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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...

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Battle Ready Behind Enemy Lines...

Doug Barry; Battle Ready... 
Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Calvin Graham enlisted in the U.S. Navy.

He went to boot camp in San Diego, more than 1,400 miles away from his home in Texas, and, after the 6-week training, was sent to Pearl Harbor and assigned to the USS South Dakota.

A month later, Graham saw his first action in combat in the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands, where he and his shipmates earned a Navy Unit Commendation for their involvement.

About 2 weeks later, Graham was injured by shrapnel during the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal but, despite the injury, he helped pull other wounded soldiers to safety aboard the ship.  He was awarded the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart medals and he and the entire crew of the USS South Dakota were awarded another Navy Unit Commendation.

Graham was 12-years-old!  After having served for two years, the military learned that he had lied about his age to enlist and he was immediately discharged.  He re-enlisted in the Marines Corp in 1948.  He was 17.

"There used to be a fighting spirit in America," Speaker Doug Barry told a group of about 250 participants at the Archdiocese of Miami's 9th Annual Men's Conference, which I attended recently at Nativity Catholic Church in Hollywood, Fl.

"Men wanted to enlist. They wanted to fight for what they believed and they were willing to die to protect what they loved back home."

Men have come a long way since those days.  Unfortunately, not always in a good way.

Today, about the only fighting many men are willing to enlist for may be on social media, where the enemy is kept at a distance and the engagement impersonal.  And, as far as service?  Well, if you consider going by the drive-through window to pick up dinner for the family on the way home from work, maybe.  Many men are sleep-walking through existence, too distracted to live up to their full potential and too defeated by life and the culture to take up arms and fight the good fight.

Calvin Graham... 
Yet, now more than ever, Barry stressed, there is a dire need for righteous men to be ready for battle, "Men, your families are under attack and you're the first line of defense."

The former co-host of EWTN's Life on the Rock and current host of Battle Ready continued, "The attack is coming from the world, from the flesh, and from the Devil.  We need to be battle ready!"

It's a battle for the soul, he says; for our salvation and for the soul and salvation of our family.

And for many, the battle may not come at them so fiercely as in pornography on the internet, a happy hour with buddies that leads to a night of carousing at a strip bar, or a new young secretary at work.

It may come in subtleties.

I constantly have to battle selfishness and self-centeredness.  I constantly have to battle complacency and laziness.  I constantly have to battle judging people who are not like me, and even those who are.  I constantly have to battle taking my wife and kids for granted.

I can spend three hours watching a baseball game on TV but then complain I didn't have time to clear the dishwaters and put the dirty ones in the washer at night.  It's a constant battle with myself; my own sinful tendencies.

As C.S. Lewis puts so eloquently in The Screwtape Letters, "Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one -- the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts..."

"There is a battle with an enemy," Barry says in the first episode of Battle Ready, "that seeks to destroy our souls for all eternity.  The reality of this enemy is that it doesn't eat.  It doesn't sleep.  And, for thousands of years, this enemy has been watching mankind; looking at our weaknesses, our tendencies and how easily we get distracted and lose sight of the reality of the battle."

In his Letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul writes, "Our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens.  Therefore, put on the armor of God, that you may be able to resist on the evil day and, having done everything, to hold your ground." (Eph. 6:12)

Faith is where it needs to begin.  Faith brings forth hope.  Hope, conviction.  Conviction, courage and courage, readiness.

I sometimes tell my son, "Courage is when you do what is right even when you're afraid."

There is no shame in fear.  The only shame is in allowing fear to keep you from doing what you should.

I love the scene in The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, when King Theoden and his men approach the siege at the stone city of Minas Tirith, where Mordor's dark forces sit on the brink of destroying the entire city.

Theoden rides in front his numerous but outnumbered Riders of Rohan, who stand side-by-side on their horses, bracing for the battle against their behemoth foe.  Theoden yells out, as he rides his horse in front of the warriors, "Arise, arise, Riders of Theoden!  Spear shall be shaken, shield shall be splintered, a sword-day, a red day, ere the sun rises!"

The Riders of Rohan; Battle Ready!...  
Then he turns back the other way and continues, "Ride now... Ride for the ruin and the world's ending!... Death!"  They show the hobbit Merry Brandybuck and Theoden's daughter, who disguised herself as a knight to fight, gulp in fear.  "Death!" Theoden yells a second time, as his troops gather themselves to begin their charge despite the odds against them.  And, when the King yells a third time, his entire army, including the fearful Brandybuck and his daughter yell out in unison, "Death!" And the cavalry charges into the sea of Easterlings, Haradrim, and Orcs.  They were the last hope for Middle Earth.

Barry told the men in the audience, "One of the favorite verses in the Bible for many men, which I hear as I speak to men across the country, is Ephesians 5, where it states, 'Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church.' (Eph. 5:22-23)  Christ died for the Church!  Every day of our lives, we should look at the Crucifix and see what it means to be the head of our wife."

In the Book of Revelation, we read that when war broke out in Heaven, the dragon, Satan, and his fallen angels were hurled down, not to Hell but to earth!

Battle readiness, Barry argues, means being aware that we are behind enemy lines.  We are in a spiritual war.  We need to be prepared to protect and defend and get engaged.

"We have been entrusted with the lives of our families and we have to be ready to fight for them... Wives want their husbands to engage in the fight not to stand back and watch."

That doesn't mean getting into fisticuffs with an Atheist at the supermarket,  It means Christian men need to learn their faith, live their faith, defend their faith and pass it to their children.  Men need to, as Barry says, "own it."

Also, readiness doesn't just apply to mind and soul.  It means the physical body as well, "If you want to be there for your wife and children, take care of your health... You're only ready to fight to the degree that you train."

The 54-year-old father of five (plus 2 in Heaven) from Lincoln, Nebraska, who has been married for 29 years, says that one day, his wife approached him while he was doing some housework and she said, "You know, God is going to judge you on a much stricter scale than He's ever going to judge me."  She left the room momentarily as Barry babbled to himself trying to figure out why she meant.

She reappeared shortly and continued, "Because you, as a husband and father, will be judged by how well you tried to lead me and the kids to heaven.  While, I as your wife, will be judged by how well I let you lead our family to heaven."

Edmund Burke once wrote, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."  Failure is not an option.  Like the Riders of Rohan, we are the last hope.

"I am my family's defender and protector.  I'm never going to relinquish that role.  It's never going to happen.  Not on my watch."

So like Calvin Graham and King Theoden, it's time to heed way to the dying advice of King David to his son Solomon, "Take courage and be a man."

Of course, King Theoden dies on the battlefield and so did Jesus on the Cross but, in the end, Christ's Resurrection ensures that good triumphs over evil and so will we, if we are battle ready, prepare and engage...

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Santa, Disappointment and Raising Kids...

He gazed at me with a look of contempt that pierced through me from across the dinner table; sort of like the look that Superman gives Batman when he realizes The Caped Crusader is gunning for him in Superman vs. Batman, before he tosses him around like a ragdoll.

"You ruined my imagination, Dad!" he exclaimed disgustingly, as a child who came to grips with a reality that he was already suspecting but wasn't ready to accept.

"What are you talking about?" I asked perplexed.  Everyone at the table, my wife, daughters, brother and sister-in-law, took notice.

"The text!" he said looking at me disapprovingly.

"What text?" I honestly didn't know what he was referring to.

"The text you sent Mommy!"

Then everyone realized.  My wife said to me, "He grabbed my phone."  As if there wasn't anything she could do.  Really?  He's sitting next to you.  He grabbed your phone and you just let him?  C'mon, woman!   

It was a text that I had sent my brother and his wife while heading to dinner warning them that our son still believed in Santa Claus so they wouldn't say anything that would raise his suspicion.

Oh, no!  I wasn't ready for him finding out, especially not like this!

Granted, he's 11-years-old and in 6th Grade.  It was bound to happen.  Still, it was the last gasp of childhood innocence that my wife and I clung onto.  The girls are both teens and have long since had their belief in Santa shattered, albeit not as publicly or confrontationally as our son!

"I don't know what you're talking about," I pretended, in an attempt at diversion.  "What are you doing looking at Mommy's cell phone texts?" Another attempt at putting the onus on him!  "You shouldn't be looking at things that are not meant for you!"

The damage was done.  The cat was out of the box.  So, I turned the conversation to something else and we all got on with the night, having dinner and meeting our one-year-old niece who was visiting for the first time from Oregon.

Later that night, when we got back home and sat on the couch to watch some TV, he looked at me and repeated those haunting words with a look of dejection on his face, "Dad, you ruined my imagination."

Ruined his imagination?  Where was he getting that from?  I guess it's something the teacher at school must have told her students so that the kids who knew didn't blow it for the ones who don't.

It's an honorable gesture that I greatly appreciate, unlike my 5th Grade teacher who, during a lecture,  nonchalantly dropped the bomb to the entire class, "Now, I hope none of you still believe in Santa Claus!  He's not real.  There's no such thing.  It's your mom and dad!"

Really?  Did I really just hear that from a teacher?  What was she thinking?  Did parents giver her permission to do that?  She definitely ruined my imagination!

Up until that point, I was a believer.  And, I'm not talking about your garden variety Father Christmas believer.  I mean, I was convinced.  Why?

Well, in the mid-'70s, when I was in about 3rd Grade, my family went on a trip to Chicago to see our extended family for the holidays and when we got back, Santa had left gifts!

In other words, when we left our apartment in New York, no gifts.  When we got back, gifts!  Now, how could that have happened if there was no Santa Claus?  I'm telling you, for me, that was a defining moment and I didn't care how many friends said there was no such thing.  I knew Kris Kringle was real!

That day in 5th Grade my world was rocked.  That female dog!  To top it off, she wasn't even our regular teacher.  She taught social studies or something.  For the rest of the class, I was in a daze.  I kept asking myself, how can that be?  How about Chicago?

That night, I approached my mother before dinner and said, "Mom, I know about Santa Claus.  I know it's you and dad."

I'll be honest, I was hoping she would say, "Are you kidding?  Of course, he's real!"  If she had, at that very moment, I would still believe in him today.  My wife would've been having to get gifts for the kids and me and wrapping them in secret, while I left cookies and carrots for the old man with the white beard and his gang of raindeers.     

Instead, Mom gave me a hug and a kiss, "I knew you would find out soon."

Find out soon?  Find out soon?  Noooo.  Say it ain't so, Joe.  Say it ain't so! 

I asked her about the Christmas gifts under the tree when we got back from Chicago and she confessed that when everyone was packed in the car ready to leave, she told my Dad that she forgot something (a planned excuse!) and they both ran in, as everyone waited in the car, and they put the gifts under the tree before getting back in the car and leaving.  Ingenious!  We never suspected a thing.

Of course, as soon as I found out the truth, I wasn't like my daughters who went out of their way to protect their little brother's "imagination."  I went straight to my younger brother, who was about 8 at the time, and broke it to him!  I don't think he will ever let me live that down, and well he shouldn't!  I was the Grinch who stole his Christmas!

I'm sure there are those who argue that letting kids believe in Santa Claus is lying to them and will only lead to disappointment.

But, you know what?  Life is full of disappointments.  Learning to live with them is part of life.  It's what helps us grow stronger; disappointment and setbacks.  Yet, despite the many times I have experienced disappointment in life, I wouldn't change my belief in Santa for a minute.

For me, the tradition brings back beautiful memories of innocent times, as those invoked by Debussy's Claire du Lune.  I love that musical piece!  And, I loved waking up on Christmas mornings to see what gifts were under the tree.  It was the greatest fantasy my parents ever bestowed on me and my brother.  I wanted the same for my kids.  Fortunately, after a recent conversation with our daughters, following the text mishap with our son, they expressed feeling the same way and plan to pass on the tradition to their kids.

In any case, getting back to my son.  When we were alone that night on the couch after his repeated"lost imagination" comment, I told him that although Santa Claus may not be real, he represents someone who is; St. Nicholas (my son's patron saint).  I told him that the real gift of Christmas is Jesus and that Santa Claus and St. Nick point to the birth of our Lord.  Christmas is not about Santa Claus.  It's about Jesus.

I don't know to what extent he understood, or just pretended to, but, at least, he wasn't mad anymore.  Then again, his anger may have dissipated when we walked to get ice cream after dinner!

After that fateful night, the rest of the Christmas season was much like any previous one, although there was a sobering cloud of lost innocence hanging over my wife and me when it came to our son.

While still small in stature, we realized, he's not a little boy anymore.  And, while he never brought it up again, and actually told my wife that he was going to still believe in Santa, we know that the fantasy of our kids' Christmas will never be the same.

Superman got beaten by the reality of kryptonite and, despite his superhuman strength, he'll never feel invisible again...



Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Not My Little Girl Anymore...

Saying our goodbyes and taking pictures.. 
It might not be as heart-wrenching as I imagine leaving her at school for the first time will be next year, but dropping off my oldest daughter at the airport for her first trip to New York City alone was a bit of a dress rehearsal from an emotional standpoint (to put it in theater terms since that was the reason for her school trip!).

Granted, for me, that's not saying much since I'm the guy who choked up recently during an introduction speech with the new company president of affiliate news - which actually prompted a round of applause from many of the managers sitting around the conference table - and the same guy who tears up at weddings, watching Father of the Bride, sappy TV commercials or listening to The Christmas Shoes by NewSong on the car radio.

Yet, leaving my daughter at the United Airlines terminal at six o'clock in the morning with about thirty other classmates and a few teachers, and driving back home in the dark on a chilly South Florida morning (upper sixties!) on the mostly empty roadways, made me a bit melancholy.  No, I didn't actually shed tears but it did make me reflect.

This year, we have two graduations pending; our oldest daughter from high school and our middle child from middle school (8th Grade).  So, as one goes off the college, the other begins high school.  And, time keeps ticking by.  It seems it was only yesterday when our oldest started high school and, now, she's a semester away from graduating.

Last week my brother and his wife were in town for an extended Thanksgiving holiday and to introduce their just-turned one-year-old daughter to our family.  Seeing my little niece taking her first steps while being held and making baby sounds reminded me of how awestruck I was when I first became a father of our daughter, then another daughter and finally a son!

I love it too... 
Now, looking back at how our big girl took her first steps alone during her first birthday party almost eighteen years ago, where she stood herself up and started walking, juxtapose that chilly morning at Miami International Airport where she was taking her first steps away from home, even if only for a few days (I'm not going to count her school trips to Disney with the choir or her yearly retreats since they were only bus trips away), and it left a sense of emptiness in my heart and a knot in my throat.  My little girl is not so little anymore.  Very soon, she'll be going away although, hopefully, it's not forever!

I know I have to trust God that my wife and I have done a good job raising her with strong faith, a great moral character and a love and passion for her family but it still doesn't make it any easier, especially when her first text later that day was, "I can't wait to live here!"

"Let go and let God," I hear people say, but, that's easier said than done.  Yet, I realize our children don't belong to us.  They belong to God. We get the privilege of taking care for them to get a glimpse of God's love for us.  Unfortunately, sometimes love hurts.  We only have to look to Jesus to see that.

For now, our daughter will be gone for a few days and, in January, she leaves again with her classmates to Washington, DC for the March for Life.  It must be God's way of preparing me for the big departure late next year.

Still, even before she goes off to school, I'm already setting the stage (to use more theater terminology) in our kids minds for her ultimate return.  All three of our kids sleep in the same room, the girls in beds and our son in a trundle between them.  I keep telling them that when our oldest goes away, and our middle one goes to high school, my son will get one of the beds.  Then, when my oldest comes back home, and my middle one goes away, my son gets to keep a bed for another two years before it's time for him to leave!  Now, the question remains, will he want to come back to his trundle afterwards?  I guess we'll have to hope and pray for a callback...