"Fatherhood is not a matter of station or wealth; it is a matter of desire, diligence, and determination to see one's family exalted in the celestial kingdom. If that prize is lost, nothing else really matters."
- Ezra Taft Benson
Small remnants of the black crepe paper and scotch tape that Peg had generously spun like a web across his office library a year ago in honor of his fortieth birthday still hung conspicuously from where they had been pulled down from the tops of bookshelves or near the ceiling. It had been a mad dash to clean up the place once all of the party goers and well wishers had gone in order that they could get to the Marriott for their night away from the kids. Afterwards, it had never really seemed important to pull them down. They really weren't noticeable unless you were looking for them. Now, they looked as large as the mountains out in Utah, as they loomed over him, the heat coming out of the vents near the ceiling, causing them to slightly and quietly flap in the breeze.
At the ripe old age of 41, Douglas John Long, Attorney at Law, had what appeared to be the perfect life. A beautiful wife, seven wonderful children, a nice home, a comfortable solo law practice, and a calling at church as the Young Mens President that provided him ample opportunity to stay tuned in to his older kids and their friends. By playing ball with the kids and their friends, and competing with his friends at church during basketball, volleyball, and softball season, he had managed to stay in reasonable shape. At 5'10, he was still within five pounds of his 170 lbs. college graduation day weight. A slight softening around the middle was evidence of the contentment he felt in his marriage and at the dinner table. His dark brown hair was now streaked with gray, but Peg and the girls all thought that it was just the right amount to give him the necessary credibility he needed as an attorney. His piercing brown eyes could freeze an adversary or alternatively soften into pools of liquid chocolate so as to comfort a weeping client or fellow church member.
But life is a fragile set of scales that require constant balancing. Satan as an adversary knows that it takes very little to tip these scales out of balance, and to slowly bring unsuspecting victims over to his darkness. Satan is subtle, Satan is slow, but his effects are no less damaging from an eternal perspective.
It had taken very little for him to begin his slide. John, their first born, had gone off to his first semester at BYU while waiting for his mission call. Karen, their resident overachiever, had followed him out there a semester later and amidst all of the celebrating and congratulations of having the first two of his posterity going off to this prestigious institution of higher learning came the realization that he simply did not make enough money to support the family and these educational pursuits. They had always been careful about what they had spent, attempting to save as much as they could, while following the Brethren's counsel to use it up, wear it out, or do without, but nothing could prepare him, or their bank account, for the huge drain of having two kids go off to college, while still supporting five more children at home.
He had always made a decent living as a solo practitioner. Some of his classmates who had gone on to fame and fortune as part of the big firm life, or as downtown litigators, still teased him about having an ostensibly "bread and butter" practice. What this meant is that he was rarely in real court, because probate and divorce was considered to be the minor leagues, and he worked in his office a great deal. Residential real estate and real estate related work for the builders and developers that he represented, provided the largest portion of his income, followed closely by estate planning, wills, and probate, a smattering of partnership and corporate work, with an ever increasing amount of uncontested divorce and family law.
At first he had resisted the move to family law, but the work was plentiful and could often be quite lucrative. The uncontested divorce had become quite routine to him after a few dozen, and so the move to the more difficult and time consuming contested divorce arena had seemed like a natural progression to follow.
His secretary Sally Johnston had rolled with the punches and as the years went by, had either attended a course offered through the local college's legal technology program, or called her friends at the firms downtown to get smart in the new areas of law that he sought to become proficient in.
The year before John headed off to the Y, he had determined that there was more work than just one attorney could handle, so he had decided to take the plunge and bring an associate onboard. Liz Garvey had proven to be a great choice, even though she was fresh out of law school. A rare combination of brains and beauty, the blonde hair blue eyed beauty was an inch taller than himself, and had prompted a great deal of ribbing down at the health club from other attorneys who met her. Fortunately, Peg liked Liz, and recognized the true measure of her contributions to the office. For the first six months, everyone that he assigned to her was quick to call or poke their head into his office door and compliment him on his choice of associates. This had led to even more business, and the arrival of Linda Shaughnessy, a divorced mother of two who was struggling to make ends meet before she had graduated from the legal technology program of which he was an occasional adjunct faculty member. Now an accomplished paralegal, Linda could run circles around most of the attorneys who came into the office for real estate closings or other simple matters.
Things really were looking very promising. The presence of Linda and Sally in the office full time, coupled with Liz there to handle the court calls or the real estate closings out of the office left him even more time to concentrate on being a rainmaker, as well as devoting time to the tribe at home, and to do all the little extras that he had wanted to do, but never had the time, for the boys at church during the first couple of years that he was the Young Mens President in the Ward.
A particularly difficult divorce that was beyond what Liz was comfortable dealing with, had prompted his personal appearance at Daley Center in downtown Chicago. It had been a difficult debate before the bench, but he had prevailed. His client was pleased, and promised that he would have the balance of his five thousand dollar fee within a week. He had left the courthouse on the corner of Clark and Washington Streets on a cloud of air. He had crossed Washington, and then wandered down past the old Chicago Title and Trust building, enroute to the train station. The train was a refuge of sorts because he refused to use his cellular phone on it, and for that reason, it was an hour of solitude with either the Scriptures or with a good book. A current thriller that he was reading was on his mind as he passed the entrance to the building, which was why his old roommate from college and law school had nearly run him over as he came flying out of the revolving door.
"I saw you from across the street, and had to grab you before you got away," gasped Bill Fields, his friend of twenty years. At an even 6 feet tall, and a burgeoning 230 lbs, Fields looked even jollier than he had when they had roomed together. With reddish blonde hair and fair skin, his arms, neck and face turned into a giant freckle whenever he was out in the sun.
"Why? Do you have another psychotic client that you want to get rid of and stick me with," joked Douglas, making reference to a client that he had completed a divorce for when it appeared that it would have been a conflict of interest for Fields to take the case given some corporate work that he had successfully performed on behalf of her husband's corporation.
"No. Actually I was going to drag you back across the street to watch me bury a jerk on the 10:30 call, and then buy you lunch over in Greek town like the old days, just to be a nice guy," said Fields, the sun glinting off the red that topped his head.
"I'd like to, but I had planned on catching either the 10:30 or 11:30 train at the latest."
"Aw, come on. Call your office, and let one of those beauties do what ever you have to do in the office. I mean it is so rare that you venture out of your little castle these days," cajoled Fields.
"Hey, that's not fair."
"Sure it is. While us real attorneys are battling to the death over at Daley, you sit out there in your colonial hideaway, reviewing contracts, drafting wills, and setting up dummy corporations for dummy clients," said Fields.
"Oh is that right Counselor," said Douglas, attempting to paint a fierce warrior-like countenance on his face.
"Hey, the only reason that I am not jealous is that I can't see how you do it for the fees that you do," said Fields.
"Hey, I charge what the market will allow. We all don't pay seventy five bucks a square foot in rent for a view of this concrete jungle," said Douglas, waving his arms around in a panoramic sweep.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah. Any way, man, come with me, let me buy you lunch, and we can tell each other some lies," said Fields.
"Okay, you win. I'll take a later train," said Douglas.
It had been as simple as that. After watching his former roommate successfully debate the merits of a contractual dispute before the judge, and prevailing on the pre-trial motion for his client, they had in fact gone to lunch, and talked a great deal about the differences in their practices. Fields lived in the spot light of trial work, and he had literally tried or settled thousands of cases over the years since they had graduated together comfortably in the middle third of their law school class. He lived on the edge, always juggling cases and women. Twice divorced, he had settled on the life of a workaholic. Seldom seeing either of the two children he had sired during the second marriage that he grandly dubbed 'the great adventure,' he was an occasional visitor in the Long residence when he needed a taste of 'domestic tranquility and family stuff.' A feature article in Crain's Chicago Business and another in the Law Bulletin after a particularly surprising victory had established his reputation and helped him feather his nest. In fact, it had helped to make him a wealthy man over the past few years.
"I don't know why you don't give up that little Mom and Pop stand you have out there in the hinterlands, and come down here and be my partner," said Fields, as he wiped the beer foam from his lips, with the back of one of his large well manicured hands.
"Come on Billy, don't start that again. You know I like what I am doing, and things are really going pretty good right now," said Douglas, taking another swig of the grape juice that he favored.
"It's just a waste. You were probably one of the most gifted trial guys, next to me of course, to come out of Marshall. I mean, every competition that we entered, we won. Remember our last year when we beat Notre Dame, Northwestern, DePaul, Loyola, and U of C, all in the same competition," asked Fields, taking another savage bite of his gyros sandwich.
"I remember. State v. Livingston," said Douglas quietly.
"Exactly. Five wins as the prosecution, five more when we were defense. We were awesome. No one could touch us. We were the team of teams," said Fields.
"I know man, and it was great," said Douglas, forcing a smile to his lips.
"So what happened? We were going to take the world by storm, right every wrong, kick some serious butt, and both retire when we were forty with a few million bucks in the bank," said Fields.
"Guess things changed."
"Come on Dougie, every time we talk about this, you clam up. Don't clam up on me now. It is never too late to grow and try something else."
"Hey, I like what I do, and how I do it," said Douglas, taking another swig of juice.
"Okay. So you like what you do. Is it paying the bills? When was the last time that you took a real vacation with your wife, or girl friend, or both," said Fields, a large smile spreading across his handsome ruddy features.
"You are a real pain in the butt, do you know that Fields," asked his friend.
"Hey, what are friends for," asked Fields.
"You make me laugh though. You always have," said Douglas, sitting back in the booth, relaxing for the first time all day.
"How's Peg and all of the brilliant, beautiful, and gifted offspring," asked Fields, mentioning the topic he knew would cause his friend to become animated.
"They are great. And that is all that I am going to say," said Douglas with a twinkle in his eyes.
"Yeah right. Like I really don't expect to hear the litany of scholastic, athletic, and civic honors accrued by that tribe of yours," said his friend. "I mean, really, I have an extra half an hour, let's hear about the latest Eagle Scout, or scholarship winner."
"Nope. If you want to know what is going on, either wait for the Christmas letter at the end of the year, or do something novel, and accept one of our dinner invitations. The kids really do wonder what ever became of Uncle Billy," said Douglas.
"Hey, can I help it if I am always busy with a trial or a beautiful woman when you extend invitations to dine at the homestead," pleaded Fields.
"Okay, you're forgiven. I simply tell them that you were killed in a bus accident, and they believe it, any way."
"Nice. Real nice. But be that as it may, I am glad that things are good at home. At least one of us scored on that scene."
"I scored big. And a day does not go by that I don't realize it," said Doug.
"Seriously though Dougie, how's business," asked Fields.
"Hey, no complaints. Liz is great with clients, and is learning what to do. Not developing the bad habits that I have observed in some attorneys. Linda and Sally keep the office humming, so I have no complaints."
"Making enough money," asked Fields.
"Sufficient for my needs as the old saying goes," said Douglas.