and I want him to be strong, courageous and assertive.  I don't want him to be afraid to be a man, or being treated lesser because of it.

I always tell my daughters, "Men are not your enemies."

In fact, the soul of society can be measured by the relationship between men and women.  As the great Fulton Sheen once said, "When a man loves a woman, he has to become worthy of her.  The higher her virtue, the more noble her character, the more devoted she is to truth, justice, goodness, the more a man has to aspire to be worthy of her.  The history of civilization could actually be written in terms of the level of its women."

Therefore, the reason I'm growing my beard now is that, in a subtle way, I'm fighting for the rights of men being men and women being women.  We may never be able to put the cultural gender neutrality genie back in the bottle but, for me, and possibly some men who still believe, consciously or not, that the differences between men and women are what complete us in our humanity, maybe growing a beard is a place to start. 

As my bearded barber said when I told him I was getting resistance from my wife about the beard, "Tell her that a man without a beard is like a lion without a mane."  Maybe he read St. Clement of Alexandria...

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Setting Deep Roots in a Changing World...

"It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door.  You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to."  -- Bilbo Baggins in The Lord of the Rings.

I've been wanting to write this article for a while but haven't had the time until this week since I'm off from work.

As I have written in previous blogs, one of my biggest fears as a father is losing my kids to the popular culture; where moral relativism prevails, truths are distorted and compromised, God is molded into the image and likeness of the believer and licentiousness and confusion reign.

In an attempt to inoculate our children as best we can against this tidal wave of secular populism, we've tried to cultivate a strong faith foundation in our household through prayer, living the Sacraments, serving as examples of service and commitment to God and through my endless barrage of life lessons, that often prompt an unwarranted, "We know Dad!  You say that all the time." from the peanut gallery.

Our kids have all attended Catholic schools throughout their educational lives, despite the financial burden at times.  For our eldest daughter that meant fourteen years of parochial and Catholic preparatory school from Pre-K 4 through high school graduation (our younger two are still in Catholic schools).

This year, our eighteen-year-old started attending a public state university and moved away from home for the first time; eight driving hours away to be precise. And, as ecstatic as we were to see her growing into her own as a woman, it was terrifying to me to see her leave (because of stated fear).

In September, six-weeks into her college life experience, we went to visit her for the first time.  Let's just say, our visit could have gone better. There was an obvious tension between her trying to assert her newfound independence and our cramping her style with, at least in her mind, the protective cocoon that we had raised her in.

Although there were many moments of levity and fun, the 3-day visit was a bit strained, to the point where, on Saturday afternoon, we had a no-holds-barred animated exchange in the parking lot of St. Thomas Moore Catholic Church, where we had arrived early for Vigil Mass and she threatened to go back to her dorm and us to go back home (to Miami) if she did.

It was a painful argument and my wife walked away upset, trying to gather herself and catch her breath.  Fortunately, after our daughter broke down in tears and hugged me tightly, I was able to mediate a reconciliation between mother and daughter shortly before Mass.

When we got back Sunday night, after taking her to breakfast and the long ride home, I texted her the blessing that I give the kids every night before they go to bed and told her I loved and missed her.

Several weeks went by and we re-established our regular routines of communication via text or Facetime and everything appeared to be back to normal.

For years, I had suggested that she should write.  I saw her burgeoning skills and she loved to read and devoured novels at an incredible pace during primary school.  But, she always said she didn't like writing.  I think it was more laziness than anything else but regardless, when she sent her college application, she wrote an essay that apparently not only impressed the admissions office but also the editors of a national women's web magazine, who offered her a job as a contributing writer. She has been writing for them ever since.

Happy times...
In October, she wrote an article about that family weekend, titled, Parents' Weekend Made Me Realize How Much College Changes You, that broke my heart.

While expressing herself honestly and venting pent-up feelings, the things that most hurt was when she wrote, "Being independent, no matter for how much time forces you into evolving into your own person.  I no longer agreed with my parents on everything.  I no longer lived in a tiny, Miami Catholic school bubble."  Then later, "I had grown into a different person.  I had begun seeing the world through a different lens then they do."

When she called to get my reaction, as she does for every article she writes, I told her that there wasn't much to say.  I told her it hurt me to read it and she said it hurt her to write it (So why the heck did she write it?).

Yet, I shouldn't have been surprised.  In her brief college career, she was already starting to miss Mass regularly, something she never did during the past 13 years at home (when I attended a spiritual retreat and started going to weekly Mass).  She became best friends with a former-Catholic-turned-Muslim girl, albeit, I'm still not convinced it's conviction rather than rebellion, and the girl's roommate, who is Jewish (How many jokes have you heard about the Catholic, the Muslim and the Jew who walk into a bar?) and taking a required course in philosophy with an atheist professor (Who would have thunk that in a public university the philosophy professor is atheist?). 

She was being exposed to all sorts of worldly thinking that she was sheltered from at home.  In all honesty, I wanted her to go to Franciscan University in Steubenville, where while discovering everything that other college students discover, my hope was to surround her with fervent Catholic students who would help her stay on the Catholic path.  She didn't even apply!

Be that as it may, the article was really disconcerting.  But, as God often works, it just so happens that the same week, I was preparing to teach an RCIA class (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults, which is a class for people who are converting to the Catholic faith, thinking about it or missing one of their Sacraments) on The Creed (what we believe) and it's first line, I believe in God the Father.

One night in bed, as I reflected on what I wanted to stress and, what I portrayed to be my daughter's drinking of the cultural cool-aid, I started thinking of the story of The Prodigal Son, or more importantly, The Merciful Father.

God was revealing to me what my actions should be; mercy.

After the RCIA class, I put everything aside and decided to forgive and forget (and pray as hard as I could for her return to the Church). 

Serendipitously, or what we call God-incidentally, a few weeks later, she told us all about her Catholic boyfriend from Miami, who's actually taken her to Mass!

In subsequent weeks and months since, she has reached out to me several times on questions she has on arguments for and against the existence of God for a paper, and more recently arguments against moral relativism, which happens to be one of the favorite topics of my life lessons for my kids, to which I sent her an article I wrote and she cited in her presentation, texting me, "Because I have the coolest Dad ever."

Still, I know that doesn't mean she is not being influenced by society but at least, it gives me hope.  Not all we taught her is lost.

As JRR Tolkein wrote best, "All that is gold does not glitter, Not all who wander are lost; The old that is strong does not wither, Deep roots are not reached by the frost."  I can only hope and pray she gains her footing as she continues to go out the door...

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Baseball, Detention and Life Lessons...

A chip off the old block?
I don't know what to do anymore.

I've tried threats.  I've tried punishments (No electronics for a week).  I've tried encouragement.  I've even tried guilt ("You're team really needs you, buddy or, the more recent, you know how much you hurt me when I can't see you play?") and nothing seems to work.

My 12-year-old son does great for several weeks, maybe even a month or so, then bam!  We get the dreaded text message from his school, "Your child has Saturday detention..."

When I read that first line, my heart sinks and the rest of the text gets a bit hazy, "... They are to report to school at 7:30am in complete uniform.  Detention slips have been sent home with your child today.  God bless."

God bless?  I'll be honest, despite the positive tone and blessing, I usually feel far from blessed.  It's the kind of feeling a man gets at his yearly checkup when the doctors says, "Everything looks good, so far," as he puts on a rubber glove.  Thanks, doc.  I think...    

In any case, at the risk of sounding superficial, which I'll admit I can be at times, the first thing that usually comes to mind when I get that notice from school is, does he have a game Saturday morning? And is it at 9:00am?   

Then my mind really starts reeling.  Is it an hour or two-hour detention?  

Last season, he missed a game because of a two-hour detention, which was a miracle of God since it felt like he was in detention more often then Caitlyn Jenner visited the hair removal specialist!  Fortunately, he had many games scheduled at 11:00am or during the week.

This year, he's already missed another game.  But, unlike last season, most of his games on Saturdays are at 9:00am.

His lack of discipline bewilders me.  How does a kid who, for the most part, gets pretty good grades; mostly A's and B's, get so many detentions for missing homework? 

The thing is, he knows the consequences.  There's no surprise.  It's not like the Allstate Insurance commercial where the car thief knocks at the front door and tells the owner, watching on his cellphone, that he's going to steal his car, "What?"

It's simple.  If he doesn't do his homework, he gets detention.  There's nothing to figure out!

Yet, he keeps getting detention.  It doesn't seem to register.

One time last year, I remember asking, why he didn't do his homework, and after much silence and some aahing and oohing, and me repeating the question slowly, he admitted, "I didn't feel like it."

I didn't feel like it?  Dude!  What is wrong with you?      

I remember reading one time that a boy's brain doesn't fully develop until the age of 25.  A girl's around 21.  So when you ask a kid, What were you thinking?  They're not!  They're basically out of their minds.  So a 12-year-old is even further into the brainless abyss.

After his latest detention, I started praying and asking God what to do.  His answer was swift and decisive.  He asked, what makes him different from you? 

Say what?  What do you mean?

How many times do you go to Confession and repeat the same sins?  You know the consequences.  There are no surprises but you keep committing the same mistakes!  And how do I respond to you?

Love?  Forgiveness?

I'm telling you.  That's not what I really wanted to hear at the time but it made all the sense in the world.  Leave it to God to make great sense!

As if to clearly state His case, the following day I was the lector at morning Mass and the reading was from St. Paul's Letter to the Romans, stating, "For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want, this I keep doing.  Now, if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but the sin living in me."  (Romans 7: 18-19)   

OK., Lord.  I got it.

Then, if that hadn't done the trick, the next day I went to Confession and my penance from the priest was, "Read Romans, Chapter 7."  Really? 

My son is a good kid.  He gets decent grades (I've always said I am more concerned with him getting into heaven than into Harvard).  He's a loving and affectionate kid, if not with his sisters, at least with me!  He makes me give him a hug every night after our bedtime blessing and prayer, and kisses me and tells me he loves me, even when he's mad.  But, he has a problem doing his homework every once in a while.  He's a bit undisciplined like his dad. I have to learn to love and forgive more.

I may have to miss him playing a game from time to time but this is not about me.  It's about him, through which God is constantly teaching me lessons of life...


Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Advice for My Daughter as She Goes Off to College...

I suppose this is the time I should give you advice.  I never had any myself except once from your cousin Alfred.  Do you know, in the summer before I was going up, your cousin Alfred rode over to Boughton especially to give me a piece of advice?  And do you know what that advice was?  'Ned," he said, 'there's one thing I must beg of you.  Always wear a tall hat on Sundays during term.  It is by that, more than anything, that a man is judged.'  And do you know," continued my father, snuffling, "I always did.  Some men did, some didn't.  I never saw any difference between them or heard it commented on, but I always wore mine.  It only shows what effect judicious advice can have, properly delivered at the right moment.  I wish I had some for you, but I haven't...

When advice was readily received... 
The words of wisdom the protagonist and narrator of Brideshead Revisited, Charles Ryder,  got from his father before going off to college,  which wasn't much.

If you read my last blog, you already know that my wife and I are getting ready for our oldest daughter to go off to school.

As with most parents, it's a bittersweet time.  Bitter, in the sense that we're really going to miss her.  She's our firstborn, the one who made us want to be better persons and, to a lesser extent, our family soundtrack, who constantly breaks into song at a drop of a hat.

And, sweet, in that, we realize we have done the best we can.  She is growing up, has blossomed into a beautiful and smart young lady and is becoming her own woman.  (Although I'll be honest, the sweet, as much as I want to convince myself, taste more like Minnie's famous chocolate poop pie in The Help!) 

In any case, as I brace for her departure, inspired by a book I read several years ago by one of my favorite authors, Peter Kreeft, titled, Before I Go; Letters to Our Children About What Really Matters and, hoping to avoid sounding like Charles Ryder's father and giving her some "judicious advice," delivered at the right time, I put some thoughts together to pass along.

Some are things I have told her through the years.  Others are things I want to make sure she knows before she leaves home.

In no particular order, my advice for her is:        

  • Go out and change the world, don't let the world change you.
  • Don't ever compromise who you are to be what people want you to be.
  • You are not defined by what you do in life or how many accomplishments you attain, but by who you are.  Always be true to yourself. 
  • The moment you change what you believe, even if only for public consumption because of popularity, is the moment you compromise who you are.
  • What matters most in life are relationships; not career, accomplishments or things.
  • Don't ever be too busy for your family (or true friends).
  • Men are not your enemies.
  • Love is not a feeling, it's a choice; an action you take to put someone else's needs before your own.
  • Never be afraid of swimming against the tide, even when you get criticized.
  • Don't look for the easy way out.  Look for the righteous way.
  • Your dreams and what you think is important today may not be as important in the future.
  • Be humble.  Pride is the downfall of many.
  • You don't know it all and that's OK.  Never stop learning. 
  • Truth is One.  Error many.
  • Always go to Mass on Sunday.  No exception.
  • When you sin, repent and go to Confession.  Remember, there is no sin that is greater than God's love for you.
  • Work to live.  Don't live to work.  Nobody on their deathbed says they wished they had gotten that promotion, made more money or spent more time at the office.
  • Avoid becoming complacent.  Complacency is where dreams and passion die.
  • Real friends are those who tell you the truth no matter how harsh it may sound, not those that tell you what you want to hear.  Seek real friends.
  • Don't give up on what you want because of setbacks.  Setbacks are part of life.  They make you stronger so you can try harder.
  • Just because something is popular, doesn't make it right.  And, just because something is rejected by most, doesn't make it wrong.  Know the difference.
  • Don't try to be everything to everyone.  Be yourself to those you love.
  • Never be overconfident.  Overconfidence leads to silly mistakes.
  • A man who doesn't respect you now, will never respect you.
  • If a man really loves you, he's not going to force you to go against what you believe. 
  • Before you say "yes," ask yourself, 'Is this the man who is going to lead me and my children to heaven?'  If not, you're wasting your time.
  • Feelings are fleeting.  Love lasts forever.  Always choose to love before your feelings.  
  • Success is not born.  It takes hard work.    
  • When you feel like giving up; don't.  Things always get better, even when they feel like they're getting worse.  
  • You can't hide from God so don't even try.
  • Don't waste you life waiting for "the right time." The right time is now.    
  • True love is a reflection Christ's love; sacrificial, self-giving and life-giving.
  • Test everything you hear from your college professors.  As smart and authoritative as they may seem, not everything they'll teach you is right or objective.  To quote Fr. Robert Valle at your high school graduation Mass, "Be careful what you accept into your minds and hearts."
  • When something is really troubling you, you're under stress or don't know where to turn, find an Adoration Chapel and spend time before the Blessed Sacrament.  You'll find no greater peace, consolation and clarity.    
  • Don't lower your moral bar because everyone else lowers theirs, or because the culture says it's OK.  Sadly, in the throes of human nature, people want others to fail so they can feel better about their own inadequacies.  The lower the bar, the easier for everyone to feel the same.
  • Excuses are for those who fail to accomplish what they set out to do.  
  • Never put your career ahead of your family.
  • Pray every night before you go to sleep.  As we did every night while you were here, your sister, brother and I will be praying for you.
  • If you dress like a piece of meat, you're going to be treated like a piece of meat. 
  • Don't follow the crowd.  Lead your own.
  • At the end of the day, you will not be measured by your career, how much money you made or how popular you are.  You will be measured by the love you gave.  Give it freely.
  • You deserve nothing.  Earn it.
  • Mom and I are always here for you if you need anything. 
Now, I'm sure I can come up with A LOT more but these will suffice for now.

Hopefully, my advice is more substantive than the one Charles Ryder got from his father or his father got from Cousin Alfred.  Although, wearing a tall hat on Sundays is hard to top...   


Saturday, June 1, 2019

Proms, Graduations and Losing Control...

The Scream of Edvard Munch...
"Acting? That's a life of constant rejection!"

"Criminal Law?  That's one of the most dangerous professions ever.  Most criminals want to kill their lawyers or whoever they blame for sending them to jail!"

"A driver's license?  Our insurance is going to go through the roof!"

Those are just some of my greatest hits quotes on the homefront in recent weeks, as my oldest daughter prepares to graduate from high school and considers options for college.  And, then I wonder why she's set on leaving home!

I can't help it.  There are just too many things going on in my life right now.  We have two graduations this week, aside from our oldest, our second daughter is also crossing the threshold from middle to high school.  We have proms, three in total since my middle schooler was invited to another school's 8th Grade dance.  We have graduation dinners, Masses, parents' breakfasts, post-graduation celebrations, and the usual end-of-year parties.  And, I won't even mention, the many outside school activities that our girls and son have!

Then, there's work.  My station recently launched three additional half-hour newscasts and, during the past 6-months, we have been overwhelmed with planning, hirings, adjusting schedules and staff roles, rehearsals, consultants and corporate scrutiny, audience analysis research, and a never-ending avalanche of meetings, meetings, and more meetings. 

To top it off, our high school senior finally decided to get her driver's license and started driving on her own!

The last several weeks have felt like I landed on the planet Morag, where Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord, goes to steal the orb in Guardians of the Galaxy, surrounded by those freakish looking rats and Ronan's forces coming to get me.  Except I don't have the high-tech helmet to help me fly or the double-barrelled guns, or the great cassette-player music playing in the background.  Do you think Ronan would fall for another dance off?  In any case, it's not what you think.  As Matchbox 20 would say, "I'm not crazy.  I'm just a little unwell."   

So, yes, I've been a bit edgy.  Anxiety.  Concern.  Apprehension.  They've permeated me like the urge a teenager gets to check their cell phone for acknowledgment, after posting on social media; they can't help it!

I realize it all stems from fear and fear is the true measure of a man's faith since, if you don't trust God, how real is your faith?  Unfortunately, despite thinking my faith never waivers, at least since my return to the Church thirteen years ago, anxiety often gets the best of me, especially when it involves my children.  It's the sense of losing control.

I can lose control and place it in God's hands when it comes to me.  As the saying goes, when you have nowhere else to turn, you turn to God.  But, with my children, I'm used to being the one in control; where they go to school, when they go to bed, when they go to Mass, whether they go out with friends or not, etc., etc.

Now, with my oldest daughter, I'm having to face the fact that soon, I won't be in control.  And, it terrifies the heck out of me!

As I admitted to some friends recently, my fear and insecurities are mostly based on the thought of having failed as a father; of not having passed on my faith to her correctly, of not instilling in her a proper moral foundation that will help her stave off challenges and of not having imparted a sincere desire for righteousness and holiness.

Shortly, she will be exposed to a world that is totally opposed to God and, especially the Catholic Church and all that she stands for, a culture that is totally opposed to absolute truth, since it claims truth is relevant, and a society that is totally opposed to traditional family values and conservative principles, where her sheltered Catholic school life will be challenged in a sea of opposing points of view.  The fact that I may not have more time to recover from my parental shortcomings is weighing heavily in my heart.

Therefore, in an involuntary defense mechanism, which I know drives her farther away instead of drawing her closer, I get bitter.  I challenge her interests in becoming an actress, even though my brother and his wife, have been successfully acting professionally for over 20 years, or becoming a criminal attorney, even though I know several highly successful criminal defense lawyers, or even getting her driver's license, because everything she proposes sounds like steps away from me; and away from my control.

In a deeper sense, I guess, it comes down to love.  The reason parents put rules on our children (use control) is because we love them and want them to grow up healthy, happy and safe.  Let's face it, left to their own devices, kids can easily bring harm on themselves and others, whether intentionally or not; unless they use temperance and restraint.  As parents, we don't want them to make the same mistakes we made.  Therefore, we try to protect them from themselves.     

St. Theresa of Avila once said, "Let nothing disturb you, nothing cause you fear.  All things pass; God is unchanging.  Patience obtains all. Whoever has God lacks nothing; God alone suffices."  

It's time for me to show a little more patience and a lot more faith.

I was serving at a men's retreat this past weekend, in the midst of my internal turmoil, and God spoke to me.  Again, not crazy just a little unwell but it was clear as day.  It came in the form of a drawing and bible quote from an unnamed 5th grader at my kids' school.

Profound message from a 5th grader; or God!...
It was a version of the passage from the Gospel of Matthew that states, "Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you."  (Matt 6:33)

It's a popular verse, which I have read and heard many times before but what struck me, in the context of my insecurities, was the drawing the little girl had made.

It was a drawing of a girl standing next to a church.

As I studied it closer, chills came over me and my eyes watered.  Of course!  Seek first the kingdom of God.  To seek first the kingdom means to believe in His Rein.  And, to believe in His Rein means to accept His control, not mine!  He was telling me to trust Him!

The drawing put it all together.  It represented my older daughter, who happens to have black hair like the girl in the picture, standing next to a church.  As if to say, if I sought first God's Kingdom, believed in His control and trusted Him, my daughter would never be far from the Church!
As hard as it seems to let go, with all the distractions and pressures of life trying to consume me, like the freakish rats in Morag and Ronan's envoys, sans the great background soundtrack, in the bottom of my heart, I realize my daughter doesn't belong to me.  She belongs to God.  And, His love for her is greater than I can ever imagine. 

Therefore, I need to ask for strength as the father of the boy possessed by a spirit says to Jesus in the Gospel of Mark, "Lord, I do believe.  Help my unbelief."  (Mk 9:24)

Lord, into your hands I commend your daughter...