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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...

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Peter Kreeft on Looking for Love...

Looking for love in all the wrong places...

"The poor suckers who are going from one affair to another are looking for love and not finding it.  If they found it, they wouldn't be so disappointed and so desperate.  They wouldn't be moving all the time, because you don't move away from happiness, you move away from unhappiness.... 

When there's love there, nothing in life can be better.  And, when there's no love there, nothing in life can be worse." 

-- Peter Kreeft in Jacob's Ladder 10 Steps to Truth...

Monday, July 18, 2016

Distractions and Choosing the Better Part...

So many ways to numb our minds... 
Jesus entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him.  She had a sister named Mary who sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak.  Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving?  Tell her to help me."  The Lord said to her in reply, "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.  There is need for only one thing.  Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her."  (Luke 10:38-42)

We live extremely busy lives.

In my case, I was telling some friends recently, my wife and I are so busy with our schedules, kids and work that we hardly spend time having meaningful conversation any more.

Between me coming home late, my wife's many businesses (Zumba, translations, real estate, Beach Body), the girls' dancing, our son, household chores, volunteering at our parish, worrying about finances and the daily bombardment of negative news of the unstable world we live in (And, it's not like I can avoid it.  I work in news!), often times, we are so overwrought with anxieties and concerns, that we just want to disconnect and medicate ourselves with television, social media or other distractions.  We realize it's a problem and are already trying to address it but I'm sure the pace we live is not uncommon.

One recent Sunday, the parish priest at St. Isabel Catholic Church in Sanibel, where we vacation every year, was making that very point in reference to the story from Luke's Gospel.

He said that we are so distracted with tweets, posts, emails, iPhones, iPads and so many other things (and now, as if we didn't have enough bemusement, Pokemon Go comes out!), that we are forgetting and missing out on the important things in life;  the transcendent things that really matter.

I tell my daughter and her friends that the millennial generation makes easy targets for terrorists, since they are so absorbed in their virtual world on their phones that a man can be pulling out an AK-47 and loading it next to them and no one would notice!

Furthermore, because our focus is on trivial things, like how many likes our last post got, God and family, which are constants in our lives, are easily taken for granted.

How many times has my news station not reported on a mother or father who forgets their sleeping baby in the back seat of their car, leaving them to die in the scorching South Florida sun?  Or of an unattended child falling and drowning in a pool or canal near their home?  It happens over and over and we wonder how it can happen?

Yet, by the same token, how many marriages are failing in the United States and kids growing up in single-parent homes for basically the same reason; neglect, distraction, lack of attention?

We let things go because we are too busy doing other things.  Things that are less important like posting pictures, sending tweets and answering work emails from home, only to react when it's too late; the baby suffocated, the child drowned, the marriage dissolved.

I think Jesus was making that point in the story of Mary and Martha.

Catholic author and speaker, Fr. Larry Richards always asks in his talks, how do you fall in love with someone?  By spending time with them.  And, how do you fall in love with God?  The same way.

St. Francis de Sales used to say that everyone should spend at least half an hour a day in prayer, except the busy people.  The busy people should spend an hour.

It goes back to the Sunday Mass at St. Isabel, where the the priest said we needed to be more like Mary, listening, absorbing and contemplating God, so that it propels us to be more like Martha in service to others; not for the sake of busyness, distraction or to get attention, but out of love, for the sake of another.

Mother Teresa once wrote, "The fruit of silence is prayer.  The fruit of prayer is faith. The fruit of faith is love.  The fruit of love is service.  The fruit of service is peace."

And, service begins at home...