Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Life Lesson #3

The Difference Between Boys and Girls

While signing autographs at a local bookstore I noticed a man lingering nearby after he had selected and I had signed my book about father and son relationships. When the other shoppers had cleared, he came over and struck up a conversation. “Is that really your daughter?” he asked, pointing to another of my books, the one I wrote for Meagan.

“Yes, she is.”

“Do you let her know you love her?” he asked.

“Of course,” I answered, surprised by the question.

“Good,” he said. “Too many men aren’t very comfortable doing that, especially with boys.”

With that simple statement, he smiled, turned on his heels and walked away.
His comment caused me to remember a story a friend once told me about his father, a man of few words.

My friend grew up in Minnesota as a serious baseball and football fan, in part because it was through sports that he could get time his Dad. Apparently his father worked quite a lot and the two of them didn't spend much time together; having the opportunity to go to a game with his dad was a huge deal. Sadly, as my friend grew older he and his father stopped attending games as often as they once did. “Dad wasn't much of a talker,” he confided, “and we were slowly losing touch with each other.”

He went on to tell me that years later after getting married he and his new bride decided to have a brunch with their families at local restaurant owned by a former Minnesota Viking. It is decorated with sports memorabilia. “It was at that place that my father, the man who never said much, touched my heart in a way I will never forget.” he said. “He and I sat at the opposite ends of the table sharing conversations with the guests, and at one point I looked over at my dad. He looked at me, smiled, pointed to a picture on the wall, and smiled even more. The picture was of the old Met Center where he and I had gone to see all those ballgames.”

My friend paused and looked away for a moment, then turned back to me with tears in his eyes. “All these years I thought I was the only one who held those memories close to my heart, but in that moment, I knew my dad did, too. That is when I learned the importance of telling people you love them, and I promised myself I would never let a day go by that I don’t tell my children how much I love them.”

My thoughts were interrupted as other customers came to my table for an autograph. As I chatted with them, I glanced across the store and saw the man who had asked me if I told Meagan I love her. He waved as he left the store, my book in hand. He pushed the door open and with his free hand on his son’s shoulder, led him outside. I smiled as I signed another autograph, confident that that child, too, heard “I love you” often, if not everyday.

Lesson: Although boys and girls may be different, they are identical in their need for love and acceptance. Say “I love you” as often as you can.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Life Lessons #2

Driving Lessons

One afternoon while visiting my parents, who live on a remote country road, Meagan and I went for a drive. She was at the wheel. She had been driving in open fields for two years by then, an activity meant to give her as much driving experience as possible before she set out by herself, without Dad by her side to make sure she was safe.

Earlier in the afternoon I had been sitting on the front porch with my mom, sharing with her my frustrations about how Meagan seemed to enjoy my company less than she once did. She was becoming a young woman, one who was certain her single dad had no idea what she was going through, one who was turning to new confidants to spend time and share her thoughts with.

“You need to find a new way to relate with her,” my mom had said. “She isn’t a little girl anymore.” Remembering this advice, I unexpectedly found myself requesting that my young driver turn off the familiar road and onto an unfamiliar one, and then another and another.

Soon she had driven much farther than she ever had before. She was frightened when she first pulled into traffic but smiled eagerly at the same time. She listened intently as I gave instructions and advice, and followed my directions without complaint or rebuttal. She beamed at me when I praised her as she skillfully negotiated the roadway. Under my tutelage she was learning something new. It reminded me of earlier times. I knew something she wanted to know, and she needed my help to master it; she needed me.

I decided that afternoon that driving was the bridge I needed to reach out to my daughter again, to have the occasion to spend time with her in the way that I missed, having fun together, laughing large, and teaching her something that would prepare her for the day when she would set out on her own. For the next three years we practiced driving every chance we got - driving in the rain, after sunset, practicing parallel parking and hard braking, and learning how to anticipate other drivers’ moves. It was time well spent, time when there were not the distractions of instant messages or television, time when we worked together toward a common goal. Even if she were upset with me, I could always gain her company with one question – “Want to go driving?”

I helped her study for the learner’s permit test. I was with her when she took it, and tried to calm her nerves as we waited for her results. A great sense of accomplishment came over me when she proudly held her permit up for me to see. In that moment I was where I wanted to be, in her smiling favor.

Lesson: You should constantly be building, repairing or reinforcing the bridges that connect you together. Bridges left unattended eventually fail, and one cannot traverse a chasm where a bridge never stood.

Monday, February 26, 2007

This Week: Life Lessons

Too Old

When my wife told me she was pregnant I was overjoyed and quick to believe that the baby would be the little girl I had always wanted. Throughout the pregnancy I spoke of the baby as “her” or “she,” never as “it.” When I saw the first sonogram I could tell that our baby was indeed a girl. Even though the doctor said it was too early to tell, I was convinced of my assessment and thereafter believed my hopes and dreams about fatherhood were coming true. I was in the delivery room when Meagan arrived. The first person she looked at was me. I was smitten instantly.

After the delivery an exhausted mother slept while my daughter and I bounded. She slept on my shoulder; her face nestled under my chin. We spent her first night in the world together, asleep in a big recliner. For many years that followed that evening, when she was tired, sick, or just wanting affection, Meagan would get into my lap, lay her head on my shoulder and turn her face into my neck. I pulled her close and savored the memory of when this little routine began. I was unprepared for the day when she announced to me she was too old for it to continue.

Heartbroken, I spent the next several years trying to convince her I should be permitted to hug and kiss her at will; I was, after all, her father. She didn’t budge and it was hard for me to keep my hands confined to my pockets. Many times she pushed my hand from her knee or turned her cheek to me when I tried to kiss her. It took me too long to realize my persistence only solidified her conviction; the more I tried to maintain our affection, the less I received. I’m not sure how I finally got the point, but eventually I did and my gestures of affection were replaced with text messages and occasional brief hugs. I preferred more, but I had learned to be happy with what I could get.

Recently while working at my desk I heard the front door opening downstairs; it was Meagan coming home from school. She announced she was home, and I called out a hello and asked about her day, an exchange that had become our new routine. Moments later there was a tug at the back of my chair. I looked over my shoulder and found her standing there, smiling at me. She grabbed an armrest, turned me around and sat on my lap, resting her head on my shoulder. She buried her face in the crook of my neck – just like she did in the old days, when she was still in pigtails. “I love you,” she whispered.

The embrace lasted only a brief moment. She rose from my lap and went on to attend to her own business; I looked at the wall over my desk. It is covered with photographs, new and old, of the beloved members of my family. My eyes rested on one of my parents taken years ago when I was much younger and thought we all would live forever. I reached for the phone, and called my mom and dad.

Lesson: Your children will create physical and emotional distance from you; it is a normal developmental process. Don’t worry, they will come back.

Friday, February 23, 2007

My Laundry

Who would have thought a short story for the AJC about life in the Lang household would result in my dirty laundry being hung out in cyberspace. Well I certainly didn’t.

But is has, so what to do?

Let me confess. Yes, I have dirty laundry. In some cases, badly soiled, stained and ripped laundry. I am forty-seven years old and in that time I have made many mistakes, committed many sins, used others for my benefit, conducted myself carelessly and selfishly, and hurt or disappointed people along the way.

The downside of nearing fifty years old is that you’ve had plenty of time to do harm to others, as I have. The upside of nearing fifty is that you’ve had plenty of time to think about what you’ve done, as I have. The fear of nearing fifty is that although you don’t know how much time you have left to make amends, you are certain it is lessened with each passing day.

I have many regrets. I have given many apologies. I’m sure others are overdue, and occasions will arise in my future that will merit yet even more apologies.

I have written on this blog that I pray not to repeat every mistake. It is an honest prayer.

One of the graces of God is his gift to us of the capacity to change. I am not who I was 20 years ago, ten years ago, or three years ago. I am not who I was because I have worked to be a better person than I remember being in the past.

I know that although I am aware of how I have changed, others do not have current knowledge of me and therefore know me only for who I once was.

That is why I also pray for forgiveness.

Over the last five years I have met many people who think favorably of me because of my writing. Their opinions are both humbling and guilt inducing, for I am very aware of my failures and shortcomings. I carry with me the desire to go back and change a number of things, if only I could. Of course I cannot, so I continue to try to better myself and not repeat my misdeeds.

That is why I pray for the strength and guidance to stay on purpose.

An earthly source of strength and guidance for me is my wife, Jill, to whom nearly all the credit goes for who I’ve been in the last two years. She and the two daughters we share are all the reason I am as happy as I am today.

That is why I say a prayer of thanks as often as thoughts of my family come to mind.

Yes, I have dirty laundry. Some stains I may never be able to cleanse. Some people in my past may always see me wearing a wardrobe of soiled garments. That is the pain I suffer for some of the things I’ve done.

I do not pray for that pain of mine to go away. It reminds me of the purpose that drives me today – to be the son, brother, husband, father, friend and neighbor I should have been all along.

My writing is cathartic for me, therapeutic and cause for self-examination. It is documentation of a work in progress – my rehabilitation. If you choose to continue to read what I write, I hope you will do so with support in your heart.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

It has been a sad week

My aunt died after a long illness and Jill, the kids and I have been back and forth in the last few days for our final visit with her and her services, so I haven't had time to write. Please stay tuned and when life settles down in a few days, I'll be back. In the mean time, a dear friend offered this quote:

"Do not give negativity the energy it needs to breed." Well put, Karen.

Mary Jean Register, born March 31, 1937, set free February 19, 2007.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Inspirational Mail

Found this in my mail today - and welcomed it heartily!

GREG - ENJOYED YOUR ARTICLE. HAVE BEEN PRAYING. THOUGHT THIS WOULD BE ENCOURAGING TO YOUR CAREER. KEEP THE GOOD WORK ALIVE.

"Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you." (Matthew 5:11-12)

When persecution comes, don't worry about it. That persecution hasn't come because the devil gets his kicks out of picking on you. It comes because you've become a threat to him. It comes because you've put the Word in your heart, and he knows that if he doesn't get it out, you're going to cause him more trouble than he can handle.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Reading Material

There is some very good reading on the blog I write for the Atlanta Journal & Constitution. Please visit and post a comment if you are so led.

http://www.ajc.com/yourduluth

Just navigate here, then click the article by my photo titled "Yours, mine, ours."

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Temperamental Tuesday

Some people reach the top of the ladder of success only to find it is leaning against the wrong wall.

The thing that bugs me about some Evangelical Christians is when they think if you aren’t living as righteously as they are, you aren’t much of a Christian. Isn’t that what is called living self-righteously? Isn’t it written somewhere that my Christianity is between me and God, not me and some foolish man on Earth with the opinion he was ordained to judge others?

A thinly disguised “Mr. Smithy” decided to take exception to this blog, claiming to be “shocked” by its content. Poor thing; empty life, small mind. And that’s all I have to say about that.

I hate nosey forms. That’s why when completing one recently I listed my occupation as “Male Stripper.” I thought it might help explain what I reported for annual income - $25.

The vast amount of news coverage and intense public interest in the Anna Nicole Smith death is a sad testimony about our values and intellect these days. It also causes me to think one should have to pass a test on the U.S. Constitution, American History and Economics before being handed a voter registration card.

We don’t all have to agree, we don’t even have to get along. But we all should leave one another alone.

The unfortunate thing about grandiosity is the grandiose too often believe their own tales even after they have gone far beyond the point of believability and verification. How do you spot these people? Easy – look for those who are estranged from the people who know them best.

Monday, February 12, 2007

#200

In case you missed my column in the AJC, here it is:

I labored for months developing my first screenplay before finally sending it to top-notch producers in L.A. I waited patiently for the multi-million dollar offer I was certain would arrive in the mail.

When I received a letter from Steven Spielberg, I ripped into it, telling myself “Yes, I will move to California and join DreamWorks.”

“You have relied too heavily on tired clichés,” the letter read. I had been rejected.

I was seeing red. This guy wouldn’t know a great screenplay if it hit him in the head. I remembered Rome wasn’t built in a day, I would try and try again until I succeeded; my time will come, I reassured myself.

It never did. That’s why I now avoid clichés like the plague.

That’s why when I recently stood in a checkout line and overheard the cashier admonish the bagboy for planning to give his girlfriend roses for Valentine’s Day, I felt qualified to step into the debate.

“Roses are so cliché,” I said. “Be original. Show her you put some thought into it. Tradition is so yesterday.”

“Now that’s what I’m talking about!” the cashier exclaimed, reaching out to give me a high-five and accidentally knocking a bloom off the bundle of roses I was about to purchase for Jill (They’re okay when not expected).

Let’s cut to the chase guys, Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. Do you want to show that you put some time into selecting the perfect token of love and affection for your sweetie, or leave her wondering if you pulled over at a corner store for a cola and saw a bundle of roses in a mop bucket next to the cash register?

Avoid cliché, get original. Give her red tulips or gladiolus, write a letter rather than buy a card, cook dinner for her instead of going out, massage her feet to candlelight and Barry White, or read to her from a book about love until she falls asleep. I host a chocolate party for Jill; she and our friends look forward to it all year long. And I get my just desserts, too.

Ladies, let me know next week if he got the picture. I'd like to hear how your man expressed himself on the day that celebrates you. And for those who already know how to avoid the cliché on Valentine's Day, please share your original ideas with us.

AN update on the party - 65 people are coming so far. Looks like I need to buy more chocolate!

Friday, February 09, 2007

Wow!


I just saw that my book "Why I Love You," the gift I wrote for my lovely wife Jill, is ranked at #177 at Barnes and Noble right now. Each store carries tens of thousands of titles, and the website offers over 3 million titles. And my book is in the top 200. Can you believe it? Thanks to you all who support my writing career! Chocolate for everyone!

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Thought for the day:

A fool is one who protests loudly about something of which he has little understanding.

An idiot is one who continues to act like a fool even after his ignorance has been revealed.

Monday, February 05, 2007

In case you missed it -

This is a copy of my first column for the Atlanta Journal & Constitution:

When my editor asked me to write an introduction to myself for my first blog entry, the typical resume material came to mind: “Ph.D., Genetic Engineering, summa cum laude, Harvard University; Invented Post-It Notes; Presidential Medal of Freedom Recipient, Hobbies include test piloting suborbital aircraft and playing speed chess while blindfolded.”

“Interview your family and write it from their perspective,” he added, just as I was about to list all the things I accomplished after my eighteenth birthday. The applause stopped, the spotlights went out, the red carpet turned into worn artificial turf, and I heard “He’s such a dork” echo in my head.

My family includes three women - my wife Jill and our daughters, Meagan and Linley. Some argue it also includes a fourth female, a dog named Princess, but I say she is just a bad door prize that came with what I really wanted and wouldn’t otherwise have.

So I asked my wife, “How would you describe me?” She asked me to have a seat. “You’re going to need this,” she said as she handed me a glass of wine. “Most of the time you are wonderful. But sometimes you’re whacked, like when you fuss about how I’ve put things back in the refrigerator or accuse me of losing your socks.” Two glasses later she finally finished. I can’t repeat everything she said.

Sulking, I called Meagan who was hanging out with friends after school. “Do I have to go into this right now,” she asked. After some pleading she finally told me she thought I needed therapy, but if I refused to go, she would still love me anyway.

Next I sent a text message to Linley. “What do you think of me,” I asked. “U R old” came her reply.

As I sat down to write this introduction Princess came running to my desk, her warning that she needed to go outside. I stood in the cold as she did her business, gave her a treat when she finished, and patted her head before returning to work. Moments later she was at my feet again. “What would you say about me,” I asked. She yawned, threw up on my shoe and walked away, dancing a jig, I think.

And people wonder why some folks stretch the truth on their resumes.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Just a thought or two:

If Anonymous is the pen name of the cowardly, then a pseudonym must be the cloak of the weak.

People with tact have less to retract.