January 18th is likely an ordinary day in the lives of many as they shuffle through the doldrums of what feels like the epicenter of dreary winter. Harsh winds, low temperatures, often snow and ice abound. Our routes are restricted, or slowed, to and from work. The effort to get to the grocery store feels and looks like an f(x)=x² algebraic equation. Once there, milk and toilet paper and bread have already experienced a run. In short, you’d trade January 18th for nearly any other day. Not this family. For on January 18th, some years ago, my mother was born into the world.
We’re often guilty of under-planning her birthday as a family, precisely due to the fact that we aren’t graced with her effort to help. Some things in life are regrettable truths. Yet that takes nothing away from the indescribable gratitude we feel for being so fortunate to have such an invaluable asset in our mother, or in my father’s case – wife, and friend; Doni O’Connor.
My mother, born into a Catholic household in western Michigan seems to me to fit perfectly into the narrative of JD Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy. Not because my extended family are hillbillies. Far from it. But midwestern culture and industry began to recede before its collapse during my mother’s birth and upbringing – heaping on her and her family challenges not every area of the country has had to face. As a result, my mother’s driven nature was sharpened by its raw existence within her as necessity in order to escape its cycle, or down-ward shift. Basketball, oddly was her ticket aboard the train out-of-town. Earning a scholarship to Purdue University, she was able to educate herself in trade. In a serendipitous moment, my father’s family uprooted from Long Island, NY around the same time my mother was of college age. Meeting on a court, they aptly began a courtship.
Marriage followed, and then the three of us. My mother stayed at home during the first 9 years of my life, until my brother was of school age. Never having departed from her competitive drive, she returned to the workforce and changed the trajectory of her family through consistent effort you typically only see in Hollywood heroes. Her children bore witness to her perseverance. We are thus outfitted by such as a tool of measurement. If nothing else, my mother’s fortitude speaks to me, in moments of doubt, to assure me that there is no summit unreachable, unless I preclude myself from its height by refusing to will myself to it. Its byproduct has been an innate understanding within myself, that those pursuits I’ve failed at have been a result of my own refusal to get there. Conversely, I know that everything I desire to attain is within my grasp. And therein lies the potency of my mother. Many claim to expound the theory of the American Dream. My mother, in her way, has lived it. There is no greater example a person can set than by their actions. I am, in this way, privileged.
Among other things, my mother has also taught me how to cook, how to shoot a basketball, how to approach everyone on equal footing with regard to dignity and agency. My mother has taught me about the immeasurable value of family, and dedication to it. Her partnership with my father has taught me about respect for my wife. All of these things have been done through action first, words second. While she took time to explain the value of these things for me, they were always easier to grasp because she displayed them first; and displayed them still further after the verbal lesson. For a child, even for an adult, the consistency between words and actions sets a foundation unbreakable by external forces.
So on her birthday, I bid you join me in wishing my silent and tireless foundation a wonderful day filled with all of the joys she’s earned. That she’ll be able to head south from Northern Virginia to her house on Lake Anna is no small testament to the potential we all posses to create our own destiny – through family, faith and a stubborn unwillingness to ever be told not to fight like a girl.
Happy Birthday, Mom.
Yours in the Pursuit and Growth of Happiness,