Sacred Time

July 28, 2010

Susan and Stephanie were having a Sister Day.

Two or three times a year, they get together simply to enjoy each other’s company and share the joy of being sisters. Usually, it involves some self-indulgent activity like manis or pedis or shopping and, sooner (usually) or later, consumption of alcohol. Sometimes, in the evening, the boys are allowed to join them.

Sister Days are sacred time, not to be interrupted by social engagements or family demands or work. The girls put up a wall around their time together and decline the opportunity to bring the rest of the world inside.

Sometimes, the rest of the world might bristle, just a bit, at their practice. If something comes up, why can’t the girls postpone their day? There are a million opportunities for them to spend time together, so why not make an adjustment to fit in a new engagement?

Which got me to thinking, as most things do, about time and priorities. How we spend time—our most precious resource—is a measure of our values. When do we bend, when do we break and when do we hold firm? What or who comes first on our list and when do we move people aside—including ourselves—for someone else’s benefit?

If a customer called with a problem, would we be expected to interrupt our honeymoon? Skip a funeral? Work on New Year’s Day? What if it wasn’t a honeymoon, but a long-delayed dinner? What if it wasn’t a funeral, but a long-awaited visit to the zoo? And what if it wasn’t a customer, but one of many friends who suddenly can fit us into THEIR schedule?

Would we forgive someone for declining to meet with us because they were riding a bicycle, reading a book or having a Sister Day? Could we acknowledge that their schedule of personal time is just as valuable, just as critical, as their career?

If you had been working for 21 straight days and had blocked out Day 22 for simply sitting in the house and reading a book, would you feel comfortable letting the world know about your choice? If mom or the boss or a friend from college called on the evening of Day 21 to suggest lunch the next day, could you decline the offer? Could you disclose the reason for your choice?

Some days, we’re the highest priority on somebody’s list. Other days, we’re not. It doesn’t make us, or them, bad people. Sometimes, it’s just a conflict of sacred times.

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$600 for Binoculars? YAKM!!!

June 9, 2010

My Sunday magazine supplement had a great article over the weekend about the best gift ideas for “dads and grads.” Notice how dads rank so high that we don’t even get our own gift list. Even worse, note how graduating females are assumed to want the same gifts as both 18-year-old high school seniors and 85-year-old men.

But I digress.

In the first paragraph, a gift expert assured us that “you don’t have to spend a ton of money to make sure your loved one feels special, whether it’s Father’s Day or graduation.” Or Arbor Day, Halloween or Festivus, or any other unrelated events that arrive at about the same time.

And then we have a list of four products which, combined, would cost $1,620. The cheapest is a handheld vacuum (Hint: don’t buy this for Mother’s Day, either.) and the most expensive are night vision binoculars. Because every graduate wants two things right out of school: binoculars and a job.

But I digress.

So what’s the best gift for grads and dads? The same thing that’s the best gift for everyone: Time.

As I’m overly fond of saying, you can’t make it, store it, replace it or experience it the same way twice. It’s the greatest gift in the world and, both free and priceless at the same time.

Of course, I could also use one of those long shoe horns that let you put on your shoes without having to bend over too much. And some light bulbs for the upstairs track light. Both are gifts I know I can use and they’re both in my size.

But I digress. Again.

I asked a bunch of dads what they wanted for Father’s Day and nobody asked for some high-tech gizmo or overpriced novelty item. They don’t want to be carted off to some new place they never went to before or receive an introduction to a new pastime like crochet or collectible plates.

All they wanted was some time with their families, an opportunity to relax and someone to share it with.

Take advantage of this sentiment. It’s about as close as we ever get to cuddling.

(Originally posted at

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FATHER KNOWS BEST About Father’s Day

June 1, 2010

Just Say NO to cosmetics in a can......duct-tape shirts......T-Shirts modeled by women......and ties we'll never wear.

Father’s Day is coming and I cannot wait for my morning paper.

Mother’s Day dawned with the annual article about how Stay At Home Moms are worth $117k per year, based on their work as cooks, cleaners, drivers, etc. I read stories about famous people who love their moms, moms who save puppies, moms building day-care centers on Mars….all the feel-good stories fit to print.

On Father’s Day, I can anticipate a parade of felons in my Sunday paper. Deadbeat dads, abusive dads, absentee fathers, dads who kill their kids….ah, the inspirational stories are endless on Father’s Day. This year, we’ll probably see additional stories about all the unemployed dads whose wives continue to hold down jobs and, also, do all the housework and childrearing while the shiftless, lazy bums spend their days on the couch, drinking too much, watching Home Run Derby and scratching themselves.

It’s uplifting, in a way. All the stories about bad dads make me feel like Dad of the Year. Granted, the bar is set pretty low here, but I have a golf handicap of 276, so I thrive on low expectations. I will take a self-esteem award every now and then, because I have absolutely zero pride.

Still…..let’s say you’re one of the .0003% of Americans with a non-felon, non-abusive, sober father. How can you show your appreciation for your rare good fortune this Father’s Day?

1. Quote him. Every dad wants to be known for something smart/funny he said. Any time you start a sentence with, “It’s like you told me….” an angel gets his wings. And you can deduct $10 from the cost of your gift.

2. Ask for advice. Dads want to share their great wisdom. Hell, I wrote a whole book about it (shameless plug, but if you’re interested, go here) just to make sure the girls remembered all my great stories. Each time you ask him for his opinion or advice, you can deduct another $10 from the cost of your gift.

3. Listen. If you ask for advice and immediately check your texts while he’s answering, add $100 to the cost of your gift. If he wanted to talk to himself, he’d be on FaceBook.

4. Buy something practical. If you’re going to buy something for dad, make it something he can, and will, use. Except for a rare handful of metrosexuals who refuse to act their age, dads don’t want ties or ascots or the latest loafers that will have all the other guys in the office saying, ”Ooh, you fashionista.” Me, I always ask for socks or underwear, because I know it’s something I can use and I really don’t care what brand they buy.

5. Never buy a man a wallet. Wallets are intensely personal and nobody can buy one for a man. It’s like buying shoes for a woman and actually expecting her to wear them?!?!!?!? If you buy one and he uses it, know forever that he is suffering with your choice only to keep you from being disappointed. That’s how much he loves you.

6. One more thing about wallets, pants, shoes and other personal items. Never assume that a man wants to replace something after it gets a hole or a scrape or a stain on it. We don’t consider these things worn out; they are broken in. Once something is broken in, it becomes a part of us, a friend, and you never discard a friend.

7. Don’t buy anything attached to his favorite hobby. Maybe a set of golf balls, if you know whether he prefers Titleist Pro V1s or TaylorMade Noodles. Part of the fun of a hobby is getting your own supplies. It’s like hunting and fishing—you eat what you kill. So, unless he asked you specifically for the XL47 Motor-Driven, Solar-Powered, Ambidex, Unisex Putter and gave you the UPC code, don’t buy one. It takes longer to return it and buy what he wants than to simply get it himself.

8. No new horizons. If dad never exercises, don’t buy him a set of ankle weights so he can try something new. If he never reads for pleasure, don’t tell him he will simply devour Caleb Carr. (My book is the exception of course, but that’s because it’s DADLORE.) If he never gardened before, maybe there’s a reason, as in he doesn’t want to do it.

9. Hang around. If dad likes to sit on a chair and look at the neighbor’s weeds, join in. Don’t decide to take him to the flower show because you like flowers and want to share with him. If he wants to go to the racetrack, don’t take him to the zoo. If he likes baseball, don’t go for a bike ride. Yes, you know better about how to throw a party and dad’s a doofus, but humor him just this once.

10. Balance the merriment. Dads are self-effacing. Let them know you think they’re important and they’ll appreciate it. Go overboard and they’ll feel uncomfortable. It’s not that they won’t think they deserve it, but they’ve been living in a political snakepit sometimes referred to as a workplace. They get suspicious when anyone is really, really complimentary.

11. Read his lips. If dad says he doesn’t care where you have dinner, he doesn’t care where you have dinner. Dads don’t do coy very well. We want to go where we want to go, we don’t want to go where we don’t want to go and we don’t care when we don’t care. Also, we have no imagination whatsoever, so we don’t have the energy to make up funny gotcha games.

12. About that shaving thing. Not shaving makes us feel like real men, hairy beasts with power and testosterol or whatever they call that manly stuff we’re supposed to be exuding. And musky. I don’t know what musk is but they used to have it in some cologne that made women crazy 20 years ago and I am sure it’s the secret ingredient in Axe.

13. Don’t ask if we’re really wearing that. Yes, we are. That’s why we put on these clothes. It’s Father’s Day and we get to dress ourselves. If we decide to wear the old, torn, paint-spattered jeans that feel like silk instead of cardboard, we have our reasons. We’ve been dressing ourselves since we were three and we don’t want anyone telling us we don’t know how to be big boys yet.

And, finally, hide the front section of the Sunday paper, so he doesn’t have to look at all the Bad Dads on the front page. Even if he’s not the guy in the prison jumpsuit, traditional Father’s Day coverage is still a downer.

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And So, Fellow Graduates…

May 8, 2010

I was hoping my commencement speech at Harvard this year would help me promote Your Name Here: Guide to Life as the ideal gift (Unisex!! One size fits all!!) for graduates entering the real world….but their invitation got lost in the mail for the 57th consecutive year.

I had the speech already written, though, and it would be a shame to let it go to waste. And so, (breathless anticipation) graduates and families, here is the speech you should be hearing….

Graduates, I bring you warm and heartfelt congratulations today, not merely for earning 120 class credits but also for your brilliant financial decision not to attend Harvard. (If you attended Harvard, insert some other name here.)

By taking the cheap route, you’ve put yourself well ahead of those peers who enter the real world with a prestigious degree and $300,000 of student loans. After about one year on the job, few people will ever ask you where you went to school, and even fewer will care about the answer.

So congratulations. You’ve avoided paying $300k for 12 months of bragging rights. If all your other financial decisions are this good, we’ll all be working for you five years from now. (Remember that I was your friend before you were fabulously wealthy and famous.) Of course, there will be pitfalls along the way, and you’ll need some special insights to avoid the traps that lie in wait for recent graduates. Herewith is almost everything you need to know to succeed in this world.

1. Relax. You aren’t the future of our nation and the universe doesn’t rest in your hands. It’s tough enough finding both a job and a good deli without the extra burden of saving the world. Don’t worry about it. You’re responsible for yourself and, if you choose to have kids, raising them to be responsible for themselves. Being responsible for yourself sounds easy, until you try to do it, so take great pride if you get it right.

2. You’re going to fail most of the time, but you only need a small number of victories to have a great life. Remember that a baseball player who fails to get a hit 60% of the time is almost guaranteed a shrine in Cooperstown.

3. Listening is the most underrated form of persuasion. If you want people to like you and trust you, learn to listen more than you speak.

4. There is always a camera. Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, somebody within 20 feet has a camera. If you’re doing something really stupid, it’s going into your permanent record. On YouTube.

5. No problem ever gets resolved by e-mail. If there’s a real issue, pick up the phone, pay a visit and, oh yeah, listen to what the other person has to say. E-mail is great for forwarding links, but terrible for linking people.

6. Unless you have a billion dollars already, nobody is going to bring you a billion-dollar investment opportunity. Somebody’s going to invent the next e-Bay or Google or FaceBook. Most likely, that person isn’t coming to you for seed capital. Just spend 10% less than you earn every year, sock money away for retirement and you’ll probably do just fine.

7. The bad stuff is the price of admission. You’ll put up with all kinds of nonsense as you start your career, date, raise a family, and pay off the mortgage. We all pay a price to get what we want. Eventually, we get comfortable enough that we can mock the next generation of whiners.

8. In the first meeting, the answer is always ‘Yes.’ Whether it’s a job interview or a sales call or a friend who needs help moving, ‘yes’ is how you build relationships and lifelong success. You can work out the details and end up saying ‘no’ later, if needed, but at least people will know you were willing to make the attempt.

9. Like embezzlement, change is an inside job. You can’t change anyone else and nobody can change you. If you want to be better at something, nobody can stop you…other than you, of course.

10. You have power, because you have choices. Go or stay, buy or sell, love or hate, it’s all up to you. Never make yourself subservient to someone else by blaming them for your decisions.

11. Life isn’t about what you have or what happens to you. It’s all about how you respond. Everyone gets a share of pain and aggravation, but the ones who end up happy are those who deal with it and move on.

12. You have three reputations to protect in your career. Yours is first, your boss is second and your company is third. Never forget that yours is the one you’ll be renting out to your next boss and your next company—and passing on to your kids.

13. Everybody has something to offer in this world. The more you look for it, the more you’ll find it. That means you’ll have access to friends and resources that other people miss, because you paid attention to the people everyone else was ignoring.

And so, graduates of 2010, you now know almost everything you need to know to achieve happiness, love, serenity, prosperity and successful lives. The rest is contained in Your Name Here: Guide to Life and, if your parents really loved you, they would have bought you a copy by now. Forgive them, however, as they were smart enough to raise you to be a responsible adult (See Note 1 above.) and you should be eternally grateful for that gift.

Now, go forth and prosper as the world of joy unfolds before you. Remember, whenever your face hardships, setbacks and difficulties, that millions of others have faced the same and worse.

They survived it.

So will you.

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