July

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).

July 26, 2014

Aggressive Behavior, Anger, and Trust

AngerOne evening during the summer of 2005, I called one of my clients and asked him if he would come over to my house to fix a problem with my plumbing.  His name was Jim, and at that time he was in his mid-50s.  We had done business with each other since the early 1990s.  I was originally introduced to Jim by another client who owned several rental properties and had hired Jim to work on his properties.

Jim drove an extended van that was loaded with miscellaneous plumbing and electrical supplies.  He also had every tool you could think of packed inside his van.  Stacked on top of the van were ladders and pipes that were secured to a rack that was attached to the van.  Jim was tall, rugged, independent, and rough around the edges.  It seemed as though every time I saw him, he had a two-inch cigar hanging out of his mouth.

Jim had inspected my house before I purchased it in 1999, and had come to the house on several occasions to fix various problems that had arisen.  On that summer evening when he arrived at my house, he walked through the garage and into the kitchen.  As soon as he saw me, he bellowed, “Who owns that Mazda that’s parked in your driveway?”  I answered, “My son Harry just bought that car.  Why are you asking?  Was it in your way?”

Jim glared at Harry who was standing near the kitchen sink, and yelled, “What-do-ya-think you’re doing buying a Japanese car?  Haven’t you ever heard of Pearl Harbor?  Don’t you know that when you buy one of those cars you’re contributing to the loss of American jobs?”

By the time Jim finished his questions, he was standing in front of Harry, towering over him.  Harry, who at that time was 24 years old, looked at Jim in stunned disbelief.  Before he had time to respond, I said, “Hey Jim.  This younger generation doesn’t have the same beliefs about foreign companies that you and I have.  They weren’t around during the 1970s when Japan invaded our country with their small, gas-efficient cars.”

July 19, 2014

Modern-Day Advice from a 13th-Century Saint

Thomas AquinasLast week, I wrote about how an adorer (“Tony”) had criticized me because of an article that I had written about Amazon.com and its founder, Jeff Bezos.  Tony provided several reasons why I (and other Catholics) should refuse to do business with Amazon, one of which is that “Amazon distributes pornography.”  Here’s how I responded to the comment about the pornography issue:

I’m not sure what Tony is referring to when he says that Amazon “distributes pornography.”  My assumption is that he may be referring to some of the books and DVDs that are offered for sale on Amazon, or he may be referring to a service that Amazon offers that allows businesses to rent space on Amazon’s servers (computer hardware) to store videos that are delivered through the businesses’ websites.

I’ll be commenting more on this next week, but I noticed that Tony’s email address is hosted by Comcast, a company that acts as a conduit for millions of users who, because of Comcast, are able to access pornography over the Internet.  Without Comcast and other similar service providers, no one would be able to order products or access photographs or video content over the Internet.

I could easily argue that having an account with Comcast is a more egregious offense than ordering products from Amazon, since the monthly subscription payments that are made to Comcast help to fund the transfer of pornography to end users.

The relevant question that needs to be answered is: What are the standards that Catholics should be following when dealing with companies who in some way support pornography, contraception, gay marriage, abortion, or any other modern-day evil?  I’ll answer this question next week.

In his literary work, Summa Theologiae, St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) outlined an ethical formula that an individual is allowed to use to determine whether a certain action is permissible, even though there may be unintended consequences that are morally evil.  The formula that Aquinas spelled out is commonly referred to as the “principle of double effect.”

July 12, 2014

Criticism From An Adorer

Amazon-frustration-freeWhen I started my law practice in 1983, there was an office supply store named Kellstedts that was located about four blocks from my office in downtown, Peoria.  All of the offices that were located downtown bought their office supplies from Kellstedts.

After I set up an account at Kellstedts, the salesperson who was assigned to my account stopped by my office to introduce herself.  After that, she stopped by my office at least once a month with a catalog and a printout of previous orders.  She was cheerful, courteous, and grateful every time I ordered supplies.  She always delivered the supplies within a few days of my order.

During the 1990s, Office Depot and OfficeMax opened “big-box stores” in the Peoria area.  At the same time, a couple of large regional warehouse office supply stores opened and sent out huge catalogs full of every imaginable item that could be used in an office.  By then, UPS had expanded its operations so products could be delivered within two or three days of ordering from the regional supply stores.  Sometime during that time period, because of the competition from the big-box stores and the regional supply stores, Kellstedts closed its downtown office.

After Kellstedts closed, most of the supplies for my office were ordered from Quill, a regional warehouse office supply store that was located in Lincolnshire, Illinois.  Although we still order most of our basic supplies from Quill, such as copy paper, file folders, pens, etc., anytime I need something for myself, the first place I go to is Amazon.com.

Amazon allows me to easily search for and research any item that I want to purchase, and since Amazon allows its customers to post comments about products, a quick reading of the comments gives me a clear understanding of the product and whether or not it’s worth purchasing.  Since I’m an “Amazon Prime” member, most of the products that I order arrive at my office within two days.  If I agree to pay an additional four dollars, I can have the product delivered the day after I order.

July 9, 2014

A Lesson From Amazon.com

If you use the Internet to shop for items, there’s a good chance you’ve purchased products from Amazon.com. With 96 fulfillment centers located throughout the United States, Amazon is a financial threat to a number of local and national businesses. Products that are ordered from Amazon are routinely delivered to customers’ doorsteps within one to three days.

In addition to having a national presence, after five years of testing its “AmazonFresh” grocery program in Seattle, Amazon is expanding its local grocery business to Los Angeles and San Francisco. The AmazonFresh grocery program guarantees same-day delivery of groceries and 500,000 other items to customers in its local service areas. If you think Wal-Mart has been a destructive force to local businesses, wait until you see the companies Amazon crushes as it launches its local grocery program in other areas of the country.

In a recent annual report to shareholders, Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO of Amazon, wrote:

Our battle against annoying wire ties and plastic clamshells [packaging] rages on. An initiative that began five years ago with a simple idea that you shouldn’t have to risk bodily injury opening your new electronics or toys has now grown. We have imposed Amazon’s specs on over 200,000 products, all available in easy-to-open, recyclable packaging designed to alleviate “wrap rage” … We have over 2,000 manufacturers in our Frustration-Free Packaging Program … Through hard work and perseverance, an idea that started with only 19 products is now available on hundreds of thousands …

Jeff Bezos has followed in the footsteps of other legendary American entrepreneurs, such as Thomas Edison (the lightbulb), Walt Disney (Walt Disney World), Sam Walton (Wal-Mart), Steve Jobs (the iPhone), Ray Kroc (McDonalds), and Henry Ford (the Model T Ford). They, like Bezos, were all obsessed with managing and controlling even the most minute details of the typical customer experience.

July 6, 2014

A Good Day for a Rebellion

NYT AdOn Thursday (July 3, 2014), three days after the Supreme Court ruling in the Hobby Lobby case, the atheist organization, Freedom from Religion Foundation, ran a full-page, anti-Catholic advertisement in The New York Times. The headline of the ad screamed, “Dogma Should Not Trump Our Civil Liberties.” The sub-headline declared: “All-Male, All-Roman Catholic Majority on Supreme Court Puts Religious Wrongs Over Women’s Rights.”

The ad included the following quote from Margaret Sanger, the anti-Catholic founder of Planned Parenthood: “No woman can call herself free who does not own and control her body.” Missing from the ad was another quote from Sanger that revealed her prejudice toward minorities: “Birth control will lead ultimately to a cleaner race.”

In 2012, because of concern that an ad was offensive to Muslims, The New York Times refused to print an advertisement that was critical of Islam. There was no such concern about offending Catholics last week when The New York Times agreed to run the anti-Catholic Ad.

Contrary to what the ad implied, the ruling in the Hobby Lobby case was not based on scripture, the Ten Commandments, Catholic tradition, or any rule of the Catholic Church. The ruling was based on the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a law that was passed by both houses of congress and signed by President Clinton in 1993.

The New York Times ad claimed that the Hobby Lobby decision “allow[s] employers to decide what kind of birth control an employee can use.” That statement is an outright lie. The ruling of the court provided that certain employers cannot be legally forced to pay for contraceptive devices or drugs for employees. The court’s ruling had nothing to do with a woman’s right to purchase or otherwise secure her own contraceptive devices or drugs.

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