This year we placed our six kids into public school after years of homeschooling. We were scared about the transition, but I knew that they would thrive given each of their personalities.
Imagine my surprise when after two weeks, my first grader, Mia, came home and said that some girl had been taking her stuff every day during the afternoon break. Of course, the litigator in me wanted to track down that spineless grade-schooler and sue her for harassment, intentional infliction of emotional harm, and whatever cause of action I could fathom. But my anger turned to joy when Mia smiled and said in her small meek voice, “But today I stood up to her.”
What if she had never told me about her day? What if a month had gone by and I never learned about the incident? That’s not acceptable for me and it should not be acceptable for you and your children. And so I am inspired to write a list of questions that I can ask my kids every day in order to get to know them (and protect them if necessary). I encourage you to do the same.
- How was your day? (That’s an obvious one!)
- Were you sleepy when you got to school? (Helps us figure out their sleeping patterns.)
- Did you get enough to eat today? (Helps us figure out their nutrition and energy.)
- Did you like your outfit or clothes today? I certainly did. (All little girls need to hear this one!)
- Tell me one thing you learned today. (Are they expanding, everyday, like you should be?)
- Did anyone make you feel uncomfortable today? (Let’s start finding some red flags.)
- If today was a race, what place did you get? First place, middle of the pack, or last place? (Need a metric…)
- You know daddy is a Warrior. Did you slay any dragons today? Can you tell me about your dragons? (This is to really dig deep and find any red flags!)
- What’s the best thing that happened to you today? (Helps them find the good in all things.)
- What can I do to help you have a better day tomorrow? Let’s pray real quick. (Here’s a quick one on praying with yours kids!)
Any others that you can recommend?
Do your words matter? Of course, they do. Here are a few words that I sent to my thirteen-year-old son, who started high school yesterday. Maybe they inspire you to reach out to someone…and use your words to encourage.
Today. Today, I was scared. I don’t like to admit that. But as I dropped you off this morning, I wanted to walk by your side all day long.
But the Warrior in me knew that I had to let you go. And the father in me knew I could trust that you would be okay. And the friend in me knew you’d kill them with kindness. And the attorney in me knew that if anyone hurt you I would sue them and their parents for every cent they had.
And so. Although I was scared to let you go today, I was the proudest parent on that campus this afternoon when I saw you jump in the car with a smile on your face.
Today, my fear turned to pride.
I love you, Warrior Son.
Nashville, TN — A local man used a roll of duct tape this past weekend to tape his mouth shut, as well as that of his 8-year-old son, to allow the ladies in their home to speak. “I just got so tired of interrupting my wife every time we spoke,” the local man said, “And I figured that I would do something to just SHUT UP.”
The local man also used the incident to teach his two sons about respect and encouragement: “You have to treat a lady like a lady, whether its your sister, mom, friend or spouse. And that means allowing them to speak and be a part of your conversation. And one of these days I am going to get it right with your mom, who (when I stop to listen), has a lot of great things to say.”
The man and his two sons have now made a line of duct tape “SHUT UP BRACELETS” to sell to other men in the world as a reminder to … JUST SHUT UP!
Okay. So this local man was me. Not years ago. Not months ago. This past weekend. I think you get the picture, but there’s more to the lesson.
A couple will never be able to communicate if one of them is always talking and the other one is always listening. I understand that we all have talents in our lives, but I have recently learned that my talent or strength as a construction litigation attorney during the day is setting me up for conflict and failure at home in the evening. My wife and family are not my clients, they are not a judge or jury, they are not my legal problem to solve. They are my family. Many times, my wife just wants me to listen as I walk into the door: listen to her problems, listen to her excitements, listen to her ideas….JUST LISTEN TO HER.
So what’s your challenge in communication with your spouse or children? Do you need to listen more?
There is nothing better than your own bed, particularly when you have been working late nights all week long. So when I lay my tired body to rest last night, I was one happy dude. I immediately faded off to sleep. Peace.
At about 3:30 in the morning, I heard the whisper of a six-year-old boy: “Dad. Dad. My blanket won’t work. I can’t fix it.”
“What?” I groaned back to him.
“Dad. My blanket doesn’t work. I can’t put it on my bed. I need help.”
Are you kidding me? I looked at the clock across the room. The red digital lights screamed out 3:32. What’s wrong with the blanket? How does a blanket fail to work? I will solve this: “Son, your blanket works fine. Just pull it up. You can do it.”
“But … Dad …”
“Son! Go back to your room. It’s night time.”
Although I couldn’t see his face or body, I knew he walked away rejected. I’ve seen the look before. He won’t remember, I reasoned to myself, because it’s the middle of the night. I rolled over, thinking I could still get a few more hours of good rest.
My wife whispered in my ear. The words pierced my eardrums and went straight to my heart. She was right. I jumped up quickly and ran down the hall.
The rejected son had his door shut, but I could see the light peering from underneath. I quietly opened the door and he stood the end of his bed. I now understood his dilemma. The top blanket was on the floor and the sheets were wrinkled up in a knot at the bottom edge of the bed.
“Need some help?”
His smile was all that I needed to see to reassure me that he was okay. “Yes, sir.”
I threw him on the bed, hugged him, and gave a few tickles. “Hold still now.” He spred his body out and I lofted the top sheet up in the air. It landed perfectly over his body. I tucked in the bottom and edges. I took the top blanket and did the same. I saw his homemade quilt from GG lying on the floor. Better add that one, too.
“Is that better?” I asked.
“Yes. Thanks, Dad.”
I gave him a wink. I mouthed the words “I LOVE YOU.” I turned out the light and walked out the door.
Not even the best sleep could replace that feeling of joy I then experienced. And all because of that little whisper in the ear from my wife. Wanna know what she said?
A good daddy would help his son.
The past few years have been a roller-coaster of emotional turmoil. You name the stress, we experienced it: sick children, financial binds, cancer, broken friendships, heart attacks, car troubles, college searches, etc.
The last few months have been particularly difficult as my wife was been tending to both of her parents out of town with significant health challenges. During those months where my wife was nursing her parents, may people called me Mr. Mom or Single Dad.
At first, I called it, hell!
Now I call it Opportunity for Growth.
You see, stress is an interesting word. The Middle English meaning denotes hardship or force exerted on a person for the purpose of compulsion; while the Latin origin is strictus, meaning tight, compressed, or drawn together. WebMD defines stress as “the body’s reaction to any change that requires an adjustment or response.” A combination of these definitions leads to one conclusion:
Author Andrew Bernstein once said that stress “doesn’t come from your boss, your kids, your spouse, traffic jams, health challenges, or other circumstances. It comes from your thoughts about your circumstances.” If stress truly comes from our thoughts about our circumstances—rather than from the circumstances themselves—then we can transform those thoughts to be an opportunity for growth.
John Maxwell calls this big picture thinking. It brings wholeness and maturity to a person’s mindset. It brings perspective. Big picture thinking allows you to take your “hell” and turn it into an “opportunity for growth.” You start to focus on the whole timeline, and not just the heart ache, failure or challenge that brought you to your knees.
If you want to successfully juggle your family, career and life, at some point you have to begin preparing for rain. With your family, you can no longer check-out all week and check-in only on the weekends. You won’t survive…they won’t survive. In your career, you can no longer view the mounting pile of work and attack only the emergencies. You have to implement a plan to get caught up and stay on top of the pile.
So, what does it really mean to prepare for rain?
Although I love Any Given Sunday (for its action) and Waterboy (for its comedy), my all-time favorite football movie is Facing the Giants (for its passion). Wanting to encourage the defeated coach with a few words of wisdom, the local pastor in FTG recounts the following story:
“There were two farmers who desperately needed rain in a drought. And both of them prayed for rain, but only one of them went out to plow his field to receive the rain. Now, which farmer trusted and believed that it was going to rain?”
In your life, are you preparing for rain? Unfortunately, there is not a quick-and-easy formula that will make you an overnight success at work and home. However, there is one major thing you can do to prepare for a drenching: draft a plan.
As a busy construction lawyer and husband and father of seven children, my time is limited. I find myself in “emergency mode” on most days. I tackle the deadlines, workload, and problems for that particular day, as well as those issues that land in my lap at the moment. This is not to say that I do not plan for my caseload or family challenges, but I often seem to be living too close to the present without enough reliance on planning for the future.
That’s where Living Forward—a new book by Michael Hyatt and Daniel Harkavey—has helped me identify a plan to get back on track: professionally, personally and spiritually. Even after reading the first chapter, there was a spark in my belly that started to inflame my desire to change. Here’s just one little nugget that I learned within the first few pages: “You may feel that you’ve drifted too far of course to get back on track, like the shore is just too far away. Perhaps you have given up hope and don’t believe things can ever be different. This is simply not true. It’s never too late. Be encouraged. You can’t change the past, but all of us have the power to change the future. The right choices today will radically alter the shape of tomorrow.“
This book is about experiencing the life you want, while navigating all the distractions, difficulties, and demands that pile up day-by-day, year-by-year. It leads you through a simple step-by-step life-planning process so every day adds up to the life you want now and creates the legacy you want to leave behind. I am currently on the second draft of my plan for the second half of 2016. Now’s a good time to start.
If I had one bit of encouragement during this process, it would be to keep plowing ahead. You cannot be discouraged by the drought in either your career or family life. I remember the late nights as a young attorney in Washington, D.C. Often I would climb into bed with my wife and groan, “I can’t do this any more.” She would always whisper words of encouragement: “Honey, just a few more days and you will be prepared for this case. And when you win, we can go celebrate as a family.”
Let me whisper in your ear: Keep plowing, keep preparing for the rain…you can make it!
Sometimes it is hard to get out of bed. As you commute to work, thoughts of deadlines, marital disputes, financial stresses and sheer exhaustion consume your every thought. It is during those times that I ask myself, “Why am I doing all of this?”
Many years before my first law school class, I thought I was ready to practice law. At the time, I was already working as a law clerk at a law firm interviewing witnesses, preparing discovery , and drafting legal briefs. Among these tasks, I enjoyed legal writing the most. In fact, I had drafted hundreds of trial court briefs, administrative agency statements, state and federal court appeals, and even a brief to the United States Supreme Court in Washington, DC.
Based upon all my work leading up to that time, I was confident about my preparation for the practice of law. However, a few stumbling blocks remained in my way to becoming a successful attorney, including a bar exam, many non-billable articles and conferences, hundreds of soiled diapers, and tens of thousands of dollars of debt. Ultimately, I survived law school and my first twenty years of practice by answering the question, Why do I want to be a lawyer? Although I wrestled with that question for many years, it finally came down to the following two words: helping others.
I determined early on in my career that I wanted to be a construction lawyer to help others use best practices and technology to resolve their problems. I am exactly where I want to be in my career and family life—right in the middle of the adventure. Leadership guru John Maxwell teaches that “success is not a destination thing…it’s a daily thing.”
And that “daily thing” has taken so many turns. For example, in the legal profession I went from from university student, to law clerk, to law student, back to law clerk, to associate attorney, and finally to partner at two different law firms. I initially characterized law school as a temporary layover to my destination of becoming a succe$$ful lawyer. (You knew that success is spelled with two “$$s,” right?) I soon learned that the only $$s in my life as a young attorney were the $$s that I owed someone else for letting me attend law school. Long hours, intense cases, neglected family members, a couple of grumpy bosses, late time sheets, uncollected invoices, etc., soon followed. While you might think these issues became less demanding (or more controllable) as each year passed, it simply has not been the case.
For me, answering the Why? question enabled me to continue in my journey as an attorney, a husband, and the father of seven children. When I finally answered the Why? question, I realized that many of my so-called stumbling blocks were actually stepping stones to a more fulfilling career and life. You may think you are not getting enough experience at this stage in your career. You may be overwhelmed with the huge deadline due tomorrow. You may be questioning your job, your marriage, or both. Whatever your circumstance, I would challenge you to continue your journey and find success professionally and emotionally.
You can (and must) make tough choices, which involves a significant juggling act with work, family, finances and health. And while you have all of those balls in the air, let me ask you: Why do you do what you do?
Someone once joked, “If you can tell the difference between good advice and bad advice, you don’t need advice!” That may be true, but you need more than just advice to make it in this world. You need a good mentor to reach your potential as a leader, successful business owner, or spouse/parent.
I remember my first mentor in the law—a generous attorney who had developed a large personal injury law practice in the Hampton Roads, Virginia area. For him, family came first. To be home for dinner by 5:00 p.m., that meant he would often be into work by 6:00 a.m. If there was a deposition out of town, he traveled early on the day of the deposition rather than spend the night away from his family. As I departed this first pre-lawyer job to enter my first year in law school, my mentor gave me a check that would help pay my first semester’s living expenses. My early mentor required me to pay him back in a unique way: he asked me to pay it forward to someone else as my career developed. (And that was five years before Pay It Forward hit the movie theatres!)
A mentor does not have to be involved in your day-to-day life, business, or family affairs. For example, Cordell Parvin graduated from the same law school that I did, but many, many years earlier. (Sorry, Cordell!) He was a Richmond Spider—so was I. He was a construction lawyer—so was I. He was successful—well, I want to be! One day, I called Cordell, introduced myself, and asked for some advice. More than five years later, I am happy to refer to Cordell as a mentor and friend. And we have only met in person a few times over the years.
You see, throughout my career I have always relied upon different mentors to help me grow as an attorney, husband, and father. It is important to have a variety of different advisors because, frankly, our lives as attorneys are comprised of so many roles. We have to be good researchers and writers. We have to be good time-keepers. We have to be good telephone-call-returners. We have to be good money-handlers. And, if we go home each night to a family, we have to be good encouragement-givers and storytellers.
Consider yourself a juggler with too many balls in the air. Every other day, a ball may drop to the ground. You stop. You pick it up. And you start juggling the balls again. I don’t think the answer is to get rid of those balls. I think the answer is to learn how to better juggle. There are many people who have done it right and there are many people who have done it wrong. The key is to build a relationship with someone who can (and wants to) invest in you—whether you need business advice, practice area advice, or even marital and parenting advice. Then, one day, you will be the one teaching another person how to juggle.
You can imagine all the free time I have with a busy law practice, an active spouse who runs marathons for fun, and seven kids at home. So much so that when I get home from a long day, get kids fed, showered, tickled and put to bed, many days I have enough energy to simply crawl into bed myself.
This schedule has taken its toll on my personal friendships, which I truly did not think I needed for the past few years. So when I had a chance last week to meet up with some friends, imagine my frustration when I could not find any one friend to escape with for a bite to eat. I had none. I had not invested in any friendships recently and it showed. I was alone. (…big sigh, little tear…)
It was not that bad, but the evening made me realize how important friends are to the development of a leader’s character, health, and balance. Here is why:
- Relationships develop your character. Helen Keller once said, “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.” And we do that through walking with, side-by-side, other people. You live and learn through your experiences with others.
- Connections feed your body. A recent study followed nearly 1,500 older people for 10 years. It found that those who had a large network of friends outlived those with fewer friends by more than 20%. But why? Not only does the empirical data suggest that friends encourage you to live healthier lives, studies show that loneliness often has a taxing effect on your health.
- Friendships spur balance. When you are overworked, and you add the stresses of family or personal life, your friendships can keep you grounded. You see, true friends challenge you. They tell you the words you often don’t want to hear: “Spend more time with your children” or “Take your spouse out on a walk” or “Call you parents just to check on them.”
“Your best friend,” Henry Ford laments, “is the one who brings out the best in you.” And don’t you need to be at your best in order to juggle family, work and life? Take the time to invest in your friendship—it will be worth it.