Monthly Archives: July 2018

Being Your Own Boss

Chuck Borough wrote, “Teach children to be their own bosses at a young age, and they will not follow every little boss they meet on the playground. Be generally their advisors, never their bosses.” I have debated with myself lately whether or not I was a good parent. I think all parents do that at some point, but probably more so as we get older, especially if we see our own kids making some of the same mistakes we made. (If any of my children are reading this, please don’t think I’m referring to you!) One of the greatest things we can teach our children, or better said, help them discover for themselves, is their own self-worth. Stated another way, of all the opinions people have about us, the only one that matters is the opinion we have of ourselves. Sadly, though, most of us determine our own worth by the views others have of us. And so we often live our entire lives to please and gain the admiration of our spouse, our friends, our church, our school, or our community and never end up genuinely pleasing ourselves.

I have always maintained that the most important thing we can do as a parent is to teach our children that they can live without us, or in other words, help them to become independent, functioning adults. In short, we raise our children to be secure enough to leave home but we hope they will want to come back to us – but only for a visit. I always smile when I think of a friend of mine who gave each of his kids a suitcase for their 18th birthday. It was a not-so-subtle hint that it was time for them to make it on their own. Before anyone can live independently at 18, though, they need to learn particular skills before that age. And to me, again, the most important skill a young child can learn is a sense of self-worth. A positive sense of self is best learned as a child, but even as adults we can (and should) develop and expand the good feelings we have about ourselves.

But what, exactly, is self-worth? The dictionary defines it as the sense of one’s value or worth as a person. It is somewhat synonymous with self-respect or self-esteem. Dr. Lisa Firestone points out that self-worth should be less about measuring yourself based on external actions and more about valuing your inherent worth as a person. Here is a clip from Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs[i] that reminds us to focus on who we really are – not what other people think of us:

In other words, self-worth is about who you are, not about what you did or do. But don’t we all grade ourselves by what we have done, not who we are? When someone asks me to tell them about myself, I respond by saying things like, I’m retired now but I practiced law for almost 40 years. I am married to a wonderful wife, and we have five great children and 15 beautiful grandchildren. I was born in Utah, lived in Colorado, and moved to Texas in 1985. In Texas, we have lived in the Dallas, Houston, Austin and Fort Worth areas. In short, this is what I have done in my life so far. But what I don’t say is, I like to write. I have a dry sense of humor. I love sports and watching movies. I am an “early to bed, early to rise” kind of guy. I like to eat burgers and Tex-Mex. Which approach tells you more about who I really am?

Self-worth should never be confused with self-importance – that we are too important to do menial tasks or associate with certain people. We often find that people who think they are too big for the little jobs are too little for the big ones. Or as someone once said, “When a man starts singing his own praises, it’s usually a solo.”

I started this self-assessment as a parent after watching the documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor.[ii] It is based on the life of public television’s Fred Rogers, who hosted the educational pre-school TV series, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, for over 30 years. Here is a trailer for that great documentary:

I was too old to enjoy Mr. Rogers growing up, as I was 15 when his TV show began. My kids never got into him either, preferring Sesame Street instead. Watching the documentary, though, I realized some great things about Fred Rogers, including he was not afraid to get down on a child’s level, but never in a condescending way. He helped kids feel good about themselves. And he spoke the language of love. Here are some of my favorite quotes from Mr. Rogers:

“Knowing that we can be loved exactly as we are gives us all the best opportunity for growing into the healthiest of people.”

“You know, you don’t have to look like everybody else to be acceptable and to feel acceptable.”

“How sad it is that we give up on people who are just like us.”

“Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.”

“As human beings, our job in life is to help people realize how rare and valuable each one of us really is, that each of us has something that no one else has – or ever will have – something inside that is unique to all time. It’s our job to encourage each other to discover that uniqueness and to provide ways of developing its expression.”

I wish I would have repeatedly told each of my children similar messages as they were growing up. So with the aid of 20/20 hindsight, here are a few “wishes” of regret I wish I would have done more of as a parent:

I wish I had more patience to let my kids fail more. I realize that sounds sort of weird, but kids learn by doing, and they learn more from their failures than their successes. I wonder how many times as my kids were learning to tie their shoes, for example, did I step in and finish the job because we were in a hurry to get somewhere. But what message did that deliver to the child? “You can’t do it so I will do it for you.” I sometimes did similar things when playing games or putting together puzzles.

When my kids accomplished something, I wish I would have emphasized the qualities it took to reach the achievement. For example, when they got good grades at school, I would compliment them for being smart. I should have praised them more for working hard, for developing problem-solving tools, for being disciplined enough to get their homework done, as so forth. Those are the skills they would need to succeed later in life. And just being smart, without developing those other skills, is rarely a formula for success.

I wish I never squelched their dreams. I think kids need to develop a sense of reasonableness, but never at the expense of dreaming. Sometimes we, as parents, unknowingly place labels or limitations on our children that unconsciously tell them their dreams are too big. I love this scene from the true story, The Pursuit of Happyness,[iii] which dramatizes this point:

I wish I would have emphasized the positive actions of my children rather than the negative. When you think about it, how often do we, as parents, tell our children no! No!! NO!!! Granted, kids need discipline and boundaries, but I’m sure I punished them more for their bad behavior than I rewarded them for the good things they did. Our kids need more sermons like this one from Chocolat[iv]:

I wish I would have let my children make more of their own choices. Many parents today, including my own children, have learned this simple technique. Let your children choose between two or more acceptable options. Give them choices like, which of these books do you want to read before bedtime? Would you rather have green beans or broccoli with dinner tonight? When we let our children choose like that, aren’t we tell them that we trust them? That their opinions matter? Then as they get older, we should start emphasizing the consequences of bad decisions. We still let them choose but allow them to face the results of those decisions, whether good or bad.

These are simple things, but these techniques will help our children develop their self-worth. All of my kids turned out well, despite my sometimes lack of skilled parenting. I give them the full credit for that. I only hope Janene and I did a few things right along the way.

[i] Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

  • Production Company: Columbia Pictures and Sony Pictures Animation
  • Directors: Phil Lord and Christopher Miller
  • Screenwriters: Phil Lord and Christopher Miller
  • Starring: Anna Faris, Bill Hader and Bruce Campbell
  • Release date: September 18, 2009

[ii] Won’t You Be My Neighbor

  • Production Company: Tremolo Productions
  • Director: Morgan Neville
  • Screenwriter: None credited
  • Starring: Fred Rogers, Joanne Rogers and Betty Aberlin
  • Release date: June 29, 2018

[iii] The Pursuit of Happyness

  • Production Company: Columbia Pictures, Relativity Media, and Overbrook Entertainment
  • Director: Gabriele Muccino
  • Screenwriter: Steve Conrad
  • Starring: Will Smith, Thandie Newton and Jaden Smith
  • Release date: December 15, 2006

[iv] Chocolat

  • Production Company: Miramax, David Brown Productions, and Fat Free
  • Director: Lasse Hallstrom
  • Screenwriter: Robert Nelson Jacobs (based on the novel by Joann Harris)
  • Starring: Juliette Binoche, Judi Dench, Alfred Molina and Johnny Depp
  • Release date: January 19, 2001



It’s A Sign

During our trip to New Zealand and Australia, we had many great conversations about some weighty topics. I have been thinking a lot lately about the last issue we discussed: being a person of faith and having a believing heart. I have wrestled with this issue my entire life, trying to determine what kind of God I believe in and how to increase my faith in that God. Please forgive this very personal post, but I hope that expressing some of my musings on this subject might be therapeutic for me and might stimulate some thought and discussion among my readers.

I admire people who tell me that God has a plan for them and that they are placing their lives in His hands. For those people, if something goes right, it was because God blessed them. If something goes wrong, then God needed to teach them something. In one respect, it is an excellent way to live, because it helps to make sense of our chaotic world, as everything that happens does so for a reason. And so, chance meetings or coincidences become all part of God’s master plan.

films that portray miracles. I want to believe in God’s intervention in our lives. In The Cokeville Miracle,[i] for example, when David and Doris Young enter an elementary school and hold students and teachers hostage for several hours before detonating a bomb that only kills the perpetrators, I want to believe the children’s accounts of angels appearing in the school to protect them rather than attributing the deaths of the perpetrators to their own incompetence. But I also wonder why didn’t those angels protect the teachers and students at Columbine, Parkland, Santa Fe, and the many other schools where mass shootings have taken place recently. Why did God apparently answer the prayers of the children of Cokeville but not the prayers of these other victims? Again, in Miracles from Heaven,[ii] Anna Beam, suffering from a rare, incurable disease is miraculously healed following a freak accident. But to those people involved, it’s not a freak accident, but God is intervening in their lives. I want to believe that, too. But why was Anna’s faith rewarded when the faith of so many other sick children appears not to be? About the best I can come up with to explain the randomness of God’s intervention is that, live or die, it was God’s will. I try to take it on faith that God is smarter than I am – that he sees the big picture that I cannot. Or as Isaiah taught, God’s thoughts are higher than mine. I am left to adopt the Ricky Ricardo approach from the old TV show, I Love Lucy, in which he would often turn to Lucy and say, “Lucy, you’ve got some explaining to do.” Maybe someday I’ll have the opportunity to have a similar discussion with God.

Some people will bring them together. The movie, Serendipity,[iii] is based on this premise. Serendipity means finding something of great value when you are not looking for it. In this scene, Eve (Molly Shannon) applies logic to disavow the notion that Sara (Kate Beckinsale) will find her soulmate (John Cusack) through fate since both are engaged to others. Yet, in the end, the five-dollar bill taken from the tip in this scene has a telephone number on it that results in Sara ultimately ending up with her soulmate. It is a fun love story, but hard to swallow in real life unless you are a hopeless romantic:

I believe I found a soulmate in my wife, Janene, and it was definitely serendipitous on my part that I found her. But I am not convinced that God led us to each other or that either of us would not have had a great marriage if we married someone else. Does that make our love any less real or less satisfying?

In this scene from the film, Signs,[iv] the Reverend Graham Hess (Mel Gibson) describes what he sees as the two groups of people in the world: those who experience something lucky and attribute it to God who is watching out for them, and those who believe they were, well, just lucky:

I tend to agree with the two groups of people described by Reverend Hess, but I don’t necessarily believe that everyone in the first group (attributing everything to God) will live with hope while those in the second group (all is chance) will live in fear. I think people in both groups are striving to get through life the best they can regardless of their belief.

While I hope God sometimes has a hand in the things that happen to us, I have adopted more of a Forrest Gump[v] philosophy:

Life just happens, and the important thing is being able to distinguish the difference between what is serious, and what is just life.

Recently, I watched the Broadway musical, Bandstand.[vi] I loved the entire play, but I especially liked this song sung by the mother of the female lead, who learns that her new boyfriend was the cause of her husband’s death in World War II.

  • JULIA (spoken):
  • It was his fault! Ma, he’s here and Michael isn’t and it’s his fault!
  • I want to believe everything happens for a reason-
  • JUNE ADAMS (sung):
  • No, no, no
  • Everything happens, just that
  • Everything happens
  • An event, or a death
  • A catastrophe
  • Any reason as to why
  • Is a reason you supply
  • It just happens
  • Everything happens
  • It’s not fate, no great plan
  • It’s not destiny
  • Putting faith in that cliché
  • Gives your own
  • Free will away
  • When things happen
  • And they will happen
  • You can waste your whole damn life
  • Assigning bits of philosophic meaning
  • To the failures and misfortunes intervening
  • And I’ll tell you what you’ll get
  • Just a lifetime of regret
  • No, no, no
  • There is no reason for why
  • Everything happens
  • It’s the changing of a season
  • It’s a fact
  • And it’s a constant
  • And the only sane response
  • Is to adjust
  • Not to wish it hadn’t happened
  • When it must
  • Now the church will tell you one thing
  • And your friends, perhaps another
  • If I were you I’d listen
  • To your slightly dotty mother
  • Who lost out on her own fair share
  • Of good times and of laughter
  • Listen
  • What matters when things happen
  • Is what happens after

I find great comfort in the words of that song. Maybe what is important is not whether God is directing each step of our lives, but how we react to the things that happen to us, good or bad, irrespective of God’s intervention. If my goal in life is to improve my talents and abilities for the welfare and benefit of my family and others, if my destiny is to become my best, highest self, do I need to know that God is orchestrating every step of the way? I think not.

Perhaps my wife, Janene, said it best: “I have a great deal of faith in the process of life and that living true to my heart and my conscience will be enough. I believe I am a better person for having faced some adversity and done some soul-searching and finding some conviction to stand on my own, with each person finding their own happiness and having their own journey.”

In closing, here is what Anna Beam said she saw while she was unconscious after falling from the tree:

In the final analysis, it doesn’t matter if others believe our personal experiences, as long as we believe them, and act upon them to be better. In other words, it is more important to live a good life than be right. And as Anna says, those that don’t believe us, “will get there when they get there.”

Thanks for listening.

[i] The Cokeville Miracle

  • Production Company: Remember Films
  • Director: T.C. Christensen
  • Screenwriter: T.C. Christensen and Hartt Wixom
  • Starring: Jasen Wade, Sarah Kent, and Kimball Stinger
  • Release date: June 5, 2012

Miracles from Heaven

  • Production Company: Columbia Pictures, Affirm Films, and Roth Films
  • Director: Patricia Riggen
  • Screenwriter: Randy Brown (based on the book by Christy Beam)
  • Starring: Jennifer Garner, Kylie Rogers, and Martin Henderson
  • Release date: March 16, 2016

[iii] Serendipity

  • Production Company: Miramax, Tapestry Films, and Simon Fields Productions
  • Director: Peter Chelsom
  • Screenwriter: Marc Klein
  • Starring: Kate Beckinsale, John Cusack, and Jeremy Piven
  • Release date: October 5, 2001

[iv] Signs

  • Production Company: Touchstone Pictures, Blinding Edge Pictures, and Kennedy/Marshall Company
  • Director: M. Night Shyamalan
  • Screenwriter: M. Night Shyamalan
  • Starring: Mel Gibson, Joaquin Phoenix, and Rory Culkin
  • Release date: August 2, 2002

[v] Forrest Gump

  • Production Company: Paramount Pictures
  • Director: Robert Zemeckis
  • Screenwriter: Eric Roth (based on the novel by Winston Groom)
  • Starring: Tom Hanks, Robin Wright, Gary Sinise
  • Release date: July 6, 1994

[vi] Bandstand

  • Lyrics by Richard Oberacker and Robert Taylor


No Worries

As many of you know, I started my retirement in style by spending 15 days in New Zealand and Australia. So “G’day, mate” (pronounced “good eye, mite”), the typical greeting in Australia, and “Kia ora,” which is Maori for “hello.” This post will be a little different from the usual, as I want to share my impressions of these two great countries. But I’ll throw in a few movie references, and even a photo or two. (A big shout out goes to Martie Mumford, my sister-in-law, who acted as our group’s unofficial historian and photographer, and a big thanks to Martie, Tom, Lynda, Mike and my beautiful wife, Janene, for making the trip so enjoyable. We spent every moment of the 15 days together and got along great, despite some intense discussions on lots of serious subjects. The biggest problem we had was trying to decide where to eat.)

Being in the Southern Hemisphere, New Zealand and Australia were in the middle of winter. But even in winter, New Zealand reminded me a lot of Hawaii. Their natural parks system protects one-third of the country’s flora and fauna. Here are a couple of photos to show you what I mean:



Auckland is New Zealand’s largest city and is quite cosmopolitan. Outside Auckland, the country is mostly agricultural. Only five percent of New Zealand’s population is human; the rest are domesticated animals (mostly sheep and cattle). In fact, there are more vending machines in Japan than there are people in New Zealand. As crazy as it sounds, the thing that impressed me the most about New Zealand’s cities were the playgrounds. Take a look at these photos:


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Of course, in the “States” (as the U.S. is referred to by those down under), no one would dare install most of the equipment found at a New Zealand playground due to liability concerns. But I understand the New Zealand personal injury system is much different than ours. It is similar to our worker’s compensation, where people who are injured are compensated at a set rate rather than relying on a judge or jury to impose pain and suffering and other damages. If the U.S. adopted such a system, we could do away with a significant portion of the lawyers in this country. (I can say that now that I’m retired!)

New Zealanders (or Kiwis, as they are known) are proud of the fact that there are only four types of poisonous spiders in New Zealand, three came from Australia, along with the black widow from America. And there are no snakes, so Indiana Jones would love New Zealand. When it comes to New Zealand and movies, most people think of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Hobbit movies, the filming of which brought over $200 million into the New Zealand economy – that’s over $40 million per person! But when I think of New Zealand movies, I think of Moana and Whale Rider, which give us a greater understanding of New Zealand’s Maori heritage, and my favorite New Zealand movie, The World’s Fastest Indian,[i] which is the true story of New Zealand native, Burt Munro, and his quest to break the land speed record on a motorcycle. It is a gem that, unfortunately, most people have never seen. Here is one scene from the film which I can relate to, as to reminds us never to underestimate the power of an old coot:

When we landed in Australia, the country felt like home to me. I suppose that was because I had served a two-year church mission there many years ago, and the landscape reminds me a lot of the mountain west of the United States. Like New Zealand, Aussies drive on the wrong side of the road, which is the left side. My brother-in-law, Tom, did almost all of the driving in New Zealand, while I did most of the driving in Australia. It does take some getting used to. The hardest parts were to remember which side of the car the steering wheel is on (I got in the wrong side of the vehicle at least twice) and which side of the steering wheel the blinker is on (I was continually turning on the windshield wipers when I wanted to signal a turn). And after we returned to the States, I continued to confuse the windshield wipers for the blinker. In Australia, you not only drive on the left side of the road, you must walk on the left side of a sidewalk as well. In fact, it is technically illegal to walk on the right side of a footpath there.

One of the things Australia is known for is their animals. The Tasmanian devil looks like a giant rat, and the wombat’s poop is square-shaped (that sounds painful). But of course, most people think of these Australian animals:


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Neither the kangaroo nor the emu can walk backward, so Australia put them on its coat of arms to signify that the country is always looking forward. But Aussies are happy to eat their national animal and bird. And we joined right in, enjoying pizzas topped with both kangaroo and emu (as well as crocodile). And you can buy kangaroo and emu at almost any butcher shop.

Similar to New Zealand, Australia has three times more sheep than people, and 25 percent of the population was born in another country. More than 80 percent of the people of Australia live within 70 miles of the coast. And a beautiful coast it is!


If you visited a different beach in Australia once a day, it would take you 27 years to see them all. One of the beaches we visited was beautiful Byron Bay, next to Point Byron, which is the most easterly point of Australia. It has one of the most picturesque lighthouses anywhere:

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When I saw this lighthouse, I immediately thought of one of my favorite movies set in Australia, The Light Between Oceans.[ii] It is the story of a lighthouse keeper and his wife who rescue an infant from a boat off the coast of their lighthouse and raise her as their own. The rescuing of the child is especially poignant since they can’t have children of their own:

All is well until they discover the mother of the child is still alive. If they keep the child (and the secret of where she came from), no one would probably ever know the child is not theirs. But will their consciences let them? It is an interesting ethical and moral dilemma that I am glad I will never have to face.

Both Aussies and Kiwis are proud of their heritage and sense of justice, while at the same time acknowledging their indigenous peoples. I found it particularly interesting in Australia where tour guides always take a moment to recognize the heritage of their aboriginal people. Australia declared 1988 as a year of mourning for the Aborigines, and in 2007, Australia’s prime minister issued a national apology to their native people for the way the English and other immigrants treated them. In contrast, here in the States, how often do we respect or even acknowledge the cultural heritage of Native Americans?

New Zealand was the first country to grant the vote to women (1893); Australia was the second (1902). Australia was the first country to put in place an 8-hour work day. Both nations were our allies in World War I and World War II. Many of New Zealand’s and Australia’s troops fought together at the ill-fated battle Gallipoli in World War I. Fifty-eight percent of all New Zealand troops in World War I were casualties. For Australia, World War I was its costliest war in terms of deaths and casualties. From a population of fewer than five million at the time, 416,809 men enlisted, of whom more than 60,000 were killed and 156,000 wounded, gassed, or taken prisoner.  The film, Gallipoli,[iii] depicts young Australians joining the war for patriotism and adventure, but realizing all too soon the horror of war, often resulting from the mismanagement of their leaders. Here is the ending scene:

Probably my all-time favorite Australian movie is Breaker Morant.[iv] It is the tragic true story of three Australian lieutenants who are court-martialed for executing prisoners during the Boer War, even though they acted under the orders of their superiors. Using these junior officers as scapegoats, the General Staff of the military were trying to deflect attention from their own war crimes.  Here is the ending scene (it is a bit long but powerful):

(The epitaph from Matthew 10:36 in the clip is hard to understand. It reads “A man’s foes shall be of his own household.”)

Of all the things that impressed me about New Zealand and Australia, the most impressive was the friendliness of the people, who were always willing to chat and always willing to help us find our way around. And I loved their laidback attitude of just taking life as it comes. “No worries” is a common expression in both countries, and they take it to heart. If we, Americans, could learn one lesson from our Kiwi and Aussie friends, I hope it would be that.

[i] The World’s Fastest Indian

  • Production Companies: OLC/Rights Entertainment, Tanlay, New Zealand Film Production Fund
  • Director: Roger Donaldson
  • Screenwriter: Roger Donaldson
  • Starring: Anthony Hopkins and Diane Ladd
  • Release date: March 24, 2006

[ii] The Light Between Oceans

  • Production Companies: Heyday Films, LBO Productions (II), and Dreamworks
  • Director: Derek Cianfrance
  • Screenwriter: Derek Cianfrance (based on the novel by M.L. Stedman)
  • Starring: Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander, and Rachel Weisz
  • Release date: September 2, 2016

[iii] Gallipoli

  • Production Companies: Australian Film Commission and R&R Films
  • Director: Peter Weir
  • Screenwriter: David Williamson and Peter Weir
  • Starring: Mel Gibson and Mark Lee
  • Release date: August 28, 1981

[iv] Breaker Morant

  • Production Companies: South Australian Film Corporation and The Australian Film Commission
  • Director: Bruce Beresford
  • Screenwriters: Jonathan Hardy and David Stevens
  • Starring: Edward Woodward, Jack Thompson, and John Waters
  • Release date: July 3, 1980