This past Labor Day weekend was a special time for me, as it has been for the past five years. Since 1999, I’ve been an avid reader and explorer of Civil War history, and my Dad got interested as well over the past 10 years. Five years ago, we began what is now an annual Labor Day tradition of visiting Civil War battlefields and related historical areas. Here’s a quick review of our travels the past five Labor Day weekends:

  • 2011 – Gettysburg (PA) (largest and most famous Civil War battle)
  • 2012 – Shiloh, Chickamauga (both in TN and battles that my great great grandfather served in) and Birmingham (AL, my birthplace)
  • 2013 – Antietam (MD) (deadliest single battle) and Chancellorsville (VA) (daring Confederate victory and where Confederate General Stonewall Jackson was killed)
  • 2014 – Richmond & Petersburg (VA) (Confederate Capital and sites of battles near the end of the Civil War)
  • 2015 – Appomattox Court House (VA) (Lee’s surrender), sites of First (first battle of Civil War) & Second battles of Manassas (VA), & Washington DC

It’s been a marvelous adventure for my Dad and me, and we’ve both learned so much about the Civil War, about our nation, about people, about honor and duty, about leadership, about family and about life.

My dear friend David Akers believes in traditions and loves to create them. I didn’t realize it, but I followed his example—my Dad and I have created a tradition, and we both mark Labor Day Weekend down on our calendars for the next year. My Dad is 78 years old and in pretty good health, so I’m hopeful that this tradition will continue for many years. I’d love for my brother and my sons to join us on one of these trips, but that’s a matter of interest and schedules. I know it’s nice to have the one-on-one time with my Dad for conversations in the car, on a battlefield or over dinner.

Here’s just one story that I learned on this trip about my Dad. I already knew that he had a professional baseball contract offer after high school, but my grandfather would not let him sign the contract and insisted that he go to college instead (which he did, playing baseball at Ohio State). However, I didn’t know a great deal of the story, including the following:

  • After high school my Dad had contract offers from several teams, including the Chicago Cubs (his No. 1 choice), Milwaukee Braves and Cincinnati Reds.
  • At the time, a major league team could not offer a player more than $5,000 to sign without having to put them on their major league roster, so the teams couldn’t offer enough money to my Dad for my Grandfather to allow him to sign out of high school.
  • My Dad flew to a workout in Milwaukee with the Braves, along with my Grandfather. It was the first time flying for both of them.
  • When working out with the Braves, my Dad also got to take batting practice and hit a couple of home runs. During batting practice, one of the Braves’ pitchers, Warren Spahn, said, “Hey kid, maybe you can teach me to hit.” Warren Spahn was a great hitting pitcher and my Dad’s idol, so this was a thrilling moment for him.
  • After playing three years at Ohio State, my Dad (21 at the time) had offers from the Baltimore Orioles, Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds, Milwaukee Braves and Detroit Tigers, and he accepted the offer from the Tigers (which he never regretted). The rules had changed by then, and teams could sign players for more than $5,000 without putting them on the major league roster.

I doubt I ever would have heard this story without being on this trip with my Dad. In fact, I heard it and dug deeper into it after hearing my Dad tell a clerk at the store at Manassas Battlefield about his experience with the Milwaukee Braves (they got to talking baseball, and she was from Milwaukee and a big Braves fan). Yes, Dad will talk to anyone … I wonder where I got it.

Whenever I tell people about our Civil War and Labor Day tradition, they seem fascinated and think it’s great. People seem to be envious of this tradition that my Dad and I have created, but they also seem to think that it’s too hard or difficult for them to emulate. Traditions are not as complicated as we make them. Just start doing something and continue doing it. It’s not about how you do it, just that you do it.

The one thing that traditions have in common (or should have in common – in my humble opinion) is quality time with people you care about. In this case, it’s quality time with my Dad, and we have the bonus of a topic and experiences that we both care about. However, so many traditions that I do see don’t always involve quality time. People often talk of holiday traditions, but having been around them I usually see people rushing around and getting more focused on the activities than the people. The best traditions for me are ones where people enjoy the time, each other and their moments together.

What traditions do you already have in your life? What traditions would you like in your life? What blessings would you reap from more or different traditions in your life? These traditions could be personal or in business. Businesses also can and should create traditions, with people spending time together and getting to know each other being at the core of the tradition.

I’ve been blessed in so many ways by the Civil War trips with my Dad. I’ve learned things I never would have known about the Civil War, this nation and history. I’ve learned things about my Dad and even my life that I never would have known. I’ve met new people and heard their stories of life. I’ve seen parts of the country that I had never seen before. I’ve had new experiences, seen new things and had moments of my own and with my Dad that never would have happened without this tradition.

I invite you to create your own traditions and through them to experience all the blessings that come from regular, quality time enjoying moments with family, friends or colleagues. And remember this – it’s often easy for people and relationships to slip through the cracks of our lives and the rush of time, schedules and busyness. Traditions are one great way to assure that we maintain our connections and relationships. What are you waiting for – your new tradition is just waiting to be created!

Traditions Manassas

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