February 17, 2018

The Challenge of Being in a Service Business

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.

February 10, 2018

The Death of a Special Christ-Like Priest

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.

February 3, 2018

A Dream & The Greatest Showman

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.

January 27, 2018

Why is That Church in a Music Video?

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.

January 20, 2018

Why Is It So Hard To Practice Patience?

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.

January 13, 2018

The Difficulties That Arise After Years of Marriage

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.

January 6, 2018

Something Married Couples Face After Years of Marriage

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.

December 30, 2017

What Did Mary Really Know?

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).

October 30, 2010

Religion On A Sleeve

A Son and His Father

About 22 years ago, during a discussion with one of my brothers about religion, the issue of devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary came up.  When I tried to point out the reasons why it was important to pray a Rosary every day, my brother got irritated with me and told me he didn’t want to talk about it anymore.

In a final attempt to try to convince him that he should at least make an effort to start praying the Rosary, I said: “Did you know that Jidu prayed the Rosary every day on his way to work?”  He snapped back and said, “Yes, but he didn’t wear his religion on his sleeve like you do!”  I got the message and stopped talking.

My grandparents on both sides of the family were of Lebanese heritage.  In the Lebanese language, a grandfather is referred to as “Jidu.”  When I was growing up, my grandfather (Tom Williams), lived next door to my parents, and to all of his grandchildren he was known as “Jidu.”

Jidu had the instincts and manner of a true warrior: tough; no-nonsense; rugged; fiercely independent.  As a teenager living in Lebanon, he had personally experienced war and hardship.  He once told me that he had to personally bury people he knew who had been killed in the war. 

He was brutally honest and always spoke his mind without any fear of what other people would think or say about him.  He wasn’t afraid of anyone or anything.

Although he was tough and rugged, Jidu had a tender heart and was a fierce defender of his family and friends.  He treated all of his grandchildren like they were his own children.  He was like a second father to all of his grandchildren.

When I was in grade school, every day the school bus dropped me and my brothers and sisters off at Jidu’s house.  Instead of walking home, we usually went into Jidu’s house so we could watch the Mickey Mouse Club on television. 

October 23, 2010

Say Hello To Your New “Friend”

In last week’s article, A Prowler In The House, I threw down the gauntlet and challenged fathers to start conducting surprise inspections of their son’s iPods, cell phones, computers, and other devices.*

After I wrote the article, I kept hearing the same imaginary questions being repeated over and over in my mind: “Yea, right Harry.  How do you expect me to go up to my 16 or 17 year old son and tell him I’m going to conduct a surprise inspection of his laptop and cell phone?  If I don’t have any evidence that he has been accessing inappropriate information, images or videos, how do you expect me to justify my behavior?”  Even though I wasn’t asked any of those questions, I think they still need to be addressed.

If you’ve never monitored your teenage son’s use of his computer or other electronic devices, and you have no reason to suspect him, it’s probably not a good idea to start demanding that he turn over the devices to you for inspection.  You’re in a much better position to establish rules and guidelines if your son has not yet acquired an iPod or Smartphone, or gotten into the routine of accessing the internet.  If that is the case, before he is allowed to use email, the internet, an iPod, or another electronic device, he needs to be told that you are going to be monitoring his activity, which means he has to provide you with login ID’s and passwords to his electronic devices and online accounts.  In most cases, you’re the one who is going to be paying for those devices, so you have every right to make his use of the devices subject to your rules.

The task of monitoring your son’s digital and online activities becomes more difficult if he’s already been given the freedom to use his computer (and other devices) without your oversight.  If you walk up to him and announce that you’re going to start poking around on his computer, his response will most likely be: “What’s gotten into you dad?  Why do you want to check my laptop?  Don’t you trust me?  What’s going on?  Who have you been talking to?  You don’t trust me do you?” 

October 16, 2010

A Prowler In The House

About 10 years ago I stopped by another attorney’s office to talk to him about a case we were working on together.  After we were finished discussing the case, I asked him how his two sons were doing.  He responded by telling me that he had recently caught his 18 year old son viewing pornography on the internet.  I asked him how he handled the situation and he said he told his son it was “silly” for him to be looking at pornographic pictures and videos on the internet.

I told him I thought his approach was too cavalier and that he needed to be more assertive about the dangers of pornography.  He wasn’t interested in hearing my opinion.  His attitude was that it was simply a phase his son was going through.  I had anticipated that he would not be open to my suggestions.  He grew up in the Catholic faith, but had been out of the Church for several years.  A year or so prior to our conversation, he had divorced his wife so he could marry another woman.

When I was a teenager (in the 1970’s), my dad happened to stumble upon a magazine I had that contained some inappropriate content.  After asking me where it came from (a friend) and whether I had any other similar magazines in the house, he proceeded to give me a firm lecture that referenced the teachings of the Church and the importance of maintaining purity at all times.  There was nothing said about how “silly” I was for having the magazine in my possession. 

After my dad was done talking, he told me: “Now I want you to go out into the field and burn it.”  I was thrown off  by his command and replied, “You want me to burn it?”   Without hesitation, he responded, “Yes, I want you to burn it, so go get some matches and do it now.”

So there I was 5 minutes later in the field (next to the side of the house) tearing the magazine apart and burning it.  It was starting to get dark, so I was concerned my mom or some of the neighbors would see me and wander: “What’s Harry doing?  Why is he burning that magazine?”  (I had asked my dad not to say anything about the magazine to my mom.)  It was an extremely humiliating experience for me. 

October 9, 2010

The Ability To Avoid Surrender

Earlier this year in an article I wrote entitled Ambushed By My Cousin, I told you I was going to write 3 articles about how to raise boys into responsible Catholic men.  The articles were going to be entitled: (1) Hammerheads, Bricks & Challengers; (2) A Prowler In The House; and (3) Religion On A Sleeve

My plan for the first article was to discuss how most boys have a tendency toward laziness and how critically important is to get them working at an early age.  After I started writing the first article, I realized I wasn’t going to be able to cover what needed to be said in only one article, so I ended up writing 5 separate articles: (1) Hammerheads, Bricks & Challengers; (2) Transforming Boys Into Men; (3) Walk Like A Matador; (4) Lombardi Time; and (5) A Replaceable Commodity.

If I would have been around and written those same (or similar) articles 90 or 100 years ago, most people would have been insulted and wondered why I was wasting my time telling them something they already knew (and practiced).  One hundred years ago it was a necessity (and a way of life) for children to start working at an early age – either on the family farm, a neighbor’s farm, or for a local business.  Children were expected to start working at a young age and were often required to turn over their wages to their parents to help pay for the household expenses.

A week after I wrote Walk Like A Matador, my uncle Harry LaHood called me on the telephone and told me he had read the article.  Although he didn’t specifically remember the incident I described in the article, he had a very clear memory of when he first realized the importance of walking fast while working.  He said it happened when he was 6 years old, after he started working at a grocery store that was owned by his mom’s brother, Tony Couri. 

October 2, 2010

A Replaceable Commodity

When I was a junior in college, I got into a discussion with my dad about the role of large companies in America.  I remember the conversation like it was yesterday.  We were standing in the kitchen at my parents’ home and I told him I believed that one of the primary responsibilities of large companies was to provide employment for individuals.  He looked at me like I was a two headed creature from outer space and said, “You’re not going to get anywhere in life with that attitude.” 

When I started to defend my position, he cut me off and said: “As an employee, your job is to make a profit for the owners of the company you work for.  They didn’t start a business so they could hand out jobs to people.  They started a business to make money.  What are they teaching you at that college anyway?”

As I stood there thinking about what he said, he added: “And let me tell you something else.  Don’t ever forget that when you’re working for a company, you can be replaced in a heartbeat.  You’re replaceableI’m replaceableEveryone is replaceable.  You should always be thinking of ways to make yourself more valuable to the company so it’s harder for them to replace you.  If you can position yourself as a key employee, there’s a good chance that when times get tough, you’ll stay onboard while others are laid off.  It’s your responsibility to figure out how you can provide more value to the company – over and above what you have been asked to do.”

I had nothing to say in response to my dad’s comments.  He was right.  He knew what he was talking about.  In his early 20’s, he had gone through the carpenter apprenticeship program and became a member of the carpenters union.  By the time he was in his 30’s, he was supervising the construction of hospitals and schools in the Central Illinois area.  When he was in his 40’s, he started and built his own successful construction company with his brother.  He later sold his interest in that company (to his brother), and then started and ran his own construction company for several years.  After the recession of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, he decided to close his business and then went to work for another commercial construction company in Central Illinois.