Extending the Holiday Season

One of my favorite Christmas songs is “The Secret of Christmas.” Are you familiar with it?

The little gift you send, on Christmas Day

Will not bring back the friend, you turned away

So may I suggest, the secret of Christmas

It’s not the things you do, at Christmas time

But the Christmas things you do all year through

I think for me that sums up how I feel about the season. We’ve all experienced it. During the holiday season, the people you wait in line with aren’t nearly as aggravating. Total strangers will open doors and smile and give you a pleasant greeting. When you drop items people are right there ready to help you pick them up. It seems that, no matter the setting, people are kinder, more patient and more pleasant during Christmas time.

And then most of us go back to being solidly within our own little world as soon as New Year’s has come. Why is that? If we appreciate the little kindnesses and graciousness of people during the Christmas season, why can’t we keep it with us any longer than one month out of the year.

This year I think I’m going to try something different. I’m going to try to extend the Christmas season and little bit. I’m not going to do anything particularly grand, like leave the tree and decorations up (though I think there’s nothing wrong with that) I’m just going to do two things to try to stretch out the season.

First, I’m going to keep candy canes around. If there is a more universal symbol of the holidays, I’m not sure what it might be. The candy cane is recognizable, consumable, and eminently affordable. It is symbolic on many levels and, perhaps most important, it is almost impossible to eat one without smiling! In my mind, candy canes are an easy way to extend the season.

The second is likely to draw a little more attention.

Like many people, I have a collection of hat and lapel pins. I started collecting them years ago around special occasions and activities. One of the pins that I have been given is of a Santa hat. It is a hat pin, but could easily be worn on a lapel for a suit or on a pocket of a dress shirt. It can be worn on a jacket, sweater or vest without seeming out of place. It is a little thing, but it is an intentional thing. I’m going to wear that Santa hat pin as often as I reasonably can. And when people ask me about it, I will simply share with them that line from “The Secret of Christmas,” and let them know that I am trying to do Christmas things all year through. And then I will wish them a Merry Christmas.

I think some people will be taken aback by my plan. I think I will find some people choosing to take offense at my actions. I think some will wonder if I have taken leave of my senses. But if I can keep myself in the holiday spirit, perhaps I can be an influence for kindness and patience in the lives of those around me. And that is certainly worth any little efforts that I might have to make.

What do you think of my plan? Feel free to leave comments below.

Go Forth and Conquer!

Advertisements

Creating substance through traditions

Are you looking to bring some more substance to your holiday observance?  Consider the traditions that you observe.  

Like many other people that I know, I observe a lot of traditions with the advent of the holiday season.  My family and I celebrate Christmas and the New Year with fervor and gusto!  The season begins the day after Thanksgiving and goes until about a week into the new year.  Some of the traditions that we enjoy are shared with multitudes of people around the world, such as decorations, carols and the exchanging of gifts.  Some of them are a little more selective and specific to our family, such as watching Muppet Christmas Carol on Christmas Eve and the annual “No-Lip-Sync-Christmas-Song” that we do for our family party.

A tradition can be defined as “the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation, or the fact of being passed on in this way.”  Looked at in this way, a man of style and substance might ask, “What customs or beliefs am I passing on?  What values are being encouraged and preserved in the activities and choices that are repeated from year to year?”  

For myself, I have been asking that question a lot this year.  I’ve been wondering about the gifts we give.  Like many families, Santa was a vigorous part of our Christmas celebrations while the children were little.  And while he continues to be present, he has begun to take a back seat in our observance.  However, his penchant for delivering toys, entertainments and amusements has not diminished in the slightest.  Toys, Games, Electronics, DVD’s and CD’s have been staple fare for our family for some time.  

Don’t get me wrong, I love all of these things.  They are a part of the holiday make up.  And I am not campaigning for their removal from the holiday pantheon.  However, I have found myself asking the question, “Is there something I can do to pass on a more thoughtful disposition?  Is the holiday of peace best celebrated by a first-person-shooter video game?”  I’m not the first to raise these questions, and I am sure I won’t be the last.  

I have, however, found an answer.  

This year, I will be giving books.

Oh, there will still be a Nintendo Switch under the tree, some headphones, a couple of DVD cases and the rest.  But the gifts that I am giving to my children will be books.  Not ebooks, valuable as they may be, convenient as they may be, but books.  Real books.  Books bought at a bookstore, selected from shelves full of options all positioned for my attention, purchased from a cashier at a sales register after standing in line with other shoppers.  Allow me to share with you the values that I feel this has helped me appreciate.

The first is gratitude, an appreciation of my place in history.  Less than 500 years ago, a book store like I enjoyed would be impossible of.  Even 100 years ago, finding a place full of books might require a journey to a large population center.  But this week, I simply drove a few miles from my house.  From the invention of the printing press to the evolution of modern transportation technologies, this is a magnificent time to live.  Climate control allows me to move among the shelves in comfort and ease,  and my purchases are brought home and ready to be wrapped.

The second is permanence, an appreciation for things that last.  A book represents an investment, a purchase in something that is not going to be consumed and forgotten.  A book is also something that requires space and time, not just to read, but to keep.  It becomes a physical reminder of the change that we undergo when we read.  A book is far more substantial than a plastic disk, and far more robust in many ways. Truly a book is a symbol of permanence.

The third is legacy, an appreciation for wisdom obtained and passed on.  Books are a wonderful source of entertainment.  I  have read hundreds for just that reason!  However, I have noticed that when I think on the books that I prize, the books that I recommend, the books that I quote from, I notice that they did more than just entertain me.  Books that make me think, that challenge my assumptions, that elegantly discuss the struggles of the human condition become something more than entertainment.  They become art!  They become a source of inspiration to me, helping me in my efforts to become more thoughtful, more compassionate, more patient with myself and with others.  In short, they help me in my quest to become a man of style and substance.

Traditions are a part of life on many levels.  During the holidays, some traditions ennoble and some entertain.  Perhaps in starting a tradition of giving books, I can start a tradition that does both.  Perhaps you will join me.  Feel free to let me know your thoughts in the comments.  

Go forth and … Celebrate!

HOLIDAY GUIDE FOR A MAN OF STYLE AND SUBSTANCE

The holiday season is here, and we are bound to be flooded with articles regarding how to successfully navigate the holiday season. Most of them will center around gift giving advice, touting the latest gadgets and fashions as among the most desirable gifts of the season. No doubt, some of these articles on the internet and in magazines were prepared in part as reviews of new products and promoted advertising pieces. While there is certainly nothing wrong with all of that, this post is going to go in a decidedly different direction. Instead, this article is going to focus on how a man of style and substance might approach the holidays differently.

GIFT GIVING

Certainly, one of the unavoidable expectations of the holiday season is found in the exchanging of gifts. Many cultural traditions have grown up around this practice, and they range from sublime to utilitarian. Being one who seeks style and substance can influence the types of gifts that one gives. Consider three categories: something made, something to be shared and something permanent.

Home-made gifts are sometimes seen as an effort to be cheap. This may be true, but it need not be. Many a baker has spent countless hours preparing a treat based on a family recipe and shared it with others. If practical, presenting the item prepared in or on a special holiday keepsake may add a powerful, personal touch. I am reminded of a coworker who brought a small cake in for many coworkers, each in a small holiday loaf baking dish. I enjoyed the cake, and I still have the dish.

If you are aware of a friends interest in a particular activity, presenting an invitation to attend that activity together may present a powerful expression of friendship while also setting the stage for making memories together. And the invitation need not be for something expensive. A simple meal before an anticipated book signing, a free museum or an inexpensive showing at a community theater may all cost far less than some gadget that may be broken or lost before the end of the holiday season.

Some of the finest gifts that I have received, both practical and whimsical, have had a measure of permanence to them. Books are a favorite of mine. They influence the life of the recipient long after the actual gifting event is concluded. Some I read once, others I return to often. Sometimes they are special editions, while other times they are simply a paperback. I have even been given blank journals as a way of beginning the year, something that stays with me the whole year through.

ENTERTAINING

Holiday parties need not be a chore. Instead, they can be simple but meaningful. Most parties involve eating, and with holiday parties, this is particularly true. In that spirit, a man of style and substance may embrace the spirit by providing a simple meal that allows for more time spent talking and sharing time with friends and less on trying to impress anyone or taking too much time in cleaning up.

Additionally, the man of style and substance may opt for an activity party, like caroling, providing service or having a fire with warm beverages and donuts or muffins. For the man of style and substance, the holiday party is less a time for making a statement and more a time for connecting with friends.

HOLIDAY GREETINGS

All of the above perspectives can illuminate a man of style and substance’s approach to the tradition of greeting cards as well. Are you fond of people, but not of the tradition? Consider sending an electronic card through Hallmark or American Greetings. Both offer services where cards appropriate to the season and the disposition of the sender can be easily customized. Pictures can be attached, as can links to videos if one is so inclined.

As far as the content of the greeting, I will only suggest this: the greeting is about reaching out to others and letting them know that you care about them. While it may be appropriate to mention events that happened in the year, if they are truly a friend they probably know all about it already. But a an of style and substance will never give in to the temptation of using the holiday greeting tradition as an expanded facebook post.

Being a man of style and substance is not about the brands we wear, the restaurants we frequent or the balance in a bank account. It is about the way we handle ourselves during our various interactions with others. It is about emphasizing the positives in any interaction. It is about acknowledging that everyone encountered on a daily basis is striving for success, and that sometimes you or I may have insights to share along the way, but never in an arrogant or condescending manner. It is about savoring every good and uplifting experience available while also remembering that we cannot avoid being evaluated and judged according to the simple standard: do people feel better about life and themselves after spending time with you?

Hopefully, the answer will always be yes.

Go Forth and Conquer!

A Thoughtless Moment

I’m big on being thoughtful.  I believe that one of the most important things that we can do to improve our satisfaction with life in all of its facets is to be thoughtful.  Being thoughtful can mean many things, like taking the time to say something nice or render a small act of service to another human being in the flow of a busy day.  It can also mean being fully aware of the present moment to the extent that choices are evaluated before being enacted.  As a Man of Style and Substance, I strive to be both.

And some days I fail.  Miserably.

Today was one of those days.

In the interest of helping you to potentially avoid repeating my failure, let me share with you how it unfolded.

Without meaning to, our family morning routine has begun to include some less than helpful elements.  My two youngest children, aged 16 and nearly 13, are slow to rise, grumpy and combative about almost everything.  Getting up, eating breakfast, getting dressed, grooming for the day, gathering completed homework, being ready for the carpool, almost everything has become a battle.  Some days, these battles are handled with grace and humor.  Today it was for a while.

Then I blew it.

My daughter, expressing the angsty teenage comment of “I don’t see the point,” became the recipient of a flippant and poorly thought out remark.  A remark that I instantly regretted, hastily corrected, and apologized for.  

My daughter began moving, going through the rest of the morning, as did I.  My son then became the target of my momentary thoughtlessness when I said, “Your sister is parroting your behavior; we have to change that.”  

At that point I left for work.

And then I had a moment where I thought, “I wonder, what if that was the last thing that my son or daughter heard me say?”  I then thought, “What if, at some difficult point in their lives, the thought I just gave them was the one that came back to their minds?” 

I then had a thought that pushed me over the edge: “Is it possible they are both parroting your attitude?”

And I lost it.  

I had to pull of the freeway.  I began to sob, uncontrollably.  I felt pain in my heart and mind, so deep and so crushing that I could not function.  I cried and prayed and cried some more, and yet the sorrow lingered, indicting me with a view of myself as an awful example of parenthood.  I sobbed even more, as I called my daughter to apologize.  I told her over and over that I loved her, that I was sorry for being thoughtless, and that I hoped she could forgive me.  I called my wife to apologize for allowing a moment of frustration to produce a thoughtless expression that was potentially hurtful to our lovely little girl.  I continued to feel the sorrow of that moment as I apologized to my son for trying to make him the inspiration for her bad behavior.  I apologized the the other children in the house, our adult children, who may have overheard the exchanges.  Even now, the sorrow lingers.  

If I am being honest, this type of sorrow, the sorrow of having let my guard down for a moment and, in the process, let down my wife and children by not being a man of Style and Substance, cuts deeper than any professional failures, any missed business opportunity, any lost revenue or unpurchased  doo-dad, trinket or ticket.  This hurt goes far deeper and will take me longer to recover from, I think, than almost anything else.

But luckily, it is beginning.

I am fortunate to have a loving wife who comforted me and helped me find some perspective.  She reminded me that, while the moment was hurtful, it was tiny compared to the decade-plus of support, love and laughter that my children and I have shared.  She reminded me that she sees the intention of my heart, and that a momentary loss of composure is not an invalidation of a lifetime spent showing love.

I took the time to reach out to both of my children, reminding them of my love for them, apologizing for my thoughtlessness, and asking for forgiveness; this is a strength we are hoping to help them learn, and I am not afraid to model it for them.  So far, they are willing to look past my thoughtlessness this morning.  

I made a decision, while sobbing on the side of the road, that I would examine my attitude.  I made a decision to be more thoughtful about the way I face the morning, what thoughts I express, what type of example I give to my children of how to handle the challenge of daily life.  I made a decision to be more thoughtful of my words, choosing them carefully, using words that uplift and encourage and never allowing flippant or destructive thoughts to be expressed.  I made a decision to be just as firm in my requirements of them to get ready for school, but to be much more thoughtful as I spur them on to action.

As men of Style and Substance, let us each strive to be thoughtful.  For the absence of thoughtfulness, at least in my case, was crippling sorrow.  I would spare anyone that sorrow!  Be thoughtful!

Go forth and conquer!

The passing of a friend

On Monday of last week, I received word if a friend’s passing.  He was a young man, not yet forty, and his passing was more than unexpected, it was tragically sudden.  No foul play, no accident, he just failed to wake up one morning.
Yesterday was his funeral.  And the time between learning if his passing and the formal event celebrating his life (that’s how I like to look at funerals) has been one of the most intense emotional roller coasters I have ever endured.  I have cried, I have been physically sick, I have been laughing uproariously and I have been number.  Sometimes all of these emotions and more tumbled upon each other so quickly that it seemed they were all happening at the same time.
Maybe they were.
Whatever the case, today I woke up and went about my day much as normal.  I have grieved, and I’m sure I will have more moments where I grieve his loss anew.  But today, I try to carry on.
I met one of our mutual friends this morning, and we talked briefly of the funeral, of his influence in our lives and, for each of us, a profound awareness that our lives are different because he was in them, and different because he is gone.
Personally, I feel left behind.  My friend and I had worked together on one life changing project, a theater production that for both him and me was a touchstone in our lives.  After that, we worked on parallel projects, never quite having our schedules synch up in a way that allowed us to work together.  I was planning on making the next opportunity the one that would.work, no matter the cost.  And now, I will never get that chance.  Like I said, I feel left behind.
My friend was a man of substance and style.  I looked up to him for finding ways to be authentic regarding who he was and what he valued.. He made others in his circle of friends feel loved, appreciated and respected.  He looked for the good that they did and inspired them to do more.  He was always accepting and, at the same time, encouraging of everyone around him to be better.  Smiles, laughter, and passionate disagreement were part of his life and our relationship at various times, but underlying it all was a sense of mutual respect, love and appreciation.
And now he is gone.
But his influence will live on.
In the spirit of my friend, allow me to encourage you to be better.  Whether you read this on the day it is first published or decades later, the encouragement to be better is fully in force.  Find something that you can do today to be a little better.  Be more thoughtful of someone’s struggles.  Be more exacting of your completion of a project.  Be more present during a moment of relaxation with family and friends.  Be more hopeful of seeing good manifest itself in the world around you.  Be more courageous in contributing to positively to those around you, whatever your relationships might be.
In doing so, your life becomes so much more than a compilation of events and memories.  You become, like my friend, a man of style and substance.  You become someone who makes a difference.
You become someone who will be missed when gone.
Go forth and conquer!

The Blueprint for Style and Substance

Years ago, while looking for a poem to memorize for a class in jr. high or high school, I came across a poem by Rudyard Kipling.  It was rather long, as I judged poems at that time in my life, and was rather intricately written, so the memorizing of it was a challenge.  Being somewhat competitive, I relished the idea of a challenge, and I took after it with some excitement.
I loved Rudyard Kipling, primarily because of the story “Rikki Tikki Tavi.”  If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it.  Of course Kipling also wrote many other works, perhaps most notably Captain’s Courageous and The Jungle Book.
If you are familiar with Kipling, you will likely have guessed that the poem I am referring to is “If” sometimes listed as “If, for Boys.”  Nearly every young man has seen this poem, perhaps on a birthday or graduation card given from a parent, grandparent or beloved relative.  Most of us, perhaps, remembered more the money that was tucked inside the card than we did the actual words of the poem.
That description may have matched me at one point.
But over time, things have changed.
Over time, I have begun to see his poem as one of sublime insight, powerful inspiration and comforting encouragement.  At various times in my life, I have experienced all of the ups and downs that he eloquently describes, with all of the accompanying celebrations and tears.  I have read and re-read the poem at some of the darkest and most difficult times in my life, reminding myself that, while my particular circumstances may be unique, being challenged by life is nothing new.  And when the challenges have come as a result of success, as the poem counsels, I have likewise studied the poem for an indication of how to best keep moving forward while keeping myself free of the arrogance that can so easily accompany successes.
Recently, in connection with this blog, I have come to realize that the poem provides a solid foundation piece of what it means to be a man of style and substance.  A blueprint, if you will.  In that vein, I offer it here, now, for you to review and reflect upon.  I hope it helps you as much as it continues to help me.
If you can keep your head when all about you   
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;   
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;   
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;   
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;   
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,   
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,   
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
Go forth and conquer!

The Five Best Pieces of Newlywed Advice

My oldest son recently got married.  It was a fun ceremony, completely representative of both my son and his new bride, filled with swords and medieval costumes and swords and Star Wars.  I loved it, and so did most of the attendees.
But now, it has been over two weeks.  They have had a honeymoon, opened presents, and begun the process of caring for one another.  They are currently living with us while they find a house to move into, so we are more than a little involved in this first phase of their lives.  And, because they are here and so are we, I have naturally been thinking about all the things that I would like to tell him about now that he is a husband.  But of course, I can’t really do that without being invited.  That would be borderline meddling.
But I can write a blog post!
What follows, then, is the advice that I feel is the most important advice that I would like to pass on to my son, and to other husbands around the world.  I doubt any of this will be particularly revolutionary; much of it has been tried and tested throughout hundreds of years and thousands of strong, resilient, happy marriages.  And that is, I think, why I feel so strong about passing it on.
Put the marriage first. In the first few months of marriage, it is fun to be thinking about your spouse, wondering what she is doing, thinking about all the things you would like to be doing with her.  It is absolutely likely that you have gone out of your way to find things and adopt activities that keep you together as much as possible.  However, as months go by, you may find yourself starting to think of what you miss.  Times going out with the guys, all night movie marathons over pizza, road trips, perhaps even career goals that are ambitious and demanding.  All of that is fine and healthy until they begin to take a primary focus in your life, away from the love, care and support of your wife.  Many husbands have learned, and some of them too late, that the marriage relationship is fragile.  If not treated with constant care, if not placed first in your priorities, you will likely find that it doesn’t matter what you replaced it with.
Combine and cleave.  This goes along with the first, but in my mind specifically deals with finances.  Finances are one of the primary things that spouses tend to quarrel over.  Sometimes the quarreling becomes so intense that it chases all of the joy out of the relationship.  The surest way I have found to head that off at the pass is to ensure that finances are combined early on.  farther you can get your minds and hearts away from the yours/mine perspective, the more fully you can see that the intertwining of your lives is what brings true joy.  In this way, you cleave to one another, you are intertwined.  In my experience, couples who did not combine finances as part of the conversation did not enjoy the same feeling of solidness and commitment in their marrriage as those who did.  It isn’t a promise of peace, but it is one of three critical issues.
Appreciate the little things as big as you can.  You’re just starting out, so you aren’t going to have a lot of resources.  But that doesn’t mean that little expressions of love and support don’t deserve the biggest expressions of appreciation that you can manage.  Make every day together a day to be celebrated.  Pull out the best dishes for a beautiful meal.  Hug her extra tight and long on a day that she does something unexpected.  Don’t let you circumstances determine the enthusiasm of your heart.
If and when you fight, fight fair.  Right now, I’m sure you can’t imagine that you and your lovely bride will fight.  Believe me when I say that it is not only likely, it is probably inevitable.  You are different people, with different ideas, histories and approaches to life.  There will be conflict along the way.  That is okay.  fighting isn’t evidence of a weak relationship, it is evidence of strong people prioritizing a relationship.  Just remember that, during the heated discussions over little things, keep the little things little.  I have learned through my own life that when I try to bring up old issues previously resolved or if I ever questioned my wife’s commitment to me and to our marriage, I regretted it.  Fight over things, but fight from a perspective of finding the best way for the two of you to move forward.  Never question motives or bring up  the past; that just isn’t fair.
Never stop trying.  Never stop trying to demonstrate your love and adoration of your lovely bride.  Never stop finding new and imaginative ways to express your feelings.  Never stop working on your own self, striving to be the best you can, because that is the greatest gift you can give her.  Becoming a better man, a man of solid substance with a style all your own will make you more able to support her during the difficult times that will certainly come to you.  If you never stop trying to be the best you can be, you will be ready for those times.
Well, there it is!  The advice that I think every young husband should get.  Do you have anything to add?  Put it in the comments below!