For us the month of May was about family. Dana celebrated Mother's Day by receiving phone calls from each of our grown children and/or their spouses. We facilitated a staff retreat for a group of therapists in which the emphasis was on recognizing and celebrating their professional "family" and its members. And I just returned from spending most of Memorial Day Weekend at the Kerrville Folk Festival's 40th Annual music event at the Quiet Valley Ranch located south of Kerrville, TX, with my three sons ("Biological," "Step,"and "In-Law"). It was indeed a celebration of family.

A year ago after receiving an email from the Kerrville folks about last year's festival, I had cooked up the idea of trying to get my guys to all attend this year's festival as a "boys'" getaway weekend. We all love music; we all love live music; and we all love original live music. What better place to experience this together than at Kerrville? However, I thought the prospect of getting us all to show up at Kerrville for the opening weekend of the festival was slim given our diverse geographical locales and the fact that every one of them has a full-time job, two of them are pursuing college degrees, and each has a spouse they would be leaving behind. Newlywed "Biological" would be driving 8+ hours from his home in Oklahoma. "In-Law" would be driving 2-3 hours from another part of Texas. "Step" travels worldwide teaching people how to take underwater photos and videos. The fact that he was state-side during this weekend and eager to travel yet one more time from his home in Monterey, CA, was more than a father should acceptably ask. It turns out my skepticism was unwarranted. Almost from the time they each received my emailed invitation these three sons of mine were committing to make this unprecedented event for us "boys" happen. You have to understand - these guys absolutely love each other as if they were born from the same womb within minutes of each other. Given the fact that two of the three of them had never been to the Kerrville Folk Festival before, and the other one was only 4 years old when he last was there, it must have been their love of family and this unique opportunity to spend more time with each other that made the commitment such an easy one for each of them.

The research on strong families has revealed at least seven commonly recognized characteristics that seem to help keep a family thriving. One of these is time spent with one another. Contrary to some beliefs, it is not only the quality of time that counts, it is also the quantity of time spent that helps build strong family bonds. The fact that my sons were willing to endure whatever costs were involved in order to spend time with one another (in addition to our annual family getaway with our spouses) speaks of their sense of strong family bond. Given the post-festival emails and phone calls that were circulating among us, this weekend gathering offered something new to celebrate as a family. It has now been added to my collection of most cherished memories.

The research on strong families has also revealed ritual to be an important element. Rituals add structure and consistency to our experiences. I must admit I was a proud father hearing my sons begin to plan next year's pilgrimage back to Kerrville and perhaps establishing a new family ritual - another recurring opportunity to spend time with family. And to think . . . all it took was one simple, easy-to-construct emailed invitation. This event probably would never have happened had I given in to my original doubts and elected not to send the invitation. Often times all it takes is for one family member to take the initiative to "put it out there" for others to respond to. We'll never know what the response will be unless we take that first small step.

Here's to celebrating time together and consistent ritual . . . may we all find ways to create an opportunity for building a strong family.