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 13 years old, a cousin of mine died as a result of a tragic accident. He was 11 years old at the time of his death. The day after he died, my parents and I went over to his parents’ house to visit his family. I went with my parents because I had been a good friend of my cousin and still was a good friend of his older brother.
While my parents were in the house, my cousin’s brother 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 cried. Every time he cried, he said, “Harry, I hope this never happens to you.” There was nothing I could do or say to comfort him.
The following evening I attended the visitation with my parents and some of my brothers and sisters. When it came time to end the visitation and close the casket, the funeral director announced that the family of my cousin was going to stay behind to view the body one final time. When all the friends and other relatives of the family left the room, I stayed behind and walked up to the casket with the parents, sister, and brothers of my cousin.
My cousin’s mother stood in front of his open casket for an extended period of time. Tears flowed down her face as she looked at her son for the last time. As she was getting ready to leave, she put her hand on his chest and bent down and kissed his cheek. After she kissed him, I heard her whisper, “Rest in peace, rest in peace, rest in peace.”
She kept saying it over and over through her tears: “Rest in peace, rest in peace.” She didn’t know what else to say. My uncle lovingly placed his hand on my aunt’s shoulder and said, “We should probably go now.” She slowly turned away from the casket and allowed her husband to lead her out of the funeral home. The rest of us silently followed them.
I’ve previously shared some of my experiences in growing up in a family of 17 children. All of my brothers and sisters are still living, except for Kathryn Mary, my parents’ 15th child. At the time of her death, Kathryn was 13 months old.
Kathryn was born on September 13, 1972. Within a couple of days of her birth, her doctors discovered that she had Down syndrome and a heart defect that was going to eventually need to be corrected with open heart surgery. Unfortunately, she never got to a point where she had enough strength and stamina to withstand a surgery. She was so weak that she was never able to turn herself over or crawl around on the floor. She gained very little weight during the 13 months that she was with us.
Kathryn died in the early afternoon of October19, 1973. At that time, I was 16 years old and was a sophomore in high school. I knew something was wrong when I came home from school that day because my dad’s car was parked in the driveway. There was no reason for him to be home from work at that time.
When my brothers and sisters and I walked into the house, my dad gathered us together and told us that Kathryn had passed away earlier in the afternoon. He told us that Mom was in our parents’ bedroom holding Kathryn, and that she was having trouble accepting Kathryn’s death.
I don’t remember how many of us went into the bedroom to see Mom, but when I went in, she was still holding Kathryn in her arms. She was refusing to acknowledge that Kathryn had died. She kept saying that Kathryn was only sleeping and that she would wake up soon.
Kathryn’s death was not unexpected. There was one evening earlier in the year when she had died and was brought back to life when my oldest sister, Mary, administered mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. After that, Kathryn had slowly gotten worse. As a family, we had prayed that she would be miraculously cured, but our prayers were never answered.
About 15 years ago, I met a couple whose 20-year-old daughter was instantly killed when her car was hit by a train. She died five minutes after she walked out of her parents’ home. She was on her way to class at Illinois Central College. When she left the house, her mother told her goodbye and told her that she looked beautiful.
The young college student obviously had not seen the train prior to crossing the railroad tracks. She lived with her parents in a rural area and there were no flashing lights or gates that came down when a train was approaching.
When I met the parents, the father of the girl seemed like he was getting along alright, but the mother was still completely numb. Even though it had been more than a year since the accident, the mother continued to visit her daughter’s gravesite every day. Most days, she would spend more than an hour at the cemetery crying.
About eight years ago, a young man whom I knew died from an aneurism in his brain. At the time of his death, he was in his early 20s. His mother had so much trouble dealing with his death that she was put on medication to help her cope. The last I heard, she was still taking medication to manage the ongoing depression that was caused by the death of her son.
Whenever I think of the fifth of the Seven Sorrows of Mary, the death of Jesus on the cross, I think of the two women I just mentioned. If you ask a mother about a child she has lost, regardless of the amount of time that has passed, she cannot help but relive the suffering she experienced when her child died.
We know from Saint John that Mary was at the foot of the cross when her Son was crucified: “Meanwhile, standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala.” John 19:25.
The spring semester of my junior year in college (1978) was the best semester I ever had as a college student. It was also the most challenging. I had a full load of 300-level classes in accounting and business and competition among the students was very tough.
In one of my accounting classes, the teacher routinely assigned as homework 10 of the 60 problems that were provided after each chapter of the textbook. At the beginning of the semester, in order to really learn the materials and gain a competitive edge, I decided that I was going to work through all 60 problems after every chapter. But I had one problem. The answer key for the problems was not available to students, so there was no way for me to know if my answers were correct.
I found out from one of my classmates, a foreign exchange student, that she could order the answer key from Hong Kong, so I gave her the money and two weeks later I had the answer key in my hands. Each time I came up with the wrong answer to a problem, I figured out what I did wrong and reworked the problem. The problems that were used by the teacher for the tests were variations of the 60 problems at the end of each chapter.
During that entire semester, I was at the top of my game. Focused. Motivated. Disciplined. But there was a reason I had my act together. It was because I gave up everything that had sugar in it for Lent. I stopped drinking my favorite daily soft drink (Pepsi), and I stopped eating my favorite daily snacks, which included Hostess Brands’ donuts and apple pies. At that time, I was addicted to sugar. My favorite breakfast cereal was Trix, which had sugar as one of its main ingredients.
As I recall, I had massive cravings for the first three days of Lent. After that, each day got better. Within two weeks, my cravings were gone. In addition to having more energy, my mind was sharper than ever. The biggest change that I noticed was the iron-willed discipline that I developed as a result of denying myself my favorite foods.
You may have heard about the death last month of the actor Philip Seymour Hoffman. He died from an overdose of drugs. I initially heard about Hoffman’s death from my 17-year-old daughter Teresa. Here’s how the conversation unfolded:
Teresa: Dad, did you hear about the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman?
Teresa: Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Harry: Who is Philip Seymour Hoffman?
Teresa: He’s the actor who played Plutarch in the movie Catching Fire.
Harry: Oh, okay. Now I know who you’re talking about.
Teresa then filled me in on the details of how Hoffman had been found dead on the floor of his New York City apartment with a needle sticking out of his arm. He had apparently gone through rehabilitation for his addiction to heroin last summer, but had a relapse several months later. In October, his live-in girlfriend of 14 years kicked him out of the residence they shared with their three children, and he rented a close-by apartment so he could continue to periodically see them.
Hoffman appeared to have everything going for him. He was an accomplished actor who was respected and admired by his fellow actors. He knew he was an addict, and he knew he was destroying himself, but he was unable to exercise the discipline or control that was necessary to deal with and overcome his addiction.
The cravings and urges of his body won out over his mind, emotions, and soul.
You and I have a lot in common with Philip Seymour Hoffman. More often than not, we fail to recognize how pitifully weak we are — physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
Even Jesus talked about our weakened state when He said, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41) He said this after His apostles failed to stay awake and pray with Him for an hour in the garden of Gethsemane.
I’ve written before about how I broke my leg when I was a boy. The events leading up to my broken leg began during the summer of 1967, when I was 10 years old. While holding onto the end of an old rubber garden hose, I climbed the weeping willow tree in the back yard of my parents’ home. When I got about 20 feet high, I climbed out onto a thick branch and tied the end of the hose to the branch.
Of all the summers I went through as a boy, the summer of 1967 was the most memorable. In May of that year, when I turned 10 years old, my dad bought me something I had begged him to get me for three years — a BB gun. That summer, I built a tree house with a friend of mine. My favorite television shows were Tarzan, Zorro, and The Lone Ranger — great shows for a young idealistic boy who wanted to grow up and save the world.
The hose lasted until September 3, 1967. I remember the date because that was the day the hose snapped while I was swinging on it. It happened on a Sunday morning. I got dressed for church early in the day and was in the backyard swinging around like I was Tarzan. When the hose broke, my body was flying sideways through the air. When I hit the ground, I heard the sound of a stick breaking in half. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a stick that broke. It was my left femur (thigh) bone.
I immediately called out to my younger brother Carl who was sitting on one of the branches in the tree: “Go get dad, I think I broke my leg!”
Moments later, my mom and dad came rushing out of the house to see what had happened. Within minutes, my brothers, sisters, and several of the neighborhood kids were all standing in a circle around me watching what was going on like it was a sporting event.
My dad told my oldest brother, Jerry, to run and get a five-foot-long countertop that dad had brought home earlier in the summer from one of his job sites. When Jerry returned with the countertop, dad put it on the ground next to me and he and Jerry gently slid my body onto the countertop. Then they carried me over to the station wagon and, after folding down the second and third seats, slid the countertop (and me) into the back of the station wagon.