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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Lessons on Losing and the Mighty Casey...

The Outlook wasn't brilliant for the Mudville nine that day:
The score stood four to two, with but one inning more to play.
And then when Cooney died at first, and Barrows did the same,
A sickly silence fell upon the patrons of the game.  

There is no joy in Mudville...
We were having a wonderful time at Tropical Park.

It was midmorning on a beautiful Spring day.  The kids were off on break and I had taken several days to be with them.

After driving around the entire park, I picked a perfect shaded area, lined with trees and between a couple of softball fields, to take cover from the scorching Miami sun.  And, we were there just having fun; playing two-man ball with a whiffle ball and a plastic bat, as I had done many times in my youth with my brother and friends in the vacant lot next to our Hialeah duplex or backyard. 

Only this time, I was playing with my kids.  It was my six-year-old coach-pitch-playing son and thirteen-year-old softball-playing daughter against my nine-year-old daughter, who has never played the game, and me.

Alright, so I had an unfair advantage but we were only up five to two in the third inning.

I kept referring to the mighty Casey, from Casey At the Bat poem by Ernest Thayer, every time my older daughter would strike out but they had no clue what I was talking about. 

"Who is the mighty Casey?" they asked. 

"You never heard of the mighty Casey?  I'll tell you about him later," I answered.

Everyone was into the game, including my nine-year-old daughter, who had opted for picking flowers when we first started playing but I made her go into the field and she reluctantly obliged.  That is until, she got her second or third hit of the game, and I came up with two "men" on.

I batted lefty to try to even the playing field, which isn't much of a disadvantage, considering I switched hit while playing baseball most of my adult life.  In any case, my oldest daughter was pitching and my son was playing the field behind her when she tossed up a floater about chest high and I jacked it over the trees that we agreed would be the homerun mark for the second time in the game and drove in three more runs (I made the rules since they had never played before but they were fair.  My son hit a first-inning line drive past the trees for homerun as well).  Now, it was eight to two.  (Yes, you can call it abuse or think I was reliving, what Bruce Springsteen would call, my Glory Days, but I think kids have to learn a lesson on losing, as much as winning, in today's everybody-gets-a-trophy, we're-all-winners culture)

It went downhill from there.  My son had had enough.  He's still learning the game and doesn't take too kindly to losing, so he slammed his glove into the ground and said he didn't want to play anymore.

"That's not fair," I told him.  "Losing is part of the game and in life, you're going to lose much more than you win, which makes winning only that much sweeter  You can't give up on your team when they are losing.  You just have to try harder."  (Could you tell once started reading Vince Lombardi's biography?  Believe me, this is something I learned from personal experience growing up.  I played on many great teams that won State, District and League Championships and several woeful teams as well.  To top it off, I'm a lifetime New York Mets fan, need I say more?)

Anyhow, he wasn't having anything to do with my rah-rah speech and stood there pouting in defiance with his arms crossed.  Kind of reminiscent of my younger brother when he would get upset because he didn't hit a homerun when he was about my son's age.  He was feast or famine hitter during those days and would either hit a homerun or strike out, which would make him cry and pout, like my son was doing.
A straggling few got up to go in deep despair.  The rest
Clung to that hope which springs eternal in the human breast;
They thought, if only Casey could get but a whack at that -
We'd put up even money, now, with Casey at the bat.
But Flynn preceded Casey, as did also Jimmy Blake,
And the former was a lulu and the latter was a cake;
So upon that stricken multitude grim melancholy sat,
For there seemed but little chance of Casey's getting to the bat. 

As serious as I was trying to be, it was funny to watch and my daughters were getting a kick out of watching their little brother seethe in his anger.

He grabbed his glove, snatched the ball from my oldest daughter's hands and said he wanted to pitch.  After throwing about ten balls, he struck out my younger daughter and what was I supposed to do?  I swung at several pitches that were nowhere near the plate, which got him excited again. 

"Two strikes?" he asked. 

"Yes, two strikes.  I'm down to my last pitch, if you can get me," I answered. 

After throwing a pitch behind me, I swung at the next pitch and missed.  The mighty Casey had struck out!  (Ok., so I let him; more or less!)

"Who's the might Casey?," they asked.  "I'll read you the poem when we're done," I answered.

But Flynn let drive a single, to the wonderment of all,
And Blake, the much despised, tore the cover off the ball;
And when the dust had lifted, and the men saw what had occurred,
There was Jimmy safe at second and Flynn a-hugging third.
Then from 5,000 throats and more there rose a lusty yell;
It rumbled through the valley, it rattled in the dell;
It knocked upon the mountain and recoiled upon the flat,
For Casey, mighty Casey, was advancing to the bat.   

But, the excitement didn't last long, as I struck him out twice in the last inning (I wasn't trying to but he kept swinging at bad pitches!) and had to stop him from slamming his bat on the grown and keep him from hitting his sister with a ball, in a teary-eyed tirade.  Boy, talk about sore loser!

After settling him down in the car, before pulling out of the parking lot, I searched for the legendary 19th century poem on my I-phone and read it out loud, which, after describing how hope seemed lost in Mudville with two outs in the ninth, the next two hitters surprisingly got on and a glimmer of hope went through the crowd as the mighty Casey stepped up to bat.  But, the tension built again after the great hitter took two strikes and was down to his last pitch, so the poem goes:

The sneer is gone from Casey's lip, his teeth are clenched in hate;
He pounds with cruel violence his bat upon the plate.
And now the pitcher holds the ball, and now he lets it go,
And now the air is shattered by the force of Casey's blow.

Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout;
But there is no joy in Mudville - mighty Casey has struck out.

"See," I told them, "Even the mighty Casey struck out."...

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Men, Faith, Family and Time...

A beautiful setting for a conference...
"Do you spend time with your family?  Cause a man who doesn't spend time with his family can never be a real man."

Those were the fitting words of Don Vito Carleone to Johnny Fontane in The Godfather.  And, while his son, Michael, went off the reservation in the movie sequel by kicking his wife out of the house, leaving his sister widowed, by having her husband killed, and ordering the murder of his own brother, family was a big deal to Don Carleone, and his astute statement could have well been the motto for the 4th Annual Archdiocese of Miami Men's Conference I attended a couple of weekends ago.

In other words, being a real man is all about family.  The time we spend with them and the love we share is the legacy that a man leaves after he's gone. 

In his book, Before I Go, author, Peter Kreeft, writes, "There are two kinds of time.  Abstract time is a scientific concept, a way of measuring matter moving through space.  Concrete time is lived time.  We call it our 'lifetime.'  Time is life.  So to give someone your time is to give him your life.  Our families are the ones we give our lives to and the ones who give their lives to us."

It's funny because I'm sure most people, as they lay dying, are not concerned so much about having spent too much time with their families and not enough time at work.  The regret is usually the opposite.  Yet, many of us are so caught up with the fast-paced lifestyle of the rat race society we live in that our families usually get the short end of the stick.

That was the purpose of the men's conference at St. Mark's Catholic Church in Southwest Ranches earlier this month; to refocus on what is truly important in life.

We got a chance to hear from two nationally known and passionate speakers, Fr. Larry Richards, who is hilarious and played a huge impact in my spiritual growth when I returned to the faith over seven years ago, and Jesse Romero, who has nothing to envy even the most gifted and fiery Protestant evangelist on TV.

Aside from the outstanding guest speakers, we partook in the Holy Mass celebrated by Archbishop Thomas Wenski, got a chance to go to Confession and shared in the camaraderie of more than five hundred like-minded, mostly Catholic, men, from all walks of life, who are committed to growing closer to God, loving their families and living and sharing their faith to the best of their abilities. 

With Jesse Romero...
It may sound bit odd in today's skeptical world, where truth is often distorted and relegated to personal preferences and opinions, but there are more men like us, who are interested in learning and growing closer to God, than the media gives credit to.

So what is a real man?  Fr. Richards put it bluntly, "A real man is one who lays down his life every day for his wife and kids."  That is because, as he says, the world of flesh and evil is coming after our families from every angle each and every day.  To echo the words of Romero, we are "like David having to fight off many Goliaths." 

We need courage.  Courage to stand up for what we believe and for those we love because, if we are distracted, like Adam was, while the serpent was tempting Eve in the Garden of Eden, we will fail to fulfill one of our most important reasons for living, aside from personal holiness; leading our family to heaven.

Of course, this is easier for me to write about than do, since I often find myself distracted on many things other than my family (i.e. work, sports, TV, blogging, social media, reading, etc.).  As my wife often reminds me, "That's why you miss everything I and the kids say, because you're too busy watching TV!" 

I do realize my faults and often get dejected by my own self-centeredness and failures as a husband and father.  It's part of my nature but Romero made a great point, "We are all sinners.  But, do you know which sinners are going to get into heaven?  Repentant sinners!"  Repentance is not as much of a problem for me, as much as doing something to overcome my sinful tendencies.     

Yet, in those moments of despondence, it is encouraging to know that I'm not alone.  Like all the men at the conference, we all fail in one way or another.  Even the great Catholic author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings series, J.R.R. Tolkien, who was as devoted to God and his faith, as any layman I've read, once stated in a letter to his children, "I have brought you all up ill and talked to you too little...  I failed as a father.  Now I pray for you all, unceasingly, that the Healer shall heal my defects."

In the aforementioned Kreeft book, the author writes, "The good in our kids is due 1% to us, 2% to them and 97% to God's grace."  He continues, "There is only one perfect Father.  And even His kids mess up.  All of them."

If there was an underlined theme of the conference, it was that we need to be men of prayer and love; not judgment.

As Romero stated, "God's Mercy is greater than His Judgment."  Thank heaven for that, but we need to try to follow His example and the only way to do that is to understand God's love for us.  

Fr. Richards signing copies of his book...
Fr. Richards tells a heart-wrenching story about a police officer he knew from his childhood in Pittsburgh, who had a drinking problem.  The man left his wife and children, got remarried and went off to Nevada to seek fame and fortune but his drinking problem continued.  He then moved to Houston to start anew and continue his search for greater glory but his drinking problem persisted.   

By the time, he was 43, the then retired cop had cirrhosis of the liver and was dying.  Fr. Richards was attending seminary at the time and got a call from the man's wife asking him to come and comfort her husband.  Fr. Richards went and spent a week by the man's bedside, praying, telling stories and joking to lift his spirits.  He says the man was so consumed by the illness that he looked more like he was ninety than forty and couldn't speak.  Then came the time for him to go back to the seminary and he told the ex-cop, "Look I have to go back.  I would really like it if you attended my ordination in a few months," both knowing well the man was not going to live to see the day.

The seminarian started walking away and took a final look back and noticed that the man was desperately making hand signals for him to return.  Fr. Richards says he knelt down beside the bed, hugged him and said in his ear, "I love you too Dad."  And, that was the last time he saw his father alive.

The priest says he waited until his father was on his deathbed to tell him he loved him because he says he wasn't the kind of dad that he wanted him to be.  He says he spent his whole life judging his father instead of loving him.     

We are all on barrowed time in this world.  One minute we are dropping off our children at school and the next minute an out-of-control maniac plows his car into ours and our life is over, as it did for a woman in Broward County several months ago.

In The Fellowship of the Ring, Tolkien wrote, "I wish it need not have happened in my time," said Frodo.  "So do I," said Gandalf, "and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us."...


Thursday, April 17, 2014

John XXIII, Sleepness Nights and Rude Awakenings...

It often happens that I wake up at night and begin to think about a serious problem and decide I must tell the Pope about it.  Then I wake up completely and remember that I am the Pope...

-- Bl. Pope John XXIII, born Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, was Roman Pontiff from 1958 to 1963.  Affectionally called the "Happy" or "Good Pope," John XXIII is best known for convening the Second Vatican Council in 1962.  He was a man of wit, good humor, passion, zeal and many surprises, similar to current Pope Francis.  In fact, he caused a stir from the start by choosing the name of John, which had been avoided for 500 years, since an antipope by that name in the 14th Century. 

A learned man of the people, who avoided attention and was known for his humility and "ordinariness," Pope John served as a stretcher-bearer during World War I and saw the harrowing effects of war firsthand.  It may have influenced his deep involvement in finding a peaceful solution to the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. 

He is expected to be canonized alongside Bl. Pope John Paul II on April 27, 2014...

It often happens that I wake up at night and begin to think about a serious problem and decide I must tell the Pope about it. Then I wake up completely and remember that I am the Pope.

It often happens that I wake up at night and begin to think about a serious problem and decide I must tell the Pope about it. Then I wake up completely and remember that I am the Pope.

It often happens that I wake up at night and begin to think about a serious problem and decide I must tell the Pope about it. Then I wake up completely and remember that I am the Pope.


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Mets' Murphy Puts Family First and Gets Blasted...

Daniel Murphy...
It's not uncommon for sports and family life to be at opposite ends of the spectrum.  In fact, it's a dichotomy I often struggle with since on many a night at our house, you may find me watching the Heat or the Mets at one end and my wife and kids watching Animal Planet's River Monsters at another.  (Not that I'm advocating this as a good thing!)

But, it must get really hairy for professional athletes, who have to balance their livelihoods in sports with fulfilling their domestic responsibilities at home.

That is the case of New York Mets' starting second baseman Daniel Murphy.

Early last week, a big brouhaha sparked on sports-talk radio when the player chose fatherhood over baseball, by opting to take a paternity leave and miss the teams first two games of the grueling 162-game season to be with his wife after the birth of the couple's first child.  (I can almost hear the little boy in the Shoeless Joe Jackson legend exclaim, "Say it isn't so, Joe!")

Could you believe the gall of that guy?

Well, the commentators on WFAN radio, including former NFL quarterback, Boomer Esiason, couldn't.  They were beside themselves by the sensitive demonstration of fatherly love; wanting to be with his wife and newborn son, at that monumental moment in their life.

Esiason blasted the infielder for, among other things, not being a "real man" and suggested the couple should have planned ahead and had their doctor perform a C-section, so as to not interfere with Murphy's work. 

Boomer Esiason...
“Quite frankly, I would have said C-section before the season starts. I need to be at Opening Day. I’m sorry. This is what makes our money. This is how we’re going to live our life. This is going to give my child every opportunity to be a success in life. I’ll be able to afford any college I want to send my kid to because I’m a baseball player.”

Mike Francesa, Esiason's cohort on the show said, “One day I understand. And in the old days they didn’t do that. But one day, go see the baby be born and come back. You’re a Major League Baseball player. You can hire a nurse to take care of the baby if your wife needs help.”

Really?  What a sad commentary from the mouths of grown men. 

Granted, being a baseball player is what pays the rent and gives his family an opportunity for success.  But, as a good friend of mine once told me, when I was going through a trying time at work, a man is not defined by what he does but by who he is.

In a nation that is suffering from an identity crisis because of the missing father figure in many American families, where children are growing up in single-family homes without a male role model to show kids the discipline, responsibility and commitment they need, and where masculinity has been reduced in the media to nothing more than The Hangover-like characters of grown-up adolescents or uninvolved buffoons, getting knocks from women for our failures is one thing.  But, getting knocks from other men for being responsible? 

To me, that's an insult.  Not that I can't be that uninvolved buffoon, at times (And, my wife can tell you stories), but I'd like to think that it's not the kind of man I am most of the time and, as importantly, it's not the kind of man I aim to be.  So, when I hear another man being belittled and marginalized for living up to the standards I aspire to; leadership of his household, provider, protector, comforter and spiritual head, I take offense.

I remember when our first daughter was born, I took almost two weeks off from work to be with my wife at the hospital, through the delivery, her recovery and our adjustment to having a baby at home.  It was a powerfully binding experience for us as a brand new family and one that I'll never forget (And, it's not because of the many sleepless nights or dirty diapers!)

Former U.S. Secretary of Education, William Bennett, said it well, "Real fatherhood means love and commitment and sacrifice and a willingness to share in responsibility and not walking away from one's children."

For his part, Murphy took the high road when told of the criticism.  He said, "My wife and I discussed it, and we felt the best thing for our family was for me to try to stay for an extra day due to the fact that she can’t travel for two weeks... I can only speak from my experience — a father seeing his wife – she was completely finished. I mean, she was done. She had surgery and she was wiped. Having me there helped a lot, and vice versa, to take some of the load off. … It felt, for us, like the right decision to make.”   

The couple named their son Noah as in Noah's Ark in the Bible because, in the words of Murphy, "Peace and rest is what it means."

And peace and rest is what Esiason was forced to make.  After an apparent backlash, he came back the next day and apologized.

What do you think?...

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Chesterton on Faith, Love and Hope...

"To love means loving the unlovable.  To forgive means pardoning the unpardonable.  Faith means believing the unbelievable.  Hope means hoping when everything seems hopeless."

Gilbert Keith Chesterton (better known as GK) is considered one of the most profilic and influential writers of the twentieth century.  Called "The Apostle of Common Sense," the bigger than life English author (standing 6'4" and weighing over 300 lbs.), poet, philosopher, historian, political satirist and journalist, is well known for his popular Father Brown series and was highly regarded by fellow authors Ernest Hemingway, Graham Greene, Orson Welles and T.S. Eliot, among others, for his humor and provocative style.  A briliant Christian apologist, he has influenced and still influences faithful and seekers alike, including his once atheist countryman, C.S. Lewis...