February

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).

February 27, 2016

A Stressful College Experience

About 20 years ago when I was still doing criminal defense work, one day while I was in court with a client, a man showed up late for his court hearing. When the bailiff told the judge that the man had arrived, the judge told the man that a warrant had been issued for his arrest because he was late for his hearing. The judge then instructed the deputy in the courtroom to arrest the man and book him in the Peoria County jail where he would have to pay a cash bond to be released. Upon his release, he would be given a new date and time to appear in court.

The man complained to the judge that he was late because the courthouse was located in downtown Peoria and he was not familiar with the streets in the downtown area. He also told the judge that he had trouble finding parking.

After listening to what the man had to say, the judge leaned back in his chair and calmly said, “You know, when I was stationed in Korea during the Korean War, it was hard to find parking in downtown Korea. If you go to downtown Chicago, it’s hard to find parking. If you go to the downtown area of most cities, it’s hard to find parking. You’re a grown man. You should know by now that when you go downtown, you’re going to have trouble finding parking. You were more than 30 minutes late for your hearing. I can’t run my courtroom in an orderly fashion if I have people showing up late for their hearings. I’ll bet that the next time you’re supposed to be in court you’ll consider the fact that it’s hard to find parking in downtown Peoria and you’ll leave early enough so you can get here on time.” The judge then told the deputy to take the man away.

I thought about the incident with the judge earlier this month when my daughter Teresa told me about a problem she had with one of her college professors. Teresa is a junior in college. Her problem began after she was assigned a difficult graphic design project to complete.

February 20, 2016

Coping With the Death of a Loved One

Moments TogetherWith the recent death of my father-in-law, I’ve had to fall back on some of the coping skills that I learned and developed when I was younger. I’ve written before about the death of my 13-month-old sister, Kathryn Mary. When she died, I was 15 years old. I’ve also written about the sudden death of my cousin, Tommy LaHood, who died when I was 13. Tommy’s brother, Harry LaHood, passed away when he was 42. Harry and I were the same age and were best friends while we were growing up.

What do you do when someone you love suddenly dies and disappears from your life? How do you deal with the void that is created by their loss? How do you handle the sorrow, grief, guilt, despair, and loneliness?

There are five primary ways that I use to cope with the death of a loved one:

1. Swipe The Image – Sometimes you are left with horrifying images of how a person looked before they died. If the person was hooked up to a machine, was severely injured, or had deteriorated to the point of being almost unrecognizable, the images of the suffering person stay with you for the rest of your life. Those images continue to appear in your head and remind you of the suffering the person went through prior to their death.

It’s common to hear people complain about how the images won’t go away. They say, “I can’t get the way he looked out of my mind. He suffered so much. I wish I never saw him that way.”

The best way to deal with those images is to think of them as having been saved in your memory along with all the positive images of the person. As you know, when you look at images on a smartphone, you can use the tip of your finger to swipe each image away so the next one can be displayed. Your mind has the same ability — you can swipe away negative images of a deceased person and replace them with positive images.

February 13, 2016

Reengineering Your Self Image

Self-TalkI can remember wanting to be a lawyer when I was in 8th grade. At that time, I was 13 years old. I remember lying in bed imagining what it would be like to be a trial lawyer. In my mind’s eye, I could see myself in a courtroom questioning witnesses and arguing my case to a jury. Of course, in my imagination, I was a brilliant and relentless lawyer who won all of my cases.

When I graduated from high school, I still wanted to be a lawyer. In college, I majored in accounting because I wanted to make sure I had a fallback position in case I changed my mind. During my senior year in college, I interned for a Big-8 accounting firm and was offered a full-time position with the firm. I declined the offer because I still wanted to be a lawyer.

After graduating from college, I went on to law school. I got married in June 1980, a month after I completed my first year in law school. Ten months later, my wife and I had our first child.

Despite the commitment associated with getting married and having our first child, I still made it through law school because of the burning desire that I had to become a lawyer. My desire to become a lawyer originally began and was subsequently nurtured by my imagination. That’s where desire always begins and grows — in the imagination.

In order for a person to rise to a level of great achievement, he or she must first possess a burning desire to do so. If a person wants to lose 40 pounds, he or she must possess a burning desire to lose 40 pounds. If a person wants to get straight A’s in school, he or she must possess a burning desire to get A’s in school.

Burning desire is what creates and sustains the ambition, motivation, drive, determination, and discipline that is required to follow through on the actions that are necessary to achieve a difficult goal.

February 6, 2016

Bad Choices = Bad Behavior

ChoicesA couple of years ago, a bankruptcy lawyer I know called to schedule an appointment with me. For the purpose of this article, I’m going to call him “John.”

When John called, he told me that he was having financial problems. He knew from his prior experience with me that I would be able to give him some insight as to what he could do to solve his problems. Since John lived 90 miles away from my office, he had to set aside an entire morning so he could travel to Peoria to meet with me.

When we met, John outlined a grim picture of his financial condition. In addition to owing several thousand dollars to the IRS, he had a significant amount of other debt that he was trying to manage. John was a solo practitioner, and he had one employee who answered the telephone and performed secretarial services for him.

When John and I finished discussing his financial condition, I asked him whether his wife was aware of all the debt that he had accumulated. He replied that she was not aware of the extent of his credit card debt, which exceeded $50,000.

We discussed the advantages and disadvantages of filing bankruptcy, and we both agreed that it would do more harm than good if he were to file. I mapped out a plan for him that included the development and implementation of a direct mail marketing system for his law practice. I chose direct mail because it was the cheapest and most effective marketing tool he could put into place in the shortest period of time.

I told John that his financial situation was like a burning building and that he had to act like a fireman and run as fast as he could toward the building to put out the fire. If he hesitated or ran away from the building, the building would be consumed by fire. It was clear to me that if he didn’t immediately take measures to deal with the raging fire that he was facing, it was going to consume and destroy his law practice and maybe even his marriage.

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