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).
About ten years ago, my wife and I attended a marketing conference featuring Mike Vance as one of the speakers. When Vance was a young man, he was a personal friend and associate of Walt Disney. Vance, who is now in his eighties, was the founder of the Creative Thinking Association of America.
During his speech, Vance talked about the creative genius of Walt Disney. He told a story about the Blue Bayou – a restaurant that was built by Disney inside Disneyland in California and later replicated at Disney World in Florida. He told of how the restaurant was designed with a theme that captured the spirit of both New Orleans and the Louisiana bayou country which is made up of “shadowy swamps.”
Since no shadowy swamp is complete without fireflies darting around, Disney insisted that the dark atmosphere of the restaurant include specialized blinking lights that would appear to the customers as fireflies. In addition to the fireflies, in order to replicate the distinctive aromas lingering in the air of old New Orleans, the aroma of fresh coffee was circulated through the restaurant’s air conditioning system. In the background, Disney wanted customers to hear “the distinctive sounds of crickets chirping and a lone banjo picking out a lazy melody in the distance.”
Vance noted that although a customer visiting the Blue Bayou restaurant may not be consciously aware of everything that was going on, by being surrounded by such an environment, the customer would feel as though he or she had been transported into a different place and time.
Everywhere people turn at Disneyland or Disney World, there are different experiences that capture their imaginations and take them to a different place and time. That’s why almost every person who visits a Disney theme park eventually returns. From a business standpoint, it’s been a brilliant strategy that has virtually guaranteed 100% customer retention and has generated huge corporate profits.
As you may know, Georgette and I have seven children – one boy and six girls. Our son, Harry, was born in 1981, ten months after we were married. Anna was born twenty-two months later, and Maria was born on Harry’s third birthday. We had an instant family – three babies in three years.
Our girls learned at an early age how to get what they wanted out of Harry. They also knew exactly which hot buttons to push to irritate him if he didn’t cooperate with them. One day in the late 1980’s when Harry was about seven years old, he got into an argument with Anna. Harry said what he wanted to say and then tried to end the conversation. Since Anna wasn’t done talking yet, she continued to drive home her point which caused Harry to become angry. She also made some comments that were offensive to him. Harry finally had enough and yelled, “I hate you!”
I was in another room when I heard Harry’s comment. I walked into the room he was in and said, “Harry you don’t really hate her do you?” His response was, “Yes, I do hate her.” At that point, I asked him if he could explain to me what the meaning of “hate” was. He was unable to come up with a satisfactory answer so I told him to go look it up in the dictionary, write out the definition on a sheet of paper, and then bring the paper to me so we could discuss what he found out.
Later in the evening, Harry approached me with his handwritten definition of “hate.” There were several different short definitions, including one that defined hate as “violent dislike.” We talked about the importance of showing respect for others and why we need to be careful about what words we use when communicating with others. I explained to him that regardless of how frustrated or angry he might get in the future, he was not allowed to ever tell any of his sisters that he hated them.
When I was 12 years old, I took over a paper route delivering newspapers for the Peoria Journal Star. Every day, I picked up the newspapers at Stafford’s Dairy, which was located about 6 blocks from my parents’ home.
There was a boy my age who periodically hung out in the parking lot of Stafford’s dairy, where he smoked cigarettes and caused trouble. His name was Rick. Shortly after I started delivering papers, Rick started picking on me. He would get in my face and cuss at me, and when I tried to walk away, he would start pushing me and daring me to fight him. Although I was strong for my age, I didn’t feel that I had the fighting skills to take him on. Consequently, each time he became confrontational, I acted as though his actions didn’t bother me and got away from him as quickly as possible.
In order to avoid seeing Rick, I eventually started varying the times I arrived at Stafford’s Dairy to pick up the newspapers. To say that I hated him is an understatement. Unfortunately, the only time I was ever willing to fight him was in my imagination, which was on a regular basis. Of course, in my imaginary fights, I always pulverized him.
After I gave up my route, I didn’t see Rick again until I started high school. Although we attended the same high school, we didn’t have any classes together. By then, he was into drugs and hung around students I wasn’t associated with. I don’t ever remember crossing paths with him at the school. I’m not sure he even knew I was a student at the same school. He eventually dropped out and I never saw him again.
When I learned that Rick had dropped out of school, I was disappointed. I had started lifting weights when I was in 8th grade, and joined the wrestling team my freshman year. Although I wasn’t a very good wrestler my first year, everything fell into place my sophomore year and I ended the season with only one loss (on points rather than by being pinned to the mat). I had looked forward to the day when I could finish what Rick had started, but he ruined my plans by dropping out of school.
As you may know, the Broadway show, Wicked, played in Peoria from October 12th through October 30th. When tickets went on sale a few months ago, I bought tickets for me, Georgette, and our three youngest daughters, Mary, Christine and Teresa. Tickets ranged in price from $42 to $127. I got by “cheap” by purchasing the $42 (second balcony) tickets for a total cost of $210..
When we arrived for the show at the Civic Center Theatre on Friday evening, October 28th, there were several vendors’ booths that were set up to sell promotional shirts, jackets, CD’s, and other popular Wicked merchandise. The girls decided they wanted to buy shirts so we ended up standing in line for about 10 minutes. As we approached the counter, we learned that the price of a simple T-shirt with the word “Wicked” printed on it was $35. The prices of the other shirts were higher depending on the style, color, fabric, size of lettering, etc.
Of course, each of the girls bought a shirt as a “memory” of the evening. I tried to talk them out of “wasting” their money, but was unsuccessful. I even offered to buy T-shirts at Wal-Mart and handwrite the word “Wicked” on each of the shirts with a Sharpie marker. They looked at me like I was an alien from Mars and politely refused my offer. They wanted the real thing.
The guy behind the counter was courteous, patient, and knowledgeable. As the girls were looking through the shirts and asking questions, I asked the guy if he paid for the Wicked sweatshirt he was wearing. With a surprised look on his face he said, “What’d you say?” I asked him the same question again. He responded that he traveled with the troupe from city to city and his job was to sell merchandise. Prior to him answering my question, I had assumed that he was a local resident, but wondered how the Wicked team was able to find such a good temporary employee.