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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Brad and Angelina's Divorce by the Numbers....

Doomed from the start?...
Unless you're living under a rock, by now you know that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, one of Hollywood's most celebrated and scrutinized romances, are calling it quits after a fourteen year relationship, which included a two-year marriage.

On Tuesday, Jolie, 41, filed for divorce, citing "irreconcilable differences," the ever popular legal grounds for ending a matrimony in our no-fault-divorce culture.

Now, it's easy to make fun and dismiss it, as another example of the Hollywood lifestyle run amok, as the talk show circuit has already started doing and, in a subliminal way, others use to vindicate their own failures.  Yet, despite their fame, status and fortune, as a married man of eighteen years and a father myself, it's really quite sad.

At the end of the day, it's as Julia Roberts' character says in Notting Hill, "I'm just a girl standing in front of a boy asking him to love her."  These are two people who fell in love and couldn't make their relationship work, regardless of how it started or why it is ending.

As most married couples know, marriage is not easy.  But, it takes more than feelings.  It takes true love, which means commitment, selflessness and perseverance.  Feelings come and go but true love never fails.  In fact, it "bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things," as St. Paul writes. 

In any case, having been involved in the Marriage Covenant group at my parish for several years, and seeing many struggling marriages make it and others fail, I wanted to share some observations and stats about the Pitt/Jolie divorce:
  • Living together before marriage is an almost surefire recipe for divorce.  According to the U.S. Census, while first time marriages have an almost 40% chance of divorce, those that lived together before tying the knot have an almost 30% higher rate of divorce than those that waited.  Pitt and Jolie lived together for twelve years before getting married.
  • Second marriages (Pitt was married to Jennifer Aniston) have a 60% chance of getting divorced.
  • Third marriages (Jolie was married to Johnny Lee Miller and Billy Bob Thornton) have a 73% chance of getting divorced.
  • Getting married doesn't fix a relationship.  I'm not sure if this is the case, but their struggles have been rumored for years.
  • A leopard doesn't change his spots, unless he/she has to and wants to, and even then, it takes great effort; or as a female friend put it on Facebook, "If he cheated WITH you, he'll cheat ON you."  Pitt and Jolie started their relationship as an affair while co-starring in Mr. & Mrs. Smith.  Since then, there have been rumors about his infidelity, including the most recent one with a co-star, Marion Cotillard, who happens to be married herself!  Somewhere by now, Aniston is smiling.
  • For the most part, men and women can't be close friends (unless one is gay or has a hump like Quasimodo).  Sorry to burst the Friends TV Show bubble but, as Marriage Counselor/Author, Dr. Willard Harley, writes in his book, His Needs Her Needs, Building an Affair-Proof Marriage, which I am currently reading and we are discussing as part of our Marriage Covenant group, "An affair begins with friendship... Conversation draws you together... As your friendship deepens, you start giving each other mutual support and encouragement...  Life is difficult. Many people become disillusioned about the way their lives are turning out.  When they find someone encouraging and supportive, the attraction toward that person acts as a powerful magnet." The next thing you know, when someone allows another person to fulfill their innermost needs, that should be exclusively reserved for their spouse, whether wanting to or not, an affair begins.  (See the previous point!)
  • In today's throwaway society, where the preference is to replace rather than fix, if God is not at the center of a marriage, the chances for success are as hopeless as my attempts to keep up with the modifier, Tania, never mind Shaun T, in the Beach Body Focus T-25 workouts I do with my wife every morning.  Couples that share a faith in God, pray regularly and attend church weekly, are at least 30% less likely to get divorced or higher, depending on religious affiliation, than those that don't.  While Jolie professed having a belief in God, spurned by her role in the 2013 movie, Unbroken, Pitt was openly agnostic at best.
In other words, the numbers were stacked against them.  They were destined for futility before they even started.

On the surface, they were the poster children for modern day nuptials; beautiful, glamorous, active in causes and charities, parenting three children of their own and adopting others from Ethiopia, Vietnam and another from Cambodia, which she adopted during a previous marriage.  Jolie was a good-will ambassador to the UN, which included missions to countries around the world and became an icon for the women's health issues movement by choosing a preventative double mastectomy and removal of her ovaries and fallopian tubes.  Pitt has been cited as one of the most influential and powerful people in the entertainment industry.  But, it appears, behind the scenes, despite all the success and accolades, the couple was struggling.

In a press statement, Brad Pitt, 52, stated, "I am very saddened by this, but what matters most now is the well-being of our kids.  I kindly ask the press to give them the space they deserve during this challenging time."

The well-being of their children may already be off to a rocky start.  Six kids, including three that were adopted, will have to grow up in a broken home; either without their father or bouncing around from house to house, which we may try to sugar coat in saying that it's not a big deal but many children of divorced parents develop anger, trust, depression and other psychological issues growing up.

If that wasn’t bad enough, children of divorced parents are 40% more likely to get divorced themselves, and, if their parents get remarried, it increases to 91% .  It’s a vicious cycle!

Meanwhile, millions of young fans and kids around the world see the public breakup as another example of how adults resolve difficult marriages...






[photo credit: Getty Images]

Monday, September 19, 2016

Death, Friendship and the Hand of God...

From the outside looking in, I couldn't help control the tears welling up in my eyes and involuntarily running down my face.

To see the visibly shaken woman and her daughters (about the same age as my own), hugging and comforting each other in their anguish, was a bit overwhelming.  I wept uncontrollably and many of those around me, did too.

As I sat several pews behind them at a special Mass, offered for their ailing husband and father, what struck me most were the hands of the mother; caressing, embracing and soothing her daughters.  They were like the hands of God the Father, comforting and loving His children, and so they were.

In his classic spiritual work, The Return of The Prodigal Son; A Story of Homecoming, Fr. Henri Nouwen describes those hands.  He wrote, "Gradually over the years, I have come to know those hands.  They have held me from the hour of my conception, they welcomed me at my birth, held me close to my mother's breast, fed me, and kept me warm.  They have protected me in times of danger and consoled me in times of grief.  They have waved me good-bye and always welcomed me back.  Those hands are God's hands.  They are also the hands of my parents, teachers, friends, healers, and all those whom God has given me to remind me how safely I am held."

The emotionally charged liturgy, like the hundreds of daily prayers, visits from family and friends and continuous messages of encouragement and support via text, email or social media, was but a respite in an otherwise draining and painful period of their lives.

A great friend; a better husband, father and son...
The woman's husband, named Pepe, a beloved man by most who knew him, was battling an aggressive form of cancer, which had consumed him in just two short months.  His condition had worsened, to the point where he wasn't eating and, with his body deteriorated by the deadly disease, the end appeared inevitable, despite the prayers, best intentions and desperate clings to hope.

A summer that began with great anticipation, joy and laughter, quickly spiraled downward into one of tears, pain and loss.

His daughter wrote on Facebook, "During the summer, on one of our family trips to the Florida Keys, Pepe had excruciating pains running through his leg, chest and lower back.  Once we returned home, Pepe went to visit many doctors who all said that he had severely pinched nerves.  What we thought was severely pinched nerves, turned out to be lung cancer metastasized in the bones.  It was a big slap in the face to all of us."

Shortly after the emotional Mass, about six hours later to be exact, Pepe succumbed to the cancer.

It's rattling how life can change so abruptly.

Aside from the effects on the family, for those of us, who are Pepe's contemporaries and friends, it is also difficult because it brings us face to face with our own mortality.

There's a Latin phrase that I like reminding myself of, momento mori, which means remember death. It's a prompt that we should live our lives knowing that we are here for just a brief time and every decision, word and action we take, should reflect that.       

If there is one thing that I will remember about Pepe is that he always lived life for the moment. Charismatic, charming and warm, I think what struck most people about him was his smile.  The man wore a constant smile on his face, no matter what personal issue he may have been going through.

He was a devoted husband, father and son, who had been caring for his elderly mom for many years, and, as the parish priest said at his funeral Mass, "He was a man who gave and gave.  He would give right out of his pocket, if he saw anyone in need, even if he was going through difficulties himself."

What Pepe most enjoyed was spending time with his family, antique cars, boating, traveling and living life, as if he understood it was fleeting.

He was also a man of great faith, who respected his Catholic beliefs so much that he abstained from receiving the Eucharist for many years because he didn't feel worthy (Then again, are any of us, worthy?).

Pepe attended the first men's retreat I led in November 2011, but, even before then, he was already a devout Catholic man.

He was a great friend to all.  I remember when I was going through a particularly difficult time at work a few years ago, and things looked bleak that Pepe came up to me one night and told me to persevere, keep doing my job and trust in God.  He told me he had gone through a similar experience but that things eventually get better and they did.

Still, like all of us, he had his share of pain and regrets.  There were issues, circumstances and relationships that bedeviled him.

I remember talking to him one night and encouraging him to put the past aside and to reconcile with God and the Church for the good of his wife and daughters.  He told me that he would.

God has a way of bringing back His lost sheep.

I'm not suggesting that he got sick for a purpose but, since God brings good out of evil, it did bring him back to the Eucharist. He was able to receive the sacraments of Anointing, Reconciliation and the Eucharist, leading up to his passing; the Viaticom, as our parish priest stated; God's food for the journey.

In fact the priest stated, "I have never seen a man know and love the Eucharist, as much as Pepe."

The prodigal son returned home to the Father, as the gospel reading at the emotional Mass for his recovery, stated.

There's a poignant line at the end of the movie, Meet Joe Black, that always resonates with me. It's when Bill Parish (Anthony Hopkins) turns to Joe Black (The Grimm Reaper played by Brad Pitt), as a celebration of Bill's birthday was underway, a band was playing, fireworks were going off and both men knew their time to leave had come, and says, "It's hard to let go isn't it?  Well, that's life.  What can I tell you?"

Knowing Pepe's zest for life, I'm sure, it must have been hard to let go.  But, this is a man who helped build a multi-million dollar company on nothing more than pure will, leadership, charisma and fearlessness.  So, I can almost say with certainty, that when the time came, he faced it with courage, grace and faith, or, to borrow a line from Blue Oyster Cult, he didn't fear the reaper and he took His hand...  


Thursday, September 15, 2016

St. Francis de Sales: Be Yourself Perfectly...

Another gem from St. Francis de Sales...

Norman Rockwell's Freedom of Speech...
"Do not wish to be anything but what you are and try to be that perfectly."

We are made in the image and likeness of God and so are made for perfection.  If we truly live our lives as God made us to be, we would be ourselves perfectly.

Jesus says, "Be perfect, as the Heavenly Father is perfect" and that can only be achieved through grace with faith and the Sacraments...

 -- St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622),  17th Century Bishop of Geneva, and Doctor of the Church, who as a priest was known for his patience and gentle approach to quell religious division after the Protestant Reformation.  He was a lawyer by trade and, after convincing his father to allow him to enter the priesthood, he was just as successful in sharing the Catholic faith and converting Calvinists in Geneva.  He would preach to them and hand out pamphlets that he would write himself.  St. Francis is said to have returned tens of thousands back into the Catholic fold.  The "brilliant apologist," as some have described, was known for practicing his axiom, "A spoonful of honey attracts more flies than a barrelful of vinegar."  Well recognized for his book, Introduction to the Devout Life, which is hailed by Catholics and many Prostestants alike, he also wrote, A Treatise on the Love of God, and hundreds of pamphlets, which were later assembled as, The Catholic Controversy, and letters addressed to the laity.  Along with St. Jane Frances de Chantal, he founded the women's Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary.  He was canonized in 1665 by Pope Pius IX 43 years after his death.  His feast day is celebrated by the Church on January 24th...   

Monday, August 29, 2016

Hoping to Avoid Lola with my Family in NOLA...

The Crying Game...
"Well, I'm not dumb but I can't understand why she walk like a woman and talk like a man, Oh my Lola, lo lo lo lo Lola, lo lo lo lo Lola..."

Believe it or not, when the Kinks released their hit song, Lola, in 1970, it was quite controversial.

For those unfamiliar, it's about a guy who gets drunk at a bar, spends all night dancing with a woman, who turns out to be a man; kind of like of like the Danny Bunaduce experience in lyrics! (Or The Crying Game, sans the conspiracy plot, kidnapping, someone dying, falling in love or being sent to prison.)

In any case, despite the song's release in the backdrop of the sexual revolution, where "free love," "make love not war" and, "if you can't be with the one you love, love the one you're with" became emblematic, some radio stations would fade out Lola before the big reveal.

Apparently, they felt it was too strong for kids in the audience, regardless of being a time, as the song lyrics stated, "Girls will be boys, and boys will be girls.  It's a mixed up, muddled up, shook up world..." 

Well, the song and its subsequent controversy hit home for me recently, after my family booked a 4-day Labor Day weekend trip to New Orleans to celebrate our middle child's twelfth birthday, as we had done with our oldest daughter to New York for her twelfth several years ago.

After reading a book about a New Orleans ghost tour, our second girl picked the destination on her own and, having been there twice, including one time with my wife, five weeks after our first daughter was born, I thought it would be a great trip for the entire family (albeit different than the first two); Breakfast at Brennan's, the French Quarter, Cafe du Monde, the Garden District, Camellia Grill, street cars, the Mississippi River, cemetery and ghost tours, the plantations, maybe even passing by Preservation Hall.  Even without the boozing, there's still a lot to do.  

Yes, I know that the town is known for partying, bachelor and bachelorette parties, colorful and shady characters alike and occasional unruliness, but it's also a great place to teach kids about U.S. history (the National World War II Museum is there) and the wrath of Hurricane Katrina that destroyed The Big Easy in 2005.  I got excited.

As always, the first thing I do when we go on trips, aside from looking up the nearest Catholic Church to attend Mass, is getting a Frommer's or Fodor's Guide to plan the excursion.  In this case, I handed the Frommer's to the birthday girl to study and prioritize what she wanted to do.

A couple of days later, as she was compiling a list of things to do and my wife had booked the airfare and accommodations, I'm going through a New Orleans web site and see a tab that said "festivals."  Out of curiosity, I click it and find; Southern Decadence, August 31st to September 5th (the time we will be there!), which stated, "Dubbed the 'Gay Mardi Gras,' this celebration of LGBT culture features elaborate costumes and high fashion" and "now draws over 160,000 participants from all over the world."

It's going to be a madhouse...
Now, you have to understand, we're not much for crowds.  We avoid the Calle Ocho Festival, which is called Mardi Gras South, in Miami like the plague.  I think that the last time I went was 25 years ago! We've never taken the kids to Santa's Enchanted Forest, which can get a bit shady, or the county fair and we certainly wouldn't expose them to the over-the-top insanity at Mardi Gras at this point in their lives!  (Heck, I have never been to Mardi Gras myself or the Columbus Day Regatta in Miami for that matter, which may be worse!) The most we do is take them to their school fair and to Disney!

So talk about culture shock, instead, we're going to be faced with Lola in NOLA; a hundred and sixty thousand strong! Oh, noooo! (I felt like Mr. Bill getting rolled over by a bulldozer or, maybe, like my mom felt when, as a teenager, I told her after watching the Richard Gere film, that I wanted to grow up to be a gigolo!)

We already booked the flight.  We already booked the hotel.  We made reservations at Brennan's and Emeril's!  Why didn't anybody tell us?  (I guess, in retrospect, the airline and hotel are not going to say, "Are you sure you want to go?  It's going to be chaos, man, absolute chaos!")

And, worse, whether I want to or not, whether I'm ready for it or not, I will be forced to explain to my kids about this "mixed up, muddled up, shook up world" we live in.  I can't wait!  Parenting is definitely not easy! Hopefully, this can serve as an invaluable life lesson (if I do it right!).

In the Gospel, St. John writes that "We are in this world but not of it."  That will never be more evident for my family than the Southern Decadence Festival next weekend.

I may not be able to fade to black, like the DJ's did before the big reveal in 1970 but, for the most part, I'm hoping to avoid the craziness on Bourbon Street and the French Quarter.  Although, I'm sure we can't avoid it all.

May the Lord give me the wisdom and perspective to guide my family through it.

At the end of the day, it's like the song says, "Well I'm not the world's most masculine man, but I know what I am and I'm glad I'm a man, and so is Lola... Lo lo lo lo Lola, lo lo lo lo Lola..."

Or, as my wife may sing, "Layla, la la la la Layla, la la la la Layla...." 
  

Monday, August 15, 2016

Going for Gold for the Glory of God...

Rio's Christ the Redeemer...
After winning the gold medal, becoming the first African-American woman ever to win a medal in an individual swimming event, an emotional and visibly shaken Simone Manuel was asked what was going through her mind. As a national television audience watched, she responded with tears pouring down her cheeks, "All I can say is all the glory to God. It's definitely been a long journey these past four years," she paused briefly, as her voice cracked, "I'm just so blessed to have a gold medal... I'm so blessed."

For the past week, aside from Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, the headlines have been dominated by Manuel, Michael Phelps, Katie Ledecky and Simone Biles, among others.  They have become household names and share several things in common; they are young, they are world class athletes, who achieved Olympic gold, and they are devoted to their Christian faith.

In fact, it is interesting that, at a time when the American culture is becoming more and more secularized, and religion, especially Christianity, is being marginalized at schools, in the military, at sporting events and in most public domains, it seems that every other post-medal interview of an American athlete has some reference to God.

Steele Johnson and David Boudia...
Synchronized diving silver medalist Steele Johnson, who nearly died on a platform dive at the age of 12, is a great example.

In an interview after winning his medal, he said, "Now, I've kind of realized that God had his hand over all of it to help me... He gave me this ability to dive.  God kept me alive and he is still giving me the ability to do what I do... but this is not what my identity will be for the rest of my life. Yeah, I'm Steele Johnson the Olympian, but at the same time I'm here to love and serve Christ.  My identity is rooted in Christ, not in the flips we're doing."

His diving partner three-time Olympian, David Boudia, who wrote a recently-published book on his faith, Greater Than Gold: From Olympic Heartbreak to Ultimate Redemption, added, "We can't take credit for this.  To God be the glory."

Expressions of faith are widespread throughout the Olympic Games in Rio from Jamaica's Usain Bolt (a faithful Catholic, who wears a Miraculous Medal of the Virgin Mary, when he's not wearing gold), making the sign of the cross before his races and praying on one knee after he wins, to Ibitijah Muhammad, becoming the first American to wear a hijab while competing.

Actually, it's only fitting that religious beliefs be on display freely in a city, whose skyline is dominated by a 125-foot sculpture of Christ the Redeemer.

While, there's no doubt there are many atheists and agnostics among the competitors, it appears a healthy share are believers (and proud of it).  And, it shouldn't be a surprise, considering the close relationship between body and soul, since humanity is comprised of body, mind and spirit.

Michael Phelps...
For Michael Phelps, finding faith was what he credits for saving his life.  The most decorated Olympian of all time, with 28 Olympic medals, including 23 gold, says he was on a downward spiral and depressed to the point of considering suicide two years ago.

Apparently, stardom left him empty inside; the pressure of having to perform and live up to his image, the spotlight and constant scrutiny, the pain of an unresolved relationship with his father, who divorced his mother when Phelps was nine.

He tried to fill the void with drugs and alcohol.

His decline began with a suspension from swimming when a photo of him smoking a marijuana bong surfaced. He was later arrested twice for DUI.  His life hit rock bottom.  It was then that his family and former Baltimore Raven and University of Miami great Ray Lewis talked him into going to rehab, where he read a book that changed his life.

It was Rick Warren's A Purpose Driven Life, which was given to him by Lewis before he checked into rehab.  After reading the book, he started sharing his faith openly with others, reconciled with his estranged father and asked his long-time girlfriend to marry him.  He has been trying to live his faith devoutly ever since.  

Katie Ledecky...
For 19-year-old fellow U.S. swimmer Katie Ledecky, the five-time Olympic gold medalist and nine-time world champion, it was a totally different experience. Faith was always part of her life.  She attended Catholic school from time she was in Pre-K and continued all the way through high school, at Little Flower School in Bethesda, Maryland and at Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart. She was raised in a faithful Catholic family, to the extent that her godfather is a Jesuit priest, Fr. Jim Shea.  She says she is grounded by her religion.

"My Catholic faith is very important to me," Ledecky said in a recent magazine interview, "It always has been and it always will be.  It is part of who I am and I feel comfortable practicing my faith."

Ledecky says prayer is a big part of her preparation for competitions, "I do say a prayer, or two, before any race. The Hail Mary is a beautiful prayer and I find it calms me."

Simone Biles...
Then there's four-time gold medalist, Simone Biles, the 2016 Olympic individual all-around gold medal winner in women's gymnastics, women's vault, floor exercise and women's team all-around, four-time national champion and three-time world champion.

Biles is known for her fun-loving and energetic attitude, gravity-defying jumps and discipline and precision.  Yet, the only constant in her young life has been her faith.

Her mother was addicted to drugs and alcohol and lost custody of her kids when Simone was three.  The gymnast has been living with her grandparents, Ron and Nellie Biles, who adopted her and her younger sister and they call "mom and dad," ever since.

The 19-year-old attends Mass with her family every Sunday at St. James the Apostle, where she was Confirmed, and says part of her routine includes lighting a candle and praying to St. Sebastian, the patron saint of athletes, before every meet.  She also says prayer is a big part of her life and she carries a rosary, that her mom Nellie got her at church, at all times.

In the First Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians, the saint writes, "Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize?  Run in such a way as to take the prize.  Everyone who competes in the games trains with strict discipline.  They do it for a crown that is perishable, but we do it for a crown that is imperishable."  (1 Cor 9:24-25)

It appears all these athletes are training and competing for the prize that will have eternal reward...






[photo credit: Getty images]

Friday, August 12, 2016

Words of Wisdom on Trusting God Through Suffering...


"The same everlasting Father who cares for you today will care for you tomorrow and every day.
Either he will shield you from suffering or give you unfailing strength to bear it.  Be at peace then and put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginings."

-- St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622),  17th Century Bishop of Geneva, and Doctor of the Church, who as a priest was known for his patience and gentle approach to quell religious division after the Protestant Reformation.  He was a lawyer by trade and, after convincing his father to allow him to enter the priesthood, he was just as successful in sharing the Catholic faith and converting Calvinists in Geneva.  He would preach to them and hand out pamphlets that he would write himself.  St. Francis is said to have returned tens of thousands back into the Catholic fold.  The "brilliant apologist," as some have described, was known for practicing his axiom, "A spoonful of honey attracts more flies than a barrelful of vinegar."  Well recognized for his book, Introduction to the Devout Life, which is hailed by Catholics and many Prostestants alike, he also wrote, A Treatise on the Love of God, and hundreds of pamphlets, which were later assembled as, The Catholic Controversy, and letters addressed to the laity.  Along with St. Jane Frances de Chantal, he founded the women's Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary.  He was canonized in 1665 by Pope Pius IX just 43 years after his death.  His feast day is celebrated by the Church on January 24th...  

For more on St. Francis de Sales, check out Word on Fire article by clicking here...

        

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Legos, Anger and Bad Examples...

A mess waiting to happen...
"If dad thinks I don't care about legos, I don't care about him."

The words of an angry 8-year-old boy, written in crayon underneath his blanket one night, after being chastised by his father, who, in his own frustration and anger at the mess in the boy's room, stomped on his Legos a couple of times, hurting his heel in the process and causing a major commotion in the household.

"If you don't care about your Legos," the father was heard yelling, "Then, I don't either!"

I was limping for several days afterwards, which my wife says serves me right!

I hate Legos!  Well, maybe, hate is too strong a word but I never had them as a kid, which might explain my substandard prowess in anything that's handy, and like them even less as an adult.  It drives me crazy to see the disarray my son makes in his room, which sometimes takes days to cleanup. (The "cleanup, everybody do your part" song doesn't work like it used to!)

Then again, I played with army soldiers, knights, cowboys and Indians figurines and baseball cards, which were often found spread all over our family room and drove my mom crazy.  Maybe, it's a right of passage!

In any case, after throwing a tantrum, chewing out my son (alienating my wife in the process) and putting him and the girls to bed (they share the same room), I went to bed myself (Obviously, the mood was a bit tense).

A little while later, as I started drifting off, I began hearing ruffling in the kids' room and got up to see what was happening.

"What's going on?" I asked in a firm whisper.

Our oldest daughter quickly gave him away.

"He was coloring under his blanket."

My son got up in a huff, stomping off (literally, his feet pounding on the wood floor) into the bathroom, turned on the light, and challenged me like Doc Holiday challenged Johnny Ringo, when he said, "I'm your huckleberry," in movie Tombstone.

He showed me his note, sort of like saying, "What are you going to do about it?"

In fact, when I couldn't make out what it stated, because, since it was written under the covers, his lines ran into each other, he helped me read it.

From the depths of his heart...
"If dad thinks I don't care about Legos, I don't care about him," he said defiantly.

When he finished, he glared at me with his head slightly tilted downward and his pupils piercing me from the upper half of his eyes. It was very menacing, if it weren't so funny.

I controlled my laughter and glared back at him. We had a short stare down; a contest of male testosterone between a 52-year-old man and an 8-year-old boy.

After about a minute, he couldn't hold it any longer and cracked a smile.  But, quickly wiped the smirk off and kept glaring at me with the same scowl on his face.

I kept a straight face, while thinking; wow, if this is when he's eight, what's going to happen when he's sixteen or seventeen?  I'll be in my 60's!  I should start getting in better shape!

He cracked another smile and, just as quickly, shook it off again.

I was a bit perplexed by this lion king encounter so I decided to break the silence, "Do you really care about your Legos?"

He nodded without saying a word.

"Then why have they been all over the room for a couple of days, where the dogs can eat them?"  He just kept staring at me.

"If you care about something," I continued, "Do you take care of it?"

"Yes," he answered.

"Does leaving your Legos on the floor, where the dogs can eat them, and, you know, they have eaten them many times, seem like you're taking care of them?"

"No," he admitted with a hint of shame in his voice.

"If you don't care about them, why should I?"

He just looked at me silently.  His countenance slightly changing from anger to dejection, as he thought about what I said.

Unfortunately, he probably gets his fiery temper from me.

In fact, even when I'm not angry, I'm very passionate, animated and loud when moved by a topic or when I know I'm right (which is not often with my wife but a little more common with my kids), making even my wife think that I am angry.

Although, most people would describe me as quiet and reserved (and dare I say, patient, which my wife would disagree with!), I have a tendency to lose it on occasions; whether with my kids, my friends, my co-workers or, to a lesser extent, my wife (Let's just say, I rather not share a pillow with the dogs, if given a choice!).

A few days after the Legos incident, I had a melt down at work, ripping into another manager during a heated meeting.  It's my natural response, especially when I think someone is trying to intimidate me.  I've been battling the instinct since my youth.

There have been many times in my life, many that, frankly speaking, I'm embarrassed about, including my cousin's wedding, which ended in a fracas that I started, or the night I spent in jail, which I have written about in the past, where my hothead nature has gotten the best of me.

I realize it comes down to pride, since, as I heard a psychologist say once, the only reason people get angry is because other people don't do what they want!

Apparently, my son has inherited the same ornery disposition.  It's not something I'm proud of, especially when I see him snapping at his sisters.  He even yells at the dogs at times!

They say kids learn more from watching their parents then listening to them and I know I need to set a better example.

On the bright side, heaven is replete with saints who once had short tempers.

The most notorious being St. Peter, the first among the Apostles, who cut off a man's ear when he went to arrest Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Also, St. Jerome, a fourth century priest and historian, who single handedly translated the Bible into Latin from the original Greek and Hebrew, was notorious for his bad temper.  However, he used his wit and pen to destroy his rivals.

Then, there was St. Louis de Montfort, who once decked a couple of drunks who wouldn't stop heckling him while he preached!

I can only hope and pray that, in spite of myself, I can help lead my son to heaven.

Now, getting back to the my son's note story.

"Do you really care about your Legos?" I asked him.

"Yes," he answered.

"So, are you going to pick them up tomorrow?"

"Yes," he replied, as he nodded.

"Then let's go to bed,"  I said and kissed him on the head, as he walked back into his room.

After reflecting on it and praying for more patience, as I usually do (And, you can just imagine if I didn't!), the next day, on the way to drop them off, I apologized for my behavior.  

"Daddy flies off the handle sometimes," I offered.

My oldest daughter said, "We know."

"I need to do better.  I'm sorry," and they all looked at me forgivingly.

Alexander Pope once wrote, "To err is human, to forgive, divine."

Thank God for putting these three forgiving souls in my life and for inspiring the invention of Legos to teach me a lesson on kids and bad examples...