Posted by: Jerry Langford | 08/02/2017

Happy 80th, Dad

Today, August 2nd, would have been my dad’s 80th birthday.  He passed away after a battle with cancer back in ’95.  Next year I’ll be 58, the same age as Dad when he died.  It only reminds me that my father died at a fairly young age.

I’m sure teens and millennials will scoff at the idea of 58 being “young.”  But people are living longer these days and the old adage is true that you’re only as old as you feel.  By that standard, I know I’m not “young” in my 50s but I don’t feel old and decrepit, either.  A little beyond middle age, I am grateful for a healthy and active life at 57.  Today my life is filled with joy, excitement and hope. I am blessed with grandchildren, the ability to travel to extraordinary places, and the joy of blessing others through my life and work.

At this point in my father’s life, he was dealing with cancer, holding down a trucking job, and living a fairly isolated life in the desert near Tonto Basin, Arizona.  He and his wife lived modestly and seemed content with little or no contact with extended family.  I only saw him for a couple of days before cancer eventually ravaged his body.  He was still the easy-going guy who always had a drink in his hand.  He spent two days getting to know my kids – the joy and love of my life – only to say goodbye to them and me for the last time before he drove away.

My dad’s brother also battled cancer for 10 years before it took his life.  He lived years beyond my dad’s death and one day summed it up for me by saying, “Your dad just gave up.”  It may have seemed that way at the time to many of us,  but I’m not sure that conclusion is entirely fair.  They were fighting different cancers and chose different treatment plans.

But, in some ways, dad had given up.  For the most part, he abandoned family members and his children by seeking solace in a self-isolating existence.  Sure, he occasionally welcomed family and friends who would visit him, but he rarely made it a point to visit others.  To this day, I regret not visiting him or calling him more than I did.  But he had made it abundantly clear that he wasn’t interested in me, my family, or the work I was doing in Texas during those years.

Despite the rift between us, and the pain of abandonment I feel to this day, I am grateful to the man I knew for shaping me with his positive extroverted qualities, sense of humor, and fearless ability to make others laugh. We had a few good years together when I was growing up and I do cherish those memories. None of us are perfect and I don’t want to focus on my father’s failings.  Instead, I want to say, “Happy 80th birthday, Dad.  I love you.  And I miss you.”

Posted by: Jerry Langford | 07/13/2016

You’re In Control!

I am finally writing this absurd rant because A) it’s long overdue, B) nobody else will write it, C) men will be able to relate and D) women will be intrigued, fascinated and disgusted. Hey, I’m here to serve.

Urinal Etiquette

Guys, please don’t feel obligated to start up conversations at the urinal. If one guy finishes early, is he supposed to continue standing around waiting for you to finish your story? Standing there watching (and/or listening) is a creepy behavior we try to instinctively avoid.

If there are multiple urinals to choose from, always allow one empty one between you and the next guy. I’m suspicious and uncomfortable if someone makes it a point to stand right next to me when they don’t really have to. Women, it would be like a total stranger sees you sitting alone in an empty movie theater and chose to sit down right next to you. Creepy, right? Well, once you’re streaming, it’s difficult to switch to a different urinal. Not impossible. But difficult.

There are numerous issues going on, of course. Those of us with nervous bladders have trouble starting a stream unless it’s quiet (and, preferably, we’re completely alone). Then there’s the awkward “closeness” we have to endure as we stand brushing shoulders with strangers, co-workers, or (worse yet) bosses. If I’m wearing sandals, there’s an effect that I call “the splatter factor.” And it’s just gross to be lightly sprinkled with someone else’s urine.

Men are gross enough as it is. Put them in a restroom and the gross-quotient only intensifies. For example, guys, please don’t rate or score sounds you hear in the bathroom. Flatulence is an inevitable fact of life, but saying things like, “I’d give that a 9.5,” doesn’t really help to break the ice. Or maybe it does? I’m not sure on this one.

Women may envy how quickly men are able to enter restrooms, do their business, and walk out. This is especially true at major events when there are long lines to the women’s restrooms. Well, urinals make that happen. And guys not washing their hands afterward (yes, we see you!) make that happen, too. But while urinals are helpful overall, can we just agree on some standards?

I prefer the floor to chest-height open urinals (though these seem to be a thing of the past). They fit all sizes and heights. Some “bowl urinals” are placed too low or too high on the wall. This results in splatter, overspray, and numerous other challenges. It’s also really embarrassing when you’re using a shorter urinal and a really short guy walks up but can’t even reach the high urinal next to you. Or vice-versa. I’ve been in both situations. It’s like being in a handicap stall when you see wheels roll up and the guy starts pulling at the locked door. Mortifying. You just want to crawl under the divider to the next stall instead of walking out of that one.

But I digress.

Urinals. Can we have some proper spacing upon installation, please? I don’t stand this close to people on a subway. Some urinals are wedged so close together, you have to squeeze in-between the guys on each side. Awkward. And what about those so-called privacy dividers? In some restrooms they’re in place and in others they’re non-existent. Most of us prefer our privacy! Isn’t it bad enough that we’re sharing intimate space while relieving ourselves?

Thank goodness the old “trough urinals” are less and less popular! Though they can still be found at County Fairs, Speedways and Sporting events. I found one half-circle urinal in Central California in the form of a waterfall. Let’s keep the tourism icons out of the bathrooms, okay? In Texas, no joke, there was even a waterbarrel urinal where guys would stand in a circle and face each other while streaming. Uh, no thanks. It’s bad enough I can hear whether you have prostate problems and can sometimes smell when you last ate asparagus, I don’t want to watch, too. And I don’t like the idea of guys aiming their streams at each other. Call me old-fashioned.

At least we can be grateful for indoor plumbing, right? Sure beats the old 2-holers or 3-holers in some really antiquated outhouses. No wonder many guys skip urinals entirely and just stand in a private stall. But that’s not kind to the guys waiting to sit down. And don’t get me started about the terrible aim of those standing streams! Urinals make life easier, no doubt. But, hey, let’s keep the conversation to a minimum and not crowd into others’ personal space.

Thank you for listening. Now wash your hands before you leave.

Posted by: Jerry Langford | 07/11/2016

The Father’s Role

Another Father’s Day has slipped quietly by and my thoughts inevitably return to my own father-son relationships. I am so encouraged and hopeful when I see my own son care for his child. And the same is true as I watch my son-in-law play with his toddler. Though very different in personality, each man will love, protect and raise his own son with care and thoughtfulness. I am proud of both of them and grateful for the precious gift of grandsons from these men. I’m sure they know that my hope and prayer is that they’ll raise their children in the knowledge of a loving and personal God, and that He is the source of joy, happiness and security in this difficult world. I am confident that this wisdom is important to both of them and that they’ll raise their child with eternity in mind.

God is our Heavenly Father, after all, and I’ve learned that He loves His children unconditionally. We may blow it from time to time, but God never stops offering His love and grace to us. I remember accepting His forgiveness years ago for the mess I made of my own life and I recognize that He gets the credit for the blessed man I am today. I may think I’ve accomplished much in my near-60 years of life but, in the end, all that matters is that I’m a sinner saved by the grace of God. I want my life to be lived in gratitude to Him.

As a parent, I am grateful for the privilege of raising my children. I didn’t do it perfectly and, looking back, I always wish I’d done more. But I tried to stay active in their lives and still try to this day. When my kids were younger, I think back fondly at my school lunch visits with them, camping trips with the family, day trips and fun play times. As they got older, I found ways to be active in their youth groups and retreat trips, and creatively added fun to their birthday parties and gatherings with their friends.

Now that my kids are adults, I’m trying to find the balance between being active in their lives (and families) and giving them the space to be independent and grow their own families. I love being a grandparent and I trust the experience will only get better as the grandkids grow into teens and later adults themselves.

One thing is sure, I have never and will never stop loving my kids. Sure, it would be heartbreaking to watch if one of my children ever experience a major failure in their lives but I would stand by them and lend my support because I’m their parent. I’m the dad who loves them.

When a problem or disagreement surfaces in the parent-child or even parent-adult child relationship, I firmly believe that the onus is greater on the parent than the child to restore that damaged relationship. In my own father’s case, I think he just didn’t know how to be a dad.

His own father passed away when he was young and his mother had already left the family before that. Maybe he just never had the example of a good parent in his life. Perhaps he believed that parenting was to be left to the wife/homemaker staying at home. It was a common misconception in his day. Fathers were largely absent and uninvolved unless punishment was called for. Dad was an effective disciplinarian but he didn’t really prepare us for life or our future parenting roles.

As I think back to my rocky relationship with Dad, even today, it is a turbulent mixture of pain, regret and love that overshadows my thoughts. He had his own faults (as we all do) but he had strengths, too. I’ll be forever grateful to him for being a terrific role model as an extrovert. Wherever he went, he seemed to be the “life of the party.” He was funny, charming, and engaging… more than I will ever be. He wasn’t afraid to talk to strangers and he had a wonderful sense of humor. People enjoyed meeting my dad and working with him. He thrived in jobs where he worked with the public.

The pain and regret come to mind when I think about how we had drifted apart for so long before he passed away. Apart from our personality types, we really had very little in common. At one point, he told me he disowned me as a son. He said he was embarrassed to be my father (which I found ironic since I’d been embarrassed by his actions over the years). So we broke off communications then and only sporadically saw each other after that.

For a short time we tried to work together but that ended badly, too.

Years later, when I began to raise my own three children, purchase a home, and have a terrific job, I longed for his involvement in my children’s lives and probably for his approval, too. But he only visited my home once over the course of 10 or 12 years, and that was to say goodbye. By then he knew he had cancer and he was visiting relatives to bid farewell. He parked his RV out front and only stayed a night or two.

He won my children over with his usual charm. He was finally the grandpa I wanted him to be to my kids, but then he broke our hearts by leaving so quickly. I remember how painful that was for my children and me, and it later compounded my personal grief.

A month or so later, he passed away. I felt a mixture of sorrow, pity, and loss. Mostly, I felt very little emotion because we just weren’t close. That may seem strange but I had been emotionally disconnected from him for so many years, and I guess that was the result.

My dad had a drinking problem for as long as I could remember and that contributed to our family breaking up when I was a teenager. His drinking and his behavior through my early years adversely affected me, though I couldn’t understand or recognize dysfunction from within. I could only see it clearly when looking back from years down the road.

During the time my kids were growing up in Texas, my dad’s older brother, Cecil, became a surrogate grandfather to them. I’m grateful to him and Florine for embracing the grandparents’ role. I still think fondly of my aunt and uncle in central Texas and for the opportunity to be part of their lives for so many years.

Despite my dad’s faults, I couldn’t help growing up to be like him in some ways. We share those positive traits I mentioned earlier and, like my father, I have mastered the ability to do many things. But, in greater contrast, I value the relationship I have with my own children. I esteem them and express pride and satisfaction with the adults they are becoming and have become.

I can’t imagine turning my back on them for years and ignoring the opportunity to love and support them, even if they’re in a place where they don’t desire it from me. My own experience tells me that a father’s role is so important to the growing process, right into adulthood. And, perhaps because he was absent in much of my life, I recognize what a great privilege it is to be an “active” father. Today I’m so thankful that my children will not have to experience that kind of absence or neglect in their own lives. I’m a better person today because of them and I trust they appreciate how much I love and respect them.

Father’s Days will always be a little bittersweet for me. As the years go by, I trust that the focus on family relationships in the present will overshadow the pain of loss and absence experienced in the past. Through it all, I’m reminded that fathers have such a unique opportunity to impact the lives of their children (young and old). And they do that in both subtle and extraordinary ways.

Being a dad is a daunting responsibility. And every single day I’m thankful for that privilege.

Posted by: Jerry Langford | 07/23/2014

Life and Other Options

No matter where I go, no matter who I talk to, Mondays seem to be universally despised. I can’t tell you how many times fellow worker-bees have dragged their sleep-deprived bodies into the office on a Monday morning telling co-workers how tired they are, as if everyone around them couldn’t see the obvious. “The weekend was exhausting,” they mutter. I guess they tried to squeeze in a week’s worth of living into two-and-a-half very brief days.

I used to live this way but a major shift occurred awhile back.

Granted, I recognize that I represent a tiny minority. Today I really love my life.  I’ve learned the old adage is true: It’s no longer work if you love what you do.  (Sorry, didn’t mean for that to rhyme.) Years ago, I started living my life 7 days a week instead of just on the weekends.  My perspective shifted from being busy in life to living a full and active life. I intentionally filled it with work that I love, people I enjoy, and activities I’m passionate about. Now this may not be groundbreaking for you, but it was for me. I don’t honestly know why it took me so long to figure this out.

I learned that most people repeatedly make two mistakes. The vast majority live for their “free time” – a clear implication that most of the time they live their lives enslaved. So their weekends or Friday nights get packed with draining and exhaustive activities that should probably only be attempted when armed with a week’s worth of vacation.

The second mistake is choosing to do things in their free time that they do not enjoy. I’ve watched with amazement as people do things on the weekends or weeknights that only adds to their misery.  Does that mean I’m suggesting that we live selfishly and strictly for ourselves? Absolutely not!  I get joy out of helping others and I hope you do, too.  So I try to find a balance of being available to help others while still making time to enjoy the activities that I genuinely love.

As I said earlier, I consider myself fortunate that I have a job and several hobbies that I am enthusiastic about. As an illusionist, I sometimes donate my time to worthwhile causes so that, while helping and entertaining others, I receive great joy doing what I love. It’s a win-win.

Lately, I have learned that passion can make all the difference when it comes to the activities of life. Passion can turn your mundane or busy life into a thrilling, can’t-wait-for-the-next-day kind of life. I feel genuine sorrow for those who try to live their lives without it.  Find your passions and pursue them!  Don’t settle for a normal life.  Live an extraordinary life.

Posted by: Jerry Langford | 01/31/2014

Well Done, Disney Cast Members!

Last weekend I had the opportunity to visit the Disneyland and California Adventure theme parks. Even though I live in Southern California, I have not really been a frequent visitor to these pricey parks. In my 55 years, I’ve probably visited Disneyland 5 or 6 times (and that includes a 30-year absence from the park). My son-in-law, Andrew, works at the park and generously passed the four of us in to enjoy a “park hopper” status. We moved freely between the two parks and enjoyed the best of each. We lunched at Jolly Holiday Cafe just off Main Street and had dinner at the Blue Bayou restaurant inside the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction. I did some research and learned that my very first trip to Disneyland was around 1967, the year that the Pirates ride opened. I was 8 years old and the famous park made a lasting impression on me.

As a young boy, I remember being so fascinated with the dancing fireflies in the dark and moody Pirates’ atmosphere as we waited in the winding line for the ride. I had never seen fireflies before! Sure, I knew they were mechanical but it was so exciting to see Disney’s impression of a dark and mysterious bayou. Even at that young age, I remember seeing people dining across the water and thinking, “Someday I’d like to take my family to eat there.” 47 years later, I checked off that particular wish and regretted that I hadn’t done it sooner. We only took our kids to Disneyland once and they were in high school and college by then. Once we moved to Southern California, they had plenty of opportunities to go to the park and they went frequently with high school and college buddies. But I just rarely made it a point to go myself.

I’m not opposed to theme parks, though I remember sneering at Disney’s rising admission prices. When the kids were younger, we spent a lot of time at Texas’ finest parks: Six Flags in Dallas, Fiesta Texas in San Antonio, Seaworld, and, our personal favorite, Schlitterbahn in New Braunfels. Schlitterbahn is a labyrinthine water park perpetually at the top of this country’s best water theme parks. When we relocated to California, we regularly checked out Magic Mountain and Knott’s Berry Farm (because the prices were so reasonable) and periodically went to Universal Studios, the L.A. Zoo, San Diego Zoo and the Wild Safari Animal Park.

Returning to Disneyland and California Adventure was, for me, a nostalgic and wonderful experience. I was eager to see the new Cars Land and World of Color water show that I’d heard so much about. They were both great! Now, thinking back to my first trip some 47 years earlier, I recalled being mesmerized by the simple but quaint Enchanted Tiki Room, the Jungle Cruise, Mr. Lincoln’s convincing animatronic presentation, the Circle-Vision 360 degree theater, the ride “Adventure Through Inner Space” where we were shrunk down to microscopic levels, The Carousel of Progress (where we learned to love the song, “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow”), Pirates of the Caribbean, and more. I remember my dad enjoying the sight of the “live mermaids” sunbathing on the rocks in the submarine lagoon. And I was astonished as a man lifted off and took flight from Tomorrowland with a real jet pack strapped to his back. I recall, too, the Bell Systems’ sponsored show where visitors were allowed to call “anywhere in the U.S.” absolutely free at the end of their presentation. It was all so exciting!

Visiting the park recently allowed me to explore the park in a new and appreciative way. The rides don’t hold the same fascination for me, of course, so I spent much of my relaxed time people-watching, studying Disney’s fine grasp of line-waiting psychology, and noting the “sensory-overload approach” to everything that Disney does. It was as if I could hear Walt yelling, “Dazzle them with everything, and then throw more at them!” Whether it’s their latest high-tech rides, 3-D shows, parades or water shows, there is an abundance of visual and audio stimulation. In quite a few cases, the viewer is immersed in the action with sensory stimulation, as well.

But, despite all that, I was most impressed by the caliber and quality of Disney’s employees. Perhaps this is only something I’m able to notice when the rides no longer hold the allure they once did. On this visit, I was able to appreciate the intricate details of Disney’s architecture and the awesome creativity of their Imagineering Department. And, not to be overlooked, the tourists themselves are worthy of study as they’re decked out in the latest Disney fashion and products. But the employees (Disney properties appropriately call them “cast members”) repeatedly and sacrificially went out of their way to go “the extra mile.”

Of course, one could argue that they were just doing their job, even “acting” as cast members to make this “the happiest place on Earth.” And, to be fair, I saw a few employees who behaved in a way that wouldn’t measure up to the company’s high standards. But the vast majority were exceptional, and only added to my family’s enjoyment during our visit.

In fact, I observed employees saying a few words to park guests that went way beyond anyone’s job description. In a nutshell, these people were extraordinarily kind and their gentle words “blessed” their guests. One standout was Nyhl, an older man passing us through the entry turnstile at California Adventure. When our son-in-law showed his staff I.D. card, Nyhl looked right at me and said “This young man is very special to us. Have a great time in the park.” I was proud of my son-in-law but I was impressed that Disney would hire and encourage their staff to be so thoughtful. It was a small gesture but those, combined through the day, made a huge impact.

I had always known that Disney promoted an atmosphere where this behavior is encouraged (or even required). Sure, employees can be nice to visitors, even extra nice. But the responses and attitudes of the cast members I witnessed went so much further than what should be required.

And then it dawned on me. This is the way Christians should be viewed. Disney, being a savvy business operator, hijacked the very reputation we should have as believers in Jesus Christ. Yes, they did it in a good way. And, yes, they have benefited tremendously by encouraging their employees to behave in an unusually good way. But this is the reputation the Church should own! We should be known for repeatedly and sacrificially blessing others, showing kindness where none is expected or deserved. We should even be like those costumed characters, quick to love and embrace instead of judging and rejecting.

Disneyland cast, thank you for a valuable lesson that I almost missed.

Older Posts »