Last month, on January 21, 2018, I celebrated the 35th anniversary of the opening my law practice. I graduated from law school in May 1982, and received my license to practice law in November 1982. Two months later, on January 21, 1983, I rented an office from an established Peoria attorney.
Nine years later (1992), I hired my first associate attorney. At that time, I was 35 years old. The attorney that I hired was 10 years younger than me, and had just graduated from law school.
At the time that I hired the attorney, I had an office manager, two full-time secretaries, a full-time receptionist, and a part-time secretary. Hiring an attorney was a big step for me, and I didn’t feel as though I knew enough about running a business to continue to move forward without some assistance.
The same year that I hired the attorney, I signed a contract with Gerber Business Development Corporation to provide me with coaching on how to properly run and grow my business. I had committed to paying the attorney a large salary and I didn’t want to make any catastrophic mistakes in managing and growing my law firm.
I found out about the Gerber company when I read a book that was written by its founder, Michael Gerber. The title of the book was, The E-Myth: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It. What Gerber said in his book about small businesses in America hit a raw nerve with me.
I had previously represented several business clients who had done well for a while and then, for one reason or another, had made mistakes that caused their businesses to fail. I had also handled several bankruptcies for individuals who had failed in their own businesses. Many of the businessmen that Gerber wrote about in his book reminded me of my own clients and their failure to succeed in their businesses.
Georgette and I met on August 4, 1978, when we were both 21 years old. We were married in June 1980, while I was on break from law school. Ten months later, in March 1981, we had our first child, Harry. I graduated from law school in May of the following year.
We moved back to Peoria during the summer of 1982. At that time, Georgette was pregnant with our second child, Anna. I started my law practice in January 1983, and Anna was born the following month. We had our third child, Maria, 13 months later, in March 1984. When Maria was born, I was 26 years old.
It was during this period of time that my mom and my sister Colleen started commenting about how I had become too serious and I needed to lighten up. Colleen is a year and a half younger than me, and of my eight sisters, she was the one I was closest to while we were growing up.
When my mom and sister told me that I had become too serious, I hadn’t realized that my behavior had changed from the young, carefree guy who liked to have a good time and tease other people to an older guy who felt overwhelmed by the burdens of life.
But I wasn’t bothered by their comments about my being too serious. To me, that was what responsible adults did — they grew up and did their best to care for and support their families. In some respects, my mom and my sister were correct. My newfound responsibilities made me feel overwhelmed. At times, I felt as though I was doing well just to keep my head above water. Georgette and I had three babies in three years — Maria was born on Harry’s third birthday — and I was doing my best to support my family while managing my law practice.
Now, more than 30 years later, Georgette and I have 13 grandchildren, with three more on the way. I’m still serious, but I’m having more fun now than I’ve had in years. I’ve given myself permission to lighten up and revert to my childhood when I’m around my grandchildren. Their parents sometimes get irritated with me because they think I get their children riled up too much. But that’s OK with me, because I’m finally able to do what my mom and my sister wanted me to do all those years ago.
I recently joined my wife and some of our children at a local theater to see the movie, The Greatest Showman. The movie is a musical about the life of P.T. Barnum. It begins when Barnum is a boy. He is the son of a poor tailor who does work for a wealthy man. The man looks down on Barnum and his father, because of their lower-class status.
Barnum is a fun-loving boy who is infatuated with the wealthy man’s daughter. The man knows that Barnum likes his daughter and makes it clear to Barnum that he’ll never be good enough for her. After that, the daughter is sent to finishing school for several years. While she is away at school, she and Barnum continue to keep in contact by writing letters to each other.
Years later, when the daughter returns home from school, she is reunited with Barnum. They end up getting married and starting a family. After borrowing money from a local bank, Barnum buys an old museum building in downtown Manhattan. He then sets up Barnum’s American Museum, which showcases wax figures.
After struggling to make his new business work, Barnum’s children tell him that instead of featuring wax figures, he needs to have characters who are “alive.” Barnum likes the idea and begins searching for and hiring “freaks” to serve as performers. As he is rounding up his new cast of characters, Barnum sings the unique and mesmerizing song, Come Alive.
As Barnum’s new show gains popularity in New York, a reporter for the New York Herald is highly critical of Barnum and his “freak show.” The reporter’s columns about Barnum and his show stir up trouble among certain people in the community, including the upper-class members of the community.
To enhance his reputation with the upper-class, Barnum convinces Philip Carlisle, a local playwright from a wealthy family, to join him in his business. To raise Barnum’s status, Carlisle arranges a trip to Europe for Barnum and his cast of characters to meet Queen Victoria.
I’ve written before about how I was involved in music during my high school and college years. When I was a senior in high school, I formed a barbershop quartet with three of my friends. I did the same thing in college. While my high school quartet had a limited number of performances, my college quartet performed at several community functions and events.
I’ve always been a big fan of quartets and other a cappella groups. One of the groups that I currently pay attention to is Home Free, an American a cappella singing group that consists of five young men. Home Free got its big break in 2013, when it won a competition on the NBC television show, The Sing-Off. The grand prize that year was $100,000, plus a recording contract with Sony.
Last month, Home Free performed at the Peoria Civic Center. Georgette and I attended the show with some friends. My favorite Home Free song is How Great Thou Art. The music video of the song is posted on YouTube. The video has generated more than 13 million views.
In the video, the group is standing on a hill that is surrounded by several hundred acres of land. The scenery in the background includes cascading slopes and mountains. The beautiful harmony of the group is matched by the gorgeous land that surrounds them. The only building in the video is a small country church, which shows up in a field near the end of the video.
I have the video saved on an iPad that sits on a stand on my bathroom counter. Ordinarily, when I’m in the bathroom in the morning getting ready for work, I use the iPad to play educational, self-improvement, or religious recordings. In the evening while I’m getting ready for bed, I usually use the iPad to listen to music.
My son, Harry, and his wife Kathryn live about five minutes away from where my wife and I live. Because they live so close to us, they’re able to stop by our house to visit on a regular basis. Whenever they stop by for a visit, their two oldest sons, Harry and Liam, immediately start looking around the house for me. Harry is 5 years old and Liam is 3 years old.
It doesn’t happen very often, but every once in a while, I complain directly to God about something that’s bothering me. Last week, my frustration with an ongoing issue finally got to the point that one of my thoughts went up to God in the form of a question: Why can’t you just have an angel appear to me in a dream and tell me what to do? I’m tired of playing these cat and mouse games where I’m always struggling to try to figure out what I should do.
Of course, I immediately felt guilty about addressing God in this manner. Who did I think I was? A prophet? King Solomon? Saint Joseph?
But I get extremely frustrated at times, because while I want to do the right thing, I often feel as though I need specific direction from God. Although I’ve always been good at solving problems, I don’t like it when I have to wait on God to reveal pieces of the puzzle that are needed to solve the problem I’m struggling with.
I’m convinced that one of the primary reasons God operates this way is to teach me the virtues of humility and patience. If He sent an angel to tell me how to solve my problems, I wouldn’t need to learn and practice humility and patience. I would simply wait for instructions from the angel and then take credit for being a special child of God.
Most of us fail to realize that in order to really be humble, we must first suffer humiliations. And we must accept whatever humiliations that come our way with love and gratitude. While humility is the most important of all virtues, the virtue of patience has to be among the top five virtues. Why? Because it’s so difficult to put into practice.
Last week, I wrote about the three grades of patience, which are, to bear difficulties without interior complaint, to use hardships to make progress in virtue, and to desire the cross and afflictions out of love for God and accept them with spiritual joy. It would be impossible to put the three grades of patience into practice if we were to try to do it without God’s assistance.
Last week, I wrote about a couple who was having financial problems because of the husband’s inability to work. Here’s what I wrote at the end of the article:
I’ve been a lawyer for more than 35 years. I’ve dealt with hundreds of couples who, after years of marriage, are facing an unexpected crisis. You would think that after being married for 20 or more years, married couples would be more patient and forgiving of each other than they were when they were newly married. But that’s usually not the case. The fact that they’ve spent years together seems to somehow inhibit their ability to practice real patience and forgiveness toward each other.
Instead of being patient and forgiving, they’re extremely frustrated and angry with each other. Why?
When couples get married, there’s always great hope for the future. With that hope comes the expectation that they will be able to work out all their problems. There is also an expectation that they will someday be able to overcome whatever bad habits or deficiencies they have.
Unfortunately, as each year passes, nothing really changes. Husbands and wives stop making the effort that is required to please each other. It’s almost as if they’ve been through too much together. They’re worn out and exhausted. They’ve run out of patience.
I’ve written before about a saying that is common in the business world: “Familiarity breeds contempt.” This saying stands for the proposition that the more familiar you are with a person, the more contemptible that person becomes.
Over time, as people in the business world become more familiar with each other, their defects and weaknesses become more evident. They are exposed to and become tired of each other’s excuses, bad habits, broken promises, lack of respect, mood swings, angry outbursts, and lack of appreciation. Before long, their patience wears thin, and the slightest infraction causes them to treat each other with contempt.
Last week, I had an appointment with a man — I’ll call him Jim — who hired me eight months ago to represent him on a personal injury case. As usual, Jim brought his wife with him to the appointment. I’ve met with Jim and his wife on four occasions over the past eight months. Jim was injured when a large truck disregarded a stop sign and collided with his vehicle in the middle of an intersection. Because of his injuries, Jim has not been able to return to work. He’s been without an income for eight months.
Jim and his wife are in their late 30s. He’s a skilled tradesman who has been a member of a trade union for more than 20 years. Jim has never had any problem finding work, primarily because he is willing to travel to other states to work, when necessary. Since the accident, Jim’s financial situation has become progressively worse. He has had to borrow money to support his wife and children, and he also recently cashed in part of his retirement, so he could keep up with his bills.
Prior to the accident, Jim’s wife did not work outside the home. A few months after the accident, she felt that she had no other choice but to get a job, so she applied for and secured a job at a local business.
Each of the times I’ve met with Jim, he’s been upbeat and happy. He’s an intelligent, good-natured person who likes to talk and tell stories. His wife has come to all his appointments and has always been courteous and friendly — until last week.
Last week, when I entered the conference room to meet with them, Jim was the same as he’s always been, but his wife was quiet and had an angry look on her face. Her demeanor indicated to me that she and Jim either argued on the way to my office, or she was fed up with his situation.
I talked to Jim about his condition and he indicated to me that he was still receiving physical therapy three times a week. He said that he probably wasn’t going to be able to return to work for at least another 10 to 12 months. He told me that before the accident, he worked at the same trade for 20 years.
Every year during the Christmas Season, there are articles published that are critical of the song, Mary Did You Know. As expected, in early December, Fr. Robert McTeigue, SJ, published an article with the title, “The Problem With ‘Mary Did You Know.’” In the article, Fr. McTeigue criticized the following lyrics: “Did you know that your Baby Boy has come to make you new? This Child that you delivered will soon deliver you.”
Fr. McTeigue’s complaint was that the lyrics imply that Mary was a sinner who needed to be delivered from her sins. This is contrary to Catholic doctrine which states that Mary was preserved free from all stain of original sin from the moment of her immaculate conception, which allowed her to be a pure vessel in which the Son of God could be conceived and born without ever having come into contact with sin.
Another article that was published before Christmas stated that the song implies that Mary was not fully aware that she was the mother of God. The article went on to say that anyone who is familiar with the Bible knows that Mary possessed knowledge that she was the Mother of God, not only because of the Angel Gabriel’s announcement (Luke 1:26-56), but also because of her “song of praise” — known as “The Magnificat” — which indicated that she was aware of her role in the salvation of mankind. Here are the first two sentences of the Magnificat:
My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his handmaid. For behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed; for he who is mighty, has done great things for me and holy is his name. (Luke 1:46-49)
Whenever I read anything about the life of Mary, I think about a book that I read in the early 1980s, while I was in law school. The title of the book was, The Life of The Blessed Virgin Mary. The content for the book was taken from the recorded visions of the well-known 19th-century Catholic mystic, Venerable Anne Catherine Emmerich (1774 – 1824).
When I was a boy, one of my favorite movies was The Great Escape, which included several great actors, such as Steve McQueen, James Garner, James Coburn, and Charles Bronson.
The movie is about a group of men who are being held as prisoners during World War II. The men are all sent to a new prison camp that has been constructed by the Nazi’s specifically for them. The prisoners have one thing in common – they all previously escaped from other prison camps and were recaptured. The new prison camp is “escape proof” and has the best guards in the German army.
The movie is based on a true story and is about an escape that eventually takes place from the “escape proof” prison camp. About half way through the movie, the guards discover a tunnel that the prisoners have been digging.
After the discovery, one of the prisoners who placed all of his hope in escaping through the tunnel “cracks up” and runs up to the barbed wire fence in broad daylight and starts climbing the fence in an attempt to escape. This is done in front of several guards who then shoot and kill him.
I thought about the movie recently when I read an article about Admiral James Stockdale, the man who was Ross Perot’s running mate in the 1992 U.S. general election. Admiral Stockdale died about four years ago. When he was in his prime, Stockale was the president of the Naval War College and was the highest ranking officer in the “Hanoi Hilton” during the Viet Nam war. The “Hanoi Hilton” was the place where prisoners of war were taken and tortured. Stockdale spent eight years as a prisoner of war and was routinely tortured by his captors.
Thomas Barnett, the author of the books The Pentagon’s New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-first Century and Great Powers: America and the World After Bush, provided these insights into Admiral Stockdale’s keen sense of reality:
A few definitions from Webster’s Dictionary:
Judeo-Christian – Having historical roots in both Judaism and Christianity.
Judaism – (a) A religion developed among the ancient Hebrews and characterized by belief in one transcendent God who has revealed himself to Abraham, Moses, and the Hebrew prophets and by a religious life in accordance with Scriptures and rabbinic traditions; (b) the cultural, social, and religious beliefs and practices of the Jews.
Christianity – The religion derived from Jesus Christ, based on the bible as sacred scripture, and professed by Eastern, Roman Catholic, and Protestant bodies.
Values – Something (as a principle or quality) intrinsically valuable or desirable.
Since its founding, the United States of America has been known for its Judeo-Christian values. Those values, as exemplified by the majority of Americans, came shining through last week after the earthquake in Haiti.
I reviewed a 34 page (small print) list of countries that have provided aid to Haiti, and the United States puts all of the other countries to shame. Not only has there been hundreds of millions of dollars sent to Haiti from our federal government, churches, individuals, celebrities, corporations, and other organizations, we have also provided assistance by sending over our volunteers, doctors, and military.
In the first week alone, in addition to over $160 million in aid, the United States sent:
• 3,500 soldiers from the Army;
• 2,200 Marines, along with three ships that can produce purified water – the USS Bataan, the USS Fort McHenry, and the USS Carter Hall;
• 4,000 sailors aboard the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier, USS Vinson, which has 19 helicopters on board, can produce purified water, and is equipped with 3 operating rooms and dozens of hospital beds;
Last year an organization based in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Mission: Readiness – Military Leaders for Kids, published a report with the title, “Ready, Willing and Unable to Serve.” I don’t know the date that the report was formally published because it didn’t give a date of publication. All it had was a copyright of 2009.
At the beginning of the report there was a message that was signed by seven retired generals of the U.S Army, one of which was Henry “Hugh” Shelton, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In the message, the generals stated:
“Unfortunately, many young people who want to join the military cannot. In fact, the Pentagon is reporting that 75 percent of all young adults ages 17 – 24 in America are unable to join the military. Too many young men and women lack a high school diploma, are in poor physical shape, or have a criminal record.
The United States military must continue to insist on rigorous eligibility standards because it needs competent, healthy and educated individuals to staff the world’s most professional and technologically advanced military. If we want to ensure that we have a strong, capable fighting force for the future, we need America’s youth to succeed academically, graduate from high school, be fit, and obey the law.”
The report quoted various experts and referenced studies from Michigan and Pennsylvania to support its conclusion that “quality early education,” starting with preschool, is the strongest factor in contributing toward increased graduation rates and reduced criminal activity. In support of its findings, the report stated:
“The first years of life build the foundation for what comes later. The ‘school readiness skills’ are more than just learning the ABC’s or learning how to count. Young children also need to learn to share, wait their turn, follow directions, and build relationships. This is when children begin to develop a conscience – differentiating right from wrong – and when they start learning to stick with a task until it is completed.”
On New Year’s day (in the evening), my wife and I went to the theatre and saw the movie Avatar. I wanted to see it after observing its meteoric rise in popularity (and sales), not only in the United States, but all over the world.
According to news reports, Avatar generated over a billion dollars in revenue during the first 17 days after its release, with ticket sales in the United States and Canada totaling $352.1 million and international ticket sales totaling $670.2 million.
No other film has ever reached a billion dollars in gross revenue in such a short period of time, and only 4 other films have generated over a billion dollars in total revenue: Titanic, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, and The Dark Knight.
So what is it that has made Avatar one of the top 5 films of all time? How is it that James Cameron, the writer, director, and producer of Avatar, is the only person who has ever directed two films that grossed over a billion dollars in revenue (Avatar and Titanic)?
A word of warning. If you haven’t seen Avatar, you may not want to read the rest of this article. In order for me to get my point across, I’m going to have to give away the ending of the movie.
Avatar is a science fiction film that is set in the year 2154. It starts out with a former marine by the name of Jake Scully being asked to travel to Pandora, which is an earth-like moon of the planet Polyphemus. Pandora is inhabited by the Na’vi tribe, which is made up of blue-skinned aliens that resemble humans, but are much taller and stronger, and possess cat-like tails and ears.
There are two villains in the movie: Parker Selfridge, a representative of the RDA Corporation, an American mining company that is stationed on Pandora to mine the unique and highly profitable underground mineral “unobtainium,” and Colonel Miles Quaritch, the head of a security company that has put together an army of former members of the military to protect the mining company and, if necessary, use military force to remove natives who stand in the way of mining operations.
Last week, on Christmas Eve morning, David Myers, the 21 year old son of one of our weekly adorers, Ceil Myers, died as a result of an auto accident. David was home from college for the holidays. He was due to graduate from college this coming semester, and scheduled to begin medical school in the fall.
There is rarely a time when there is greater suffering then when a loved one is unexpectedly taken from you, with no warning or time to prepare. It could happen to any of us, and it would start with a knock on the door or a telephone call that would forever change the direction of our lives.
My first experience with a sudden unexpected death was when I was 13 years old. I was sitting in the family room at home watching television with a couple of my brothers, and my dad came into the room and told us that he had just received word that one of our cousins, Tommy LaHood, was in the hospital. We turned off the television and knelt down and prayed a Rosary for Tommy. At that time, we were not aware that he had already died as a result of an accident. He was 11 years old when he died.
The following day (in the evening) my parents and I went over to my cousin’s house to visit with his family. I went with my parents because I was good friends with Tommy and his older brother, Harry. While my parents were in the house, Harry and I sat outside on lawn chairs in the front yard. I tried to keep a conversation going, but there were several times when he stopped talking, put his hands over his face, and started crying. Every time he cried he told me, “Harry, I hope this never happens to you.” There was nothing I could do or say to comfort him.
A couple of years ago, some friends of our family lost their college age son when he was killed in an automobile accident. The son had everything going for him. He was good looking, intelligent, charming, and fun to be with. On top of that, he had great love and affection for his parents and sisters. One morning at around 5 a.m., there was a knock on the door of his parents’ house. It was someone from the coroner’s office who had driven out to the house to deliver the bad news.