“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

Friends:

“Armageddon” with Bruce Willis is one of my favorite movies of all time.  But I will be the first to admit that the idea of sending a squad of oil drillers into space to land on an asteroid, drill a hole and then drop a nuclear weapon inside the hole is ridiculous and preposterous.  Yet despite its ridiculousness, I can give NASA a pass for concocting this plan because they really didn’t have a whole lot of time to come up with anything else.  It wasn’t as if NASA had engineers sitting around all day trying to come up with plans for if an asteroid hurtles towards the Earth.  So its absurdity is acceptable.  But what is going on today, now that is something that is not acceptable…

I’m not going to go into the politics of this whole “Obamacare” legislation or why I think it is or is not a program that will be beneficial to Americans.  We can talk another time about the concept that the government can require all Americans to spend money on health insurance, something that seems counterintuitive in a capitalist society.  We can also talk another time about the idea that the best course of action for ensuring that all Americans have health insurance is not to force the insurance companies to reduce their rates to make it affordable for everyone but to allow Americans who cannot afford health insurance to receive a government subsidy.  And that, my friends, is really the extent of my knowledge of the program, although to call it knowledge is a misnomer.  Call it, instead, familiarity from innuendo and inference.

No, instead I am going to suggest that the current debacle regarding “Obamacare” can be the basis for a teachable moment, a fact pattern that can be used for this and future generations from which a lesson or lessons can be learned.

According to the United States Parachute Association, the Federal Aviation Association requires that a skydiver pack not only a main parachute but also a reserve parachute, thus ensuring that if the main chute malfunctions for any reason there is a back-up in place.  Even in “Armageddon,” NASA sent up two teams of drillers in case one missed the landing point or for whatever reason couldn’t get to the asteroid. 

The lesson to be learned is to always consider if things go wrong.  We as trusted advisors—attorneys, accountants, financial advisors, insurance brokers, business planners—we spend our lives planning and predicting.  We discuss with our clients a goal and then we work to plan a course of action to attain that goal.  But how often do we plan for the negative outcome, the situation in which things do not go as planned?

We never want to think about our plan going south, yet experience will tell us that sometimes things don’t go as planned.  And we need to be ready.  When setting a course, as much, if not more, time must be spent in planning for a disaster as planning for success.  And we never want to admit it to our clients, but there is always the possibility that things may not go as planned.  Is it a chink in our armor to admit to our client that there is a possibility of failure?  Maybe.  But is it better to discuss with the client the possible downsides or act surprised if/when the disaster strikes?

In so many cases, when things go south, we must find a way to deal with it and move on.  Rarely does life allow us to push a “reset” button and start over.  We need to plan for all potential eventualities,

As I am writing this, my wife is watching an episode of “Grey’s Anatomy” that she had Ti-Vo’d and it involves a malpractice lawsuit against one of the doctors for a surgery that went so poor as to eventually require amputation of both of the patient’s legs.  You would hope that a doctor performing surgery on you has considered all of the possible calamities that could occur and has already planned for them so that if anything goes sideways he or she is ready for it.

Because in the operating room, you can’t stop the surgery with the patient’s chest open and decide you are going to put it all back and try to start it over next year.

Because your client cannot invest thousands of his or her dollars, get halfway through a plan, have it start to go south and then try to stop it and start over next year.

This is a teachable moment.  You must plan for every eventuality before you take that first step forward.  Because if you only focus on the positive outcome then you won’t be ready for if things go south.  And life doesn’t provide you with a “reset” button.

 

“As trustee of the Toad estate, were you aware of the defendant’s mania for motorcars?”

Friends:

I’ve spent a lot of time advising you as to the riskiness of the proposition of becoming trustee of a trust, the ways that a beneficiary can challenge you and your actions, the personal liability you face should you be found liable for a breach of a fiduciary duty and the oppressive and complex rules you must follow in order to potentially avoid a claim of breach. I have written about it, been published and even lectured on the subject, all for the purpose of preparing you for the difficult and thankless job you are about to assume. And yet, I feel that in some respects I have done you a bit of a disservice, for there is a part of the discussion into which I haven’t delved…

A potential client called me last week because he needed help with his mother’s trust. His mother had just passed away and he and his sister were the only beneficiaries of the trust, an even distribution amongst the two. But sister and brother didn’t get along anymore (as is so frequently the case). While brother hoped for a speedy and efficient resolution of his mother’s trust, the sister saw things differently. She had already taken up residence in mom’s house, had begun to take items of personal property that she wanted and had also attempted to remove funds from mom’s bank accounts. By all means, there would be nothing efficient or straightforward about this trust administration.

The mother did, however, attempt to deal with the issue of her two children not getting along by appointing her brother, a retired judge, to act as trustee – a terrific solution to an unfortunate situation. With all of the matters that I handle which involve parents who are oblivious to the possible dissension amongst family members, at least in this situation the mother attempted to avoid discord between her children.

But a problem has arisen—the named trustee, the retired judge, has indicated that he wants nothing to do with the administration of the trust, doesn’t want to get in the middle of the squabble between his nephew and niece and would prefer instead to decline to act in favor of the next successor trustee in line named. Perhaps you can see where this is going? Guess who is the next successor trustee in line? You would be right if you guessed that it is the son and daughter, acting together. The California Probate Code requires that, unless the trust itself says differently, where there are two or more trustees, they must act unanimously. Clearly, unanimity amongst brother and sister is an impossibility.

I have done my best to educate as many people as I can as to the minefield that is being trustee; and while that is done with a fairly honest (although somewhat tongue-in-cheek) attempt at convincing people not to become trustees, the fact of the matter is that being a trustee is very important. And if you or one of your clients agrees to be a trustee, then you or they better darn well do it.

It’s one thing to not know that you have been named trustee; if you weren’t consulted about it and didn’t give your permission, then I don’t see why you should agree to so act. But if the creator of the trust asked you about it and you consented to the appointment and agreed to perform the duties of the trustee, then you absolutely cannot back out after the chance to make a change has passed. If you realize while the creator of the trust is still alive and the trust is revocable that you don’t want to do the job, then let them know and ensure that a change is made. But if that person passes away and you didn’t tell them you were not inclined to do the job, then you need to stick to it.

In the scenario that I just told you about, the retired judge’s declination to act will potentially cost the trust tens of thousands of dollars and further decimate an already tenuous relationship between brother and sister. Do you think that the mother wanted the only assets she had to give to her kids to be wasted away in attorneys’ fees and court costs? Of course not! She asked her brother, the retired judge, probably the most qualified of people to handle the duties, to be trustee and he said yes. And now he wants to back out?!? Are you kidding??

To the estate planning attorneys out there, a word of advice. I am sure that many, if not all of you, already do this, but please advise your clients to get the permission of the people they intend to name as successor trustees before they make the nomination and make sure that those people understand the gravity and importance of the position and the responsibilities that come with the job. You might even want to speak directly to the person nominated and give them a clear description of the job and what would be expected of them. Education is the best way to ensure that there are no surprises later as to what the job entails.

For as much as I try to tell people not to do it, not to become a trustee, if you do say yes, then do the job. The person who selected you as the trustee did so because they trust you to do a good job; they expect that you will follow their instructions; and in some instances they have selected you because you are neutral and can act dispassionately with respect to the internal familial struggles and challenging dynamics. Simply turning a blind eye and claiming that you don’t want to get involved in what could become a contentious administration defeats a major purpose of estate planning.

“There is no winning! Only degrees of losing!”

Friends:

I don’t typically pay attention to international politics. In fact, I don’t pay much attention to US politics either. This whole “government shutdown” thing? I don’t understand it, couldn’t discuss it with you and certainly couldn’t explain to an outsider how it has affected me.

But there is one thing about politics that has become very clear to me after having practiced law for almost 13 years now. It’s that sometimes compromise is impossible. I know that it sounds obvious, something that shouldn’t have taken me 13 years to figure out, or even 37 years on this earth, but it struck me just last week as I was listening to our Rabbi in temple discuss the difficulties in the Middle East that seem to have been go on for centuries.

It was after a particularly lengthy mediation, which resulted in some modicum of progress but not enough to conclude the dispute and reach resolution, that this became glaringly apparent to me. Perhaps it is my temperament but I believe that resolutions can be reached. At the mediation, instead of sitting back and allowing the retired judge work to move the parties toward settlement, it was me running back and forth, working the opposing parties and trying to get everyone into settlement-mode and away from belligerence and antagonism. Yet despite all of my efforts, I was also up against an enemy with no name and no face. That enemy was conviction.

In so many instances, reaching a compromise means admitting that you were wrong. While the actual resolution itself may state that neither party is making any admissions as to fault or responsibility, psychologically a party that compromises feels that they are admitting some form of wrongdoing; as if by making concessions the party is also admitting that their position may be faulty or that they have culpability.

Some parties simply are not prepared to make such a statement or take such a position. When I consider the fervor of the Middle East tensions, I think about the impossible task of reaching any form of truce or compromise. Despite my disposition to believe that all differences can be rectified, the truth of the matter is this is not the case. When you have that strong of a commitment to whatever position, it is possible that you will not waver from it, no matter the offers being made to you or the losses that you suffer.

Isn’t this the root of so many wars? One side so firmly entrenched in its beliefs and ideologies that it is unwilling to step down even one minor peg? Or, even more strikingly, one side so assured of its position that it feels that aggressive action is necessary in order to force its philosophies on others? History is rife with examples of unnecessary suffering and bloodshed simply because of national pride and an unwavering commitment to a system of beliefs.

And yet all wars at some time or other end. They end after too many deaths and too many wasted resources, too much money spent and too many families shattered. And some wars end and are forever placed into the past—it still surprises me to think of the good relationships our country has with Japan and Germany and Italy, despite the trauma and hatred spawned by the events leading up to World War II and after. Or even better, our relationship with England, against whom we fought not one, but two wars. And let’s not forget Canada… ok, maybe that one is a bad example.

Nevertheless, it seems to me that war will never end. I will never see during my lifetime a period of no war. Countries will always be fighting against each other. Until one side is willing to consider that swallowing a little bit of pride and coming to a negotiation table will save millions of lives and resources and money and will allow everyone to live in peace and happiness, there will be war.

And for some, that is all that they know. I handled a matter once where three children were suing their father. After over two years of litigation, the matter had finally settled, the father having been beaten down so heavily that he conceded to demands in order to end the fighting. My clients, despite receiving virtually the entire laundry list of settlement demands, were still unhappy. Why? Because they had been fighting for so long and had long look forward to the day when they would beat their father that they didn’t have anything else to focus on. They had lived with the battle for so many years, long before I had gotten involved had they been fighting with their father, that they didn’t know how to live without the battle.

In order to end all wars, there needs to be a paradigm shift; one where the focus of the next generation is not on conflict but on resolution, not on strife but on peace. Frankly, I don’t see it happening… what a waste.

Have a great week.

“I was just wondering if anybody knew his name.”

Friends:

Even though you may have seen a movie multiple times or listened to a song until the CD wore out, you can still pick up something new with each viewing or listening. I happened upon “The Shawshank Redemption” just this past week and even though it is one of my favorite movies and I have seen it probably 20 times or more, something struck me about it that I had never considered before. Something that reflects all of our deepest desires, something more important to us than money or fame…

If you don’t know the story of “TSR,” it’s a prison movie, plain and simple. And while Andy Dufresne and Red are the main characters, played by Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman, it’s the story of Brooks Hatlen, played by James Whittemore, that struck me with this past viewing. Brooks was the old prisoner who ran the library and kept a pet bird in his coat, feeding him little scraps at the lunchroom table, who, after 42 years inside, was finally paroled. After trying to make it on the outside as a common man, he simply couldn’t handle it and took his own life. The prison had become his world and, without the structure and comfort of his home for 42 years, he was lost and afraid.

In the movie, prior to taking his own life, Brooks climbs up onto a table and uses his penknife to scratch the words “Brooks Was Here” into the cross-beam of the room in which he is living. In the book on which the film is based, “Different Seasons” by Stephen King, the only information about Brooks’ death is that he died in a home for indigent old folks – clearly not the more dramatic suicide portrayed in the film.

Nevertheless, it’s the words that Brooks scratched into the cross-beam before he died that connected with me on a level that I had never before realized. When you think about Brooks, you think of someone who had been in prison for 42 years and consequently, to the outside world, was invisible. Or, to put it another way—he had simply never existed. Inside the walls of the prison he may have some limited legacy, but on the outside, where the mass of society lives and breathes, he was like a wisp of air that’s gone before you know it has even blown your hair.

And I think that this is every person’s deepest fear, to be forgotten, and our greatest desire: to make a mark and be remembered. Without the scratchings on the cross-beam, Brooks would never be thought of again, his name never again uttered, his existence never again considered. But with 13 little letters, he has left a tiny fragment of himself. Nothing earth-shattering, mind you, but at least something that, when people go into that room, they would see his words and have the briefest of moments of thought about Brooks Hatlen. What they would think about is anyone’s guess—hopefully nothing as depressed as a convict who had been in jail for 42 years only to be paroled and kill himself because he missed prison life. But nonetheless, they would think about him.

A few weeks ago my Rabbi gave a sermon and he indicated that memories of our ancestry only goes back three generations, to our great-grandparents’ generation. Earlier than that and our ancestors are people we never met and of whom we know very little if anything. Which means that our accomplishments and experiences will be long forgotten by the time our great-grandchildren have children of their own. And aside from the money and fame, I think that deep down all we as human beings want is to make a mark so that we are remembered. We may no longer be tangible to our later generations, but our contributions can live forever.

Brooks Hatlen had no later generations—his genes died when he committed the crime for which he was imprisoned for 42 years. His legacy at the prison would be fleeting at best. So what else did he have? How else could he make his mark so that someone, anyone, would remember him?

He carved his name into a cross-beam; it was all he could do to prove he ever existed. If only 3 people ever see that carving, that is 3 more people who will ask the question of who was Brooks and what were the events in his life that led to his climbing up on a table and etching those 13 letters.

Brooks had no other choice. We are far luckier. We have the power and the capability of doing wondrous things with our lives and leaving an indelible mark on our world. We aren’t limited to scratching our names into a cross-beam. The thought that what I do today could be remembered forever? Yeah, that’s pretty exciting.

So I better get to it, don’t you think?

What about you?

“Hey, wait! I know why you aren’t acting like yourself. You don’t have your special helmet!”

Friends:

I would like to think that at heart I generally like people. I know that this sounds funny to say, but when you interact with people, especially strangers; it is fairly simple to determine who likes people and who doesn’t. It can be from the way that they make eye contact or the method of their greeting or even just how much of an interest they take in you. For the most part I like to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, that they are just like me and have no real grumble with society as a whole and people individually. And this is a tough thing to do, especially in a world such as ours when we don’t know where the next terrorist act will take place, or the next racial epithet sounded, or the next honked horn and road rage assault. Wouldn’t we all like to go back to the 1950s, when people didn’t need to worry about locking their doors and trusting people was an easy thing to do, not a risky thing?

This thought occurred to me this past weekend as I experienced car trouble and had to rely on strangers to provide assistance. Look, no one likes to have car trouble—in fact, it always comes at the wrong time, and in the wrong place and for the wrong reason. For me, it was some kind of a computer malfunction in the car that only has 1300 miles on it. But when the warning lights on the dashboard start flashing and the brake system signals a malfunction, you get off the road immediately and figure out the rest from there.

So there we were, the four of us on the way to Pomona for our annual trip to the fair for deep fried whatevers (this year it was deep fried Klondike bars) and the lights flashed and a quick exit from the freeway was in order. After alerting the dealership to the issue, we were instructed to wait for a tow truck to take the car, and all of us, back to the dealership in Valencia. We were at a gas station in an unfamiliar place, with unfamiliar people around, waiting for an unfamiliar person to take my car and my entire family, back to the dealership. And might I add that it was already 100 degrees at 10:30am.

When you have some sort of car trouble like that, you are likely more than frustrated; your plans have been thwarted and now you have to deal with many unknowns—the problem with your car, your current location and the people who you will depend upon to help you.

I have had car trouble on a few prior occasions and this is what I have always experienced— whether there to tow the truck to the dealership, to change the flat tire, to bring gas (never happened to me, knock on wood) or jump start the car, the tow truck drivers have always been exceptional. Maybe I am lucky, but for some reason my experiences with them have always been positive. Maybe it’s that they appreciate that I am upset because of the car trouble or maybe it’s because they see that their job is to help people, the tow truck drivers have always been incredibly kind and helpful. Not necessarily the most talkative of people, but gracious and accommodating nonetheless.

For example, there are a lot of things that I dislike doing—one of them is putting my younger daughter’s car seat in the car; once it’s in, I would prefer that it stay in because getting it locked in is a complete pain in the you-know-what. But because the car had to be towed back to the dealership, it meant that the whole family had to be towed back. Before I could even offer to help or ask how we were going to make it happen, the tow truck driver had already picked up the car seat, heaved it up into the truck’s cab and strapped it down in the back seat for Kensi. That alone was enough to make my day. Mind you that this was after he had arrived and immediately had introduced himself to me and shook my hand. I am a huge believer in the handshake because I find it to be a personal and civilized way of greeting people. And it immediately put me better at ease- here is a guy who wants to shake my hand, introduced himself to me and in that brief instant showed me that he understood the importance of his task, not only to get my car to the dealership safely, but to get my family there safely as well.

I know that we as people tend to categorize others based on their profession or social status, but what do we really accomplish by doing that? Nothing. There are good people out there; wait, I will rephrase. There are more good people out there than bad. And it is always comforting when you run into them, even through chance encounters, and realize that you were right in having faith in people as a whole.

Have a great week.

“The whole world now knows… my son, Sean Mullen, was kidnapped, for ransom, three days ago.”

Friends:

Our world has certainly changed, even in the brief 30 years since I was a kid (30 years!!). Ok, that just made me feel old… But seriously, the things that I used to do as a kid, I just don’t feel comfortable letting my kids do. Why does it have to be like this?

This weekend the family was at Disneyland to participate in some racing events, a 5K for Brooklyn and I and a half marathon for Amy. Kensi even participated in a 100-yard “diaper dash.” To make the weekend even more fun, friends of ours from Australia were in town to participate as well and we got to spend a few days at the parks with them. Their 10-year old daughter and Brooklyn hit it off immediately. Of course, they wanted to go on rides that were less exciting for everyone else and for the briefest of moments I contemplated letting them go off and ride a ride alone… for the briefest of moments only.

I recall when I was 10 years old or maybe even younger going to Disneyland with cousins from Phoenix. Late in the evening my brother and I and our boy cousin who was a year older than us wanted to go on the boat ride. Our parents said fine so long as we met them at the monorail at a specific time. We agreed and off we went the three of us alone in Disneyland at night. However, when the thought of letting Brooklyn and her new friend go on a ride by themselves entered my mind, it was instantly eliminated. Not a chance in the world would I let my daughter go off on a ride by themselves, even in the happiest place on earth.

This morning we were running through the McDonalds by our house for breakfast and because the drive-through line was so long, Amy decided to run in so I parked and waited. As I sat there, I saw three girls, two approximately 12 years old and one appearing to be a few years younger, walk out of McDonalds. Where I grew up, there was a McDonalds down the block, about as close to our house as the McDonalds is to our house now. I remember countless times as a kid walking down to the McDonalds for lunch or breakfast or a snack and never having any problems. Yet when I saw those girls this morning walking out of McDonalds, my first thought was that I don’t know whether I would let my kids go to McDonalds by themselves. And this is the McDonalds right down the street from our house in a good area.

Has the world changed that much in 30 years that the things we used to do as kids we wouldn’t necessarily allow our kids to do?

So I began to think—am I being paranoid as a parent or is there some validity to my concerns? Have I simply read too many books and seen to many movies and television shows that deal with abductions and murders and other nefarious crimes?

In preparation for the 5K I started to run but since my days are so packed with work and the kids I typically run at night, usually around 8:30 or 9. I run around our neighborhood and there is one section where the path goes inland from the street through some nature. Each time I run through there, my pace quickens just a bit, a spike of fear tickling my spine as the thought occurs to me of how many books I have read where the murderer kills the jogger in the early morning hours and leaves his body amongst the marshland. Consciously I know that there is nothing to worry about, but there is still that little voice that says to run faster and to make sure that the GPS on the phone is turned on and visualize my escape route if I need to make a quick dash.

Is there a difference between being careful and being overprotective? I guess I can give thanks to “Without a Trace” and “NCIS” and the countless number of books I have read because it has just made me paranoid. But it also reinforces for me the belief that there are bad people out there and I just need to be vigilant in my protection of myself and my family.

And that is a sad thing—because life was a whole lot different 30 years ago, when I played in the street outside my house every day after school and I walked to school by myself and I rode my bike without a helmet and I went to R rated movies without a parent or guardian accompanying me…

“I don’t mind telling you this, mister: we don’t owe him a thing. He got a fair trial, didn’t he?”

Friends:

I think that many, if not all of us, would agree with the theory that it is better to let 10 guilty people go free than to convict one innocent one. But I think many people would prefer to believe that theory with one slight modification: that it is better to let 10 guilty people go free than to convict one innocent one, so long as the guilty people going free don’t include an OJ Simpson or a Robert Blake or a George Zimmerman. It is only when the “obviously guilty” go free that society resumes its crusade against the US justice system. Yet our perspective on this has been conditioned over hundreds of years, this belief that the justice system should be fair and just; when it results in an unsatisfactory outcome, that is when our criticisms come to life with vigor.

But have you ever considered the alternatives? Have you given any thought to what our society would be like if we didn’t have this system of justice, if our forefathers hadn’t founded our justice system and allowed it to evolve to the system we have today?

As we all learned in school, our system of government is based upon the English system, with two houses in the legislature and a judiciary featuring judges and juries. Surely those bastions of progress and growth and innovation were ahead of their time in all aspects of westernized culture, right? You’d be surprised; I sure was.

We engage in the study of history for many reasons, one of which is to learn where we came from and to identify and appreciate the people and events that shaped our world. But a byproduct of this endeavor can also be a deep appreciation for what we have today. And with the study of the justice system on which our system is founded, there is much about our own system today that requires our appreciation.

In the 1800s, as the United States was just finding its footing and fighting wars on its property in virtually every generation, the English were simply business as usual, a society that had been around for and evolved over hundreds of years. But their justice system was absolutely atrocious. A society that had no clearly established police force rushing to mobilize as crime escalated, especially the crime of murder.

We love to champion the 8th Amendment and its protection from cruel and unusual punishment in all discussions regarding the death penalty. But can you imagine a system in which an execution was required to take place within 48 hours of a conviction? And not only was it to take place that rapidly, but it was a public spectacle, the attendance of which typically measured in the tens of thousands? We would like to think that the death penalty should be as much a deterrent of crime as it is a punishment for such crime, but can you imagine a system in which executions were so speedily and publicly enforced?

Or imagine a justice system in which scientific evidence was nothing more than mere theory, espoused by the allegedly learned who had no scientific background at all? Consider a defendant on trial for murder by poison and the “expert” testifies that since this particular poison is odorless, the fact that the person died and during the autopsy there was no odor of the poison, thus the death was by poison? Can you imagine such nonsense? We like to think that judges and juries are unpredictable now, but imagine a situation in which the judge and jury make findings that are founded in no logic or fact at all, and this after a jury deliberated for a whole 12 minutes?

Do you honestly think we have it that bad today? Is our system so awful? Before we take up our pickets and criticize our system because a George Zimmerman or an OJ Simpson go free, consider if we were back in the 1800s in England. Which system would you prefer? A system in which every effort is made to protect our jurors from exposure to outside influence about a case? Or a system in which the newspapers and other print media exaggerate events prior to trial, thus poisoning the jury pool, and convict a defendant before the jury has even heard any evidence?

As an attorney, I oftentimes get irritated by the public criticizing our justice system. I know it’s not perfect and I know that plenty of probably-guilty people go free; but before we stir up the embers to burn it to the ground, we have to consider how far our system has come and how, only a mere 150 years ago, things were much, much worse.

Ours is a highly evolved society and we are truly living in the most magnificent age for technology and science and entertainment and discovery. I don’t think it is a large stretch to lump our system of justice in that grouping. It isn’t perfect and it could certainly use some modification, but tell me what is perfect?

“Hot summer streets and the pavements are burning, I sit around”

Friends:

It’s been a few weeks since last we spoke and I was prepared to wait yet another week before contacting you again, simply because of how depressed I am. It is very difficult to be creative or even conversant when depression rears its ugly head. And every year at this time, I reach the lowest of the lows…

My favorite time of the year has always been summer. I know so many people who will disagree with me, who will claim that the heat is unbearable, that Thanksgiving through the New Year is the best time of year, or that the changing of the seasons in September and October is the most wonderful, or that springtime, with its blossoming nature and temperate climes is optimal. But summer has always been my favorite.

Perhaps it is because some of my fondest memories are of summer escapades—family vacations, summer camp, Dodgers baseball and swimming in the pool. No school, longer days, barbecues and the smell of charcoal and reruns on television. My most favorite time of year.

When my wife and I were planning our wedding we selected the
second week in August as the perfect time, figuring that if we wanted to take vacations for our anniversary it wouldn’t conflict with school and the weather would usually be ideal. It is now August 11, one day after our 11th anniversary, and where did we go for our anniversary? Nowhere at all. Why? Because school starts on Wednesday.

Yep, summer vacation, which seems to take longer and longer to show up, is over in less than the blink of an eye.

Growing up we got near on 3 months of vacation—now, a mere 8 weeks. By the time summer vacation is in full swing, it is time to do back-to-school shopping.

For a while, I forgot what summer vacation was. In college
I did a few summer schools; in law school, after the second year, it was time to find a job. After that, the summertime is no different than the wintertime or springtime. It’s just another season stuck indoors working.

But when you have children and they start school, summer takes on a renewed importance. Think only the kids are looking forward to summer break? Think again. Summer break means no more stress of getting the kids to school on time or doing homework or deadlines for school projects or open house or studying for tests. Parents enjoy summer break just as much as the kids, if not more so. During the summer I feel that I have a lighter mood, I am less stressed out, I am smiling more often and enjoying life, smelling the roses and tasting the lemonade. I stay up later, I sleep in a little bit longer, I just generally feel better and happier.

And yet just like that (snap), it’s over. I don’t care what the weathermen say (except for Mark Thompson, of course—he rocks), once school starts, summer is officially over. The sun just doesn’t seem to shine as bright, the roses just don’t smell as good, and my smile just isn’t as large.

So, my friends, I am depressed. Depressed that summer is over; depressed that my kids have to go back to school; depressed that with each summer that passes it means that my kids grow another year older; depressed that for however fantastic the summer break may have been, it would’ve been more fantastic if only we’d had a little bit more time.

And the counting begins again, counting down until summer break next year, when we start this all up again.
Enjoy the rest of your summer for however long it is. In my mind, it’s already fall, I am pulling out my sweaters, I am feeling a slight chill in my bones and I am trying to figure out a Halloween costume.

“I remember every wand I’ve ever sold, Mr. Potter.”

Friends:

Did you hear the news about the new Robert Galbraith book that isn’t technically by Robert Galbraith but was actually by Harry Potter’s own JK Rowling? A detective novel released in April under the pseudonym of Robert Galbraith that sold only 1,300 copies in the US just happens to be by JK Rowling so now, of course, it is getting international attention and is skyrocketing up the bestseller charts. As a lover of literature and, of course, someone who once had visions of writing the “Great American Novel,” the story of Robert Galbraith/JK Rowling is truly depressing.

Why is it depressing, do you ask? Whether or not you agree that Rowling is a good writer or a good storyteller, it is safe to say that she has talent and that people enjoy reading her books. And yet Robert Galbraith, the exact same person, couldn’t sell a lick of books. It just goes to show that having talent is no guarantor of success, and it’s unfortunate. Because we know that, in all disciplines – not just writing- there are tremendously talented people out there who never get the notoriety or success which they so justly deserve.

When you go to a book store (if you can find one) or troll the online stores, you can sometimes be overwhelmed by the hundreds of thousands of books that are out for consumption, whether they be fiction or mystery, romance or science fiction, nonfiction or travel, cookbook or religion. With all of those books to choose from, there always has to be a “best” and you would think that the cream would rise to the top. But that simply isn’t the case. For every great book that is read by millions of people there is an exceptional book that is read by only 1,300. And for every terrible book that is read by millions of people… you get the picture.

I used to think, in my younger years, that it must be easy to get a book published because, in all seriousness, how many people out there truly have the talent to write a book? Naiveté rears its ugly head because I have read so many terrific books that have never cracked the bestseller list. And I have read so many dreadful books that spent years on the top of the charts.

And this latest episode with JK Rowling is a perfect demonstration of it. You could be the best writer in the world, or the best chef in the world, or the best singer in the world, or the best athlete in the world, but if you don’t figure out a way to get recognized, your talent may never be shared with the rest of the world. For some people, that may be perfectly fine; but for writers or actors or singers or performers, what good is having a talent if there is no one to receive it? The best actor in the world is nothing if he plays to an empty stage. Doesn’t the writer write so that people will read? Doesn’t the singer sing so that people will hear?

What must it be like to be a talent that never gets discovered? How many “Great Gatsbys” have been written over the years that were never discovered because, for some reason or other, the author just was never in the right place at the right time? (And I shudder to use this analogy because I am not a big fan of that book.)

So what do the rest of us do, those of us who have talent or think that we have talent? Do we pack it all in and give up? Do we simply forego our dreams and aspirations and live with the knowledge that we never achieved the success we believed we so richly deserved? We like to believe that there are no overnight successes anymore, that people have to pay their dues in order to achieve greatness. But how long do you scrape and kick before discouragement overtakes you? How long would Robert Galbraith have had to write before achieving HIS success, the success that was bestowed upon him simply by virtue of his being a pseudonym for one of the most successful authors in history? It is discouraging to say the least.

And this isn’t just about writing. It is about any discipline – accounting, the law, insurance, athletics, cooking, you name it. You know the old philosophical question about a tree falling in a forest and no one around, does it make a sound. Well—if someone has talent and no one recognizes it, then who is to say the talent existed at all? The mountain seems like such a steep climb to get to a place where the talent is acknowledged that it would be so easy to quit. Robert Galbraith is a perfect example of that—it took a famous writer to make Robert Galbraith a star. And if Robert Galbraith had just been Robert Galbraith? We may never have found out about him…

“O-bla-di, o-bla-da, life goes on, brah!…”

Friends:

Well, I am sure you were expecting some commentary on the Zimmerman verdict, especially in light of my commentary on the Casey Anthony verdict; however I simply don’t have the energy to address all of the issues and the myriad of thoughts that are going through my mind, both as an attorney and as a parent.  Regardless of whether you believe that the verdict was a symbol or a travesty of justice, I am sure that everyone will agree that the entire episode was a tragedy, and one which could have been and should have been avoided.  If anything, as parents we have a responsibility to use this tragedy as a learning tool.

And speaking of learning tools…

My wife and I took our daughters to the Aquarium of the Pacific this weekend and while we were there we saw a little girl, probably my older daughter’s age, who was handicapped and walking with a walker which supported her back and arms.  She had braces on the lower parts of her legs and clearly had difficulty walking.  At one point Brooklyn mentioned to me something about the little girl and I asked her if she wanted to go say hello to her.  Kind of odd, I agree, for a kid to just out of the blue go say hello to another kid, but I wanted Brooklyn to know that just because the other girl walked differently and had a strange looking contraption assisting her, it didn’t mean that she was someone to shy away from or be afraid of.  I certainly remember being Brooklyn’s age and being afraid of people in wheelchairs so I wanted Brooklyn to know that there was no reason to be afraid of a little girl.

It’s at times like these that I as the adult try to remember how I was when I was a kid- was I sensitive to people who had disabilities?  I seem to remember my elementary school having a special education class, but whether there was a lot of interaction with the children with special needs I don’t recall.  But on the occasions when those interactions did take place, how did I do?

The other night I was flipping the channels after the Dodger game had ended and came upon a documentary on HBO called “Miss You Can Do It” which chronicled a beauty pageant for girls and women with special needs, everything from cerebral palsy, Down’s syndrome and other challenges.  My wife and I were riveted; how can you honestly turn off a film that shows girls our daughter’s age with severe challenges who are putting on makeup and getting their hair done and being treated like the beautiful people that they are?  You could see how excited the participants were to be there, how much they had been looking forward to the pageant and how, for one weekend at least, they didn’t feel different. 

So many thoughts ran through my mind as I watched the film.  Amongst them were extreme sadness for the girls who surely have a tough road ahead of them, a lifetime of doctors, askance looks and hardship; compassion for the parents who have in many situations had to give up their lives to care for their girls; and immense wonder and admiration for the pageant’s judges and administrators, the people who put the pageant together and give so selflessly so that these girls can forget their disabilities and challenges, even for one weekend, and have fun and be treated as the beautiful people they are.

Unfortunately, another thought that ran through my mind, is one that I am ashamed of—the thought was one of gladness that it wasn’t me and my girls on that show.  Is that selfish?  Is it wrong?  After the film was over I immediately wanted to go to my girls’ rooms and wake them up and give them a hug and thank whatever being is out there for giving me such healthy and beautiful girls.  It’s one of those things that you cannot help but feel when tragedy befalls someone else—it’s the “Thank God it wasn’t me” feeling and on me it felt shameful.

So when I saw the girl at the Aquarium on Saturday, I couldn’t help but think back to the HBO film and the beauty that those pageant participants radiated and my own sense of shame at feeling such gratitude.  And I figured that the only way to combat my own feelings was to show my girls that the disabilities and challenges of others are not to be feared or discomfited by.  Because so much of our discomfort is due to our own ignorance of the challenges that other people face.  We tend to mock what we don’t understand, especially when we are kids because our knowledge is so limited.  I remember feeling uncomfortable around children with special needs when I was a kid, I admit it.  I was a child, I was ignorant and I knew no better.

I don’t want my girls to feel the same way.  I want them to know that all people have feelings and all people are special and all people want to feel special.  They may be too young to understand it now, but in a few years I hope I remember to find the HBO film to show to them so that they understand better.  In the meantime, I can only hope to show them, when we see or interact with people who have disabilities or challenges, that they are special people and they need to be treated with compassion and sensitivity. 

We as parents sometimes fail to realize the immense responsibility we have to teach our children those life lessons that don’t come from a textbook.  Adding and subtracting, subjects and predicates, those are all well and good.  But if our children are not kind and caring and sensitive to the plight of others, then they won’t be well-rounded individuals.

Have a great week and if you want more information on the pageant, go to http://missyoucandoit.com and grab your tissues.