Father-Daughter

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Sunday morning our family woke up to shake the dust off of our sleep.  As I prepared for church, our four-year-old daughter stumbled into my room, wiping the sleep from her eyes.  “Daddy my tummy hurts.” A quick check of the forehead – she seemed to be running a temperature.  Changing plans, my wife gathered the kids in front of the television as I whisked away to a rare occasion of church without children.

Throughout the day, running a fever as high as 102, we knew she’d be staying home from daycare Monday.  As do many of my friends’ households, ours requires a dual income to stay afloat.  We stared at our calendars on Sunday afternoon.  Both of us having Monday morning meetings, we triage’d those.  My wife’s being more critical and unique, she went to work in the morning.  I was tasked with opening my job, setting a few instructions to the various crews, and heading back home in time for my wife to make her meeting.

I pulled back to the house at the appointed time.  My wife had a few instructions for what medicine needed to be taken, what food and drink to be consumed.  After breakfast, my daughter announced her intention to topple me in Candyland, which she promptly did – twice.  Sitting on the floor, no noise beyond the laughter and guffaws prompted by the game, we enjoyed the splendid and ever-vanishing luxury of strengthening bonds through meaningless chatter.  The perfect example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. EdisonProject73Then, after taking in a back-to-back viewing of Daniel Tiger, she colored and then moved on to crafts.  In coloring, she chose to depict our family at church.  I’m not sure what prompted this thought.  However, as a man trying to raise his young family on the bedrock of Christianity, I was happy to see the importance with which she places us in this setting.  I was given this drawing to take to my office.  It’s proudly displayed on the wall in front of me.  It is a reminder of my responsibility to curate not just my faith journey, but now also my children’s.  It is not my destiny, nor a statistical probability that I become the subject of a great artist’s master work on any artful medium.  But I am responsible for creating my own masterful work of art in my children.  God is an active agent in that process.  I’m very fortunate to see it begin to take shape.

There are few things I can remember from being four years old.  Handling scissors is not one of them.  But since she’d done it before in our home, and at school, out came the construction paper.  First, a snowman.  Somewhat of a unique snowman, this gentleman featured a yellow hat, a head, two eyes, a nose, a mouth, and two legs where normally the two lower sections of the rounded body would exist.  No feet.  We also made Moana using thin strips of paper for hair, not-to-scale blue eyes and, yes – long, thin strips for legs.  Around the time that all completed, my wife slowed to a stop in front of our home.  The tag-team was nearing its baton exchange.

I drove off to work filled with joy.  I’ve not experienced that phenomenon in some time.  For while we were playing together, I certainly recognized the novelty of the moment.  But it was not until it passed that I was able to properly assess the priceless-ness of the moment.  There are sure to be more moments like this, as long as God continues to bless me with life.  It wasn’t about a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.  It was about a once-in-a-moment opportunity.  In no time at all she will begin to master formulating shapes with her hand in scissors.  She’ll learn to glue without help.  She’ll become bored with snowmen.  In the blink of an eye my daughter will move ever-closer to reliance upon technology for entertainment.  She’ll experiment with new medium for her artistic creativity.  I should hope I’ll play a part in those events, too.  I’ve had the occasion to look back out the rapid development of my children.  Too often, stages of my children’s lives pass without notice.  My joy had everything to do with the fact that I’d captured one moment in time of this one.

I am eager to experience all aspects of my children’s lives.  I hope to instill in them qualities which I believe will serve them in their own pursuit of happiness and purpose.  Even just by being there, assuring them along the way.  And yet still, sometimes, we get to provide the glue for the snowmen, until they learn to apply it for themselves. There are a few seemingly ordinary events in my life that I’ll treasure forever.  Monday, January 29th, 2018 will be added to them.  For now, I am grateful that I had the chance to be a part of this moment.  That is every bit as intentional as it gets.

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Yours in the Pursuit of Purpose,

Will O’Connor

Founding Principle

Of no small consequence to this endeavor I’ve dubbed “The Edison Project”, from the outset, was the intentional digging into myself I felt needed in order to expand my voice.  That in order to have something to say, I needed to know the core of myself.  While not near the heart of my core, as of yet, I have devised a first tenant of life: purpose.

That is to say that it is in finding purpose that we find what feeds us towards our goals, our ambitions, our happiness.  No matter how small or large a person’s penchant for competition is, at the heart of each of us lie certain constructs of winning and losing.  We set goals and we measure them.  If we succeed in our task, we measure that out to be a win, and are therefore happy.  If we fail in that task, we measure that out to be a loss, and we either are unhappy, or resolve to create happiness by reinvesting ourselves in accomplishing what was once failed.

In setting goals that satisfy our core, we increase our happiness by building further purpose for our lives.  The best way of doing this is to establish initiative and accountability.  No matter how large or small the aim, establishing accountability to the things we say we are going to do ties us to our words, creates a mission and sense of purpose.  By constantly probing our deepest selves, we begin to take initiative to both reach out to the world and accomplish goals, while simultaneously uncovering more of who we are.  I believe there are central tenants which need to constantly exist while we dig, lest we venture off the path:

 

  1. God (read: Faith) – While I certainly advocate for the adoption of Christianity as the pillar behind our faith, any faith with ambitions to achieve the Golden Rule propels us towards enriching the fabric of ourselves and our immediate communities.  An accredited Faith in this sense cannot be one that is warped into maliciously creating harm towards others in the name of that faith.  To be fair, there are pockets from nearly every faith that seek to abuse the central aspects of their theology.  None can be accepted over others, merely because they fit our understanding of what is beneficial to us.  There are other aspects created by faith that are so large and important, that I will list them later.
  2. Family – Whether through the course of marriage, or the family to which one was born, purpose is derived from family.  Role models are created first in this core component of creating purpose.  Ideologies and pathologies are first communicated here and can also be the source of rebellion in later stages of life.  The role of both a father and a mother are critical, as despite recent beliefs, men and women bring to children different examples of love, authority, acceptance of individuality and permission to be oneself that the other cannot mimic genuinely.  Parents must work through differences and set a tone of compassion, teamwork, and handling of conflict in healthy ways in order for children to see compromise as optimal – in order to see that people don’t need to agree completely to get along properly.  Purpose in this sense, is more of a passive understanding of right and wrong.  A foundation of formulating virtue over vanity; where it can never be questioned that moral and philosophical right and wrong are not relative.  They are fixed.  If one strives towards virtue, they can never proclaim to subscribe to a separate set of virtues.  In part, this is why religion and family are so critical to back each other up.
  3. An understanding of the power of evil against the power of good – And the willingness to acknowledge the evil that exists within ourselves.  Dr. Jordan B Peterson, a Canadian clinical psychologist, a man to whom I am now becoming acquainted through his work, describes perfectly the virtue of power.  He dismisses out of hand that power is found through manipulation or exertion of force or the threat of it.  He says that is tyranny.  I agree with him.  Power is standing on moral principles and executing them with the authority and discipline given earned as we move along in the world.  Power is when a man uses his strength, or any otherEdisonProject71 masculine trait for good.  Power is when a woman uses her love, or any other feminine trait for good.  Peterson aptly describes that both men and women posses the same virtues; only that they posses different quantities of each virtue, as well as the focus to develop certain traits over others.  Put together, men and women complement one another.  Neither can be removed, or silenced, without creating a vacuum of virtue in one form or another.  Peterson claims that we are first charged with defeating the evil within ourselves before we can expand that fight towards fighting evil in our communities, or society at large.  I believe that is the inability to do so that creates in our leaders and inability to lead by example.  How many times have we seen authority figures brought up on the very charges they espouse to disdain? It is in understanding evil that we defeat pluralism, moral relativism and vanity – in order to harness that evil and employ virtue against.  The presence of this knowledge cannot be overstated.  When one begins a new effort, if he, or she, has not accounted for the malicious existence within themselves, that effort can be easily forced down a path of destruction.  To illuminate my claim further, one has only to watch Star Wars.  As silly as that may sound, the entire epic rests solely on one’s ability to keep the evil that rests within each of us in check.
  4. Social Connection – A friend and mentor of mine, Andrew Bustamante has said it be when he put to me the thought, backed up by several studies that loneliness may become the next great epidemic in mental health.  The fact that so many people now derive a majority of their interaction with friends and family through social media has led to the distilling of group thought, and advice, as crucial.  I am certainly guilty of this fact.  He has his own plans, which can be seen here, but for the purposes of my thoughts on purpose, social interaction and connection to society must be maintained in order to assure that purpose exists within the framework that society gives us.  Without incorporating our purpose into the greater good, it is impossible to determine whether or not one’s goals and purpose establishes a productive element to society.  As an aside, I’d encourage you to visit his website.  Andrew is an excellent motivator, and has proved an even more valuable curator of ideas, as I try to bounce ideas off of him as often as I can.

TheBestArmourFor it was Marcus Tullius Cicero who said ” The best Armour of Old Age is a well spent Life preceding it; a Life employed in the Pursuit of useful Knowledge, in honourable Actions and the Practice of Virtue; in which he who labors to improve himself from his You, will in Age reap the happiest Fruits of them; not only because these never leave a Man, not even in the extremest Old Age, but because a Conscience bearing Witness that our Life was well spent, together with the Remembrance of past good Actions, yields an unspeakable Comfort to the Soul.  This is invaluable advice.  For each day, age eats at us.  Each moment, we pass up a purpose-filled life in exchange for nothing of benefit to us, we are less likely to reward ourselves with a soul full of comfort and gratitude for the moments we have left to spend.

Yours in the Pursuit of Purpose,

Will O’Connor

Time

Fatherhood in my generation presents an interesting case study for those generations that follow.  I believe fatherhood at any point in time is an interesting topic to explore, but especially now, with the strain most families experience when both parents have to work; fatherhood presents both joys and pitfalls unique to this moment in time.  Daycare is a necessity for most.  This means that a man’s responsibility to earn enough to support his family has to include weekly costs that, when put together for all three children, surpass the value of my rent, car payment and nearly half of my grocery bill.  Included in that responsibility is the time needed by my wife, and really everyone’s wives, to perform her job properly.  This means a split, or near split, in pick-up duty.  This alone puts a strain on life, as I’m sure I could do my job better if I could put in more time at work.  Future goals and opportunities are often put on hold and pass fathers by, as those without this responsibility can more fully devote themselves to their professional passions.  Fatherhood is a complex and layered enigma.  Even when we seem to be able to balance all of the above, there still rests the question of ‘Am I doing this right?’

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My children, 4, 3 and 5 months old, are the life-blood of any and all effort I am able to muster.  They complete the cycle that returns me to work, focused on strengthening my skills and earning increased pay and opportunities.  While they push me out the door in the spirit of improving our quality of life, it is that same desire for quality of life that pulls me home.  As we find ourselves taking on responsibility, we hope the curve of improvement is not far behind.  That we can learn to balance to needs of one infant, and then add to that a year later with one walking shakily about the house, while the other infant sleeps, is a testament to what we are capable of.  That we can find ourselves just a few years later, with two children intent on their nightly dance parties while the other is soothed to sleep further displays that flexibility.  We are perfectly capable of adapting to the requirements of our life.  It is quite often solely the confidence that we lack to possess.

As part of adding our third, one of the daily routines passed solely to me is the bathing, readying of pajamas, teeth, hair and multiple trips to fill a cup with water, and prayers.  My wife established the order of prayers a few years back.  If we veer from that order even slightly, both “big kids” quickly alert us to our sin and urge us back on to the path of the familiar.  As it has become my duty, it has transformed into my pleasure.  I’ve incorporated a few additional items to the end of the night-time routine.  A few times a week, we do “video songs.”  These are merely songs from various Disney movies shuffled through YouTube from which my children each choose one.  Sometimes, the songs are old and familiar: Cinderella, Tangled, Tarzan, Hercules, and on down the line.  My son has a much greater penchant for songs he’s never heard.  He doesn’t even know he hasn’t heard them.  He just likes the image displayed on the screen, and says, “Daddy, that one.”  I shake my head, confused.  I never wanted the unfamiliar as a child.  Give me the tried and true.  Nevertheless, we select the song from Lion King 2, or from the Hunchback of Notre Dame, etc.  Video songs also give me a key negotiating chip, ensuring good behavior during all of bedtime preparations.

As an aside, yesterday I completed Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project.  While I would have done it differently, the reporting on a year of striving to maintain resolutions each month, picking up new tasks as she went, all while keeping an eye on each one from the past months struck a chord with me.  Similarly, at the end of the book, she describes a process where occasionally, she and her husband enter their children’s rooms and “gaze lovingly” at them while they sleep.  While my wife and I do not do this together, but have each done that at times, there is a part of our routine that took on new meaning for me as a result.  In the last few months, my two children have taken on the custom of laying with me on the floor as we say prayers.  There is a body pillow between their two beds that I rest on as we say prayers, and enough room for each of them to snuggle against me.  Rubin described an exchange she held with her husband during one of these loving gazes.  She commented that one day they would look back on the occurrence of this tradition with fondness.  To which her husband replied, “We will say ‘they were such happy times.”

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Last night, as my children cuddled up against me, the hour later than I’d hoped for, I recalled this passage and spent some time during our prayers thinking about this happy time.  There will come a time when cuddling is no longer accepted.  When they’ll want to spend their last few minutes reading a book, or watching a video, or talking on the phone to a friend.  While I will be granted back some of my individual freedom, I will lose the chance to experience moments of true dependence.  I’ll be glad to have my time back.  I’ll be sad that it is so.

Fatherhood is tricky.  Constantly blending and balancing personal and professional desires and requirements with the requirements of parenting creates a great many opportunities to learn from failure.  The nuances of all of these facets of my life require constant examination.  In my toughest moments, caught between the three largest portions of myself, I struggle to remind myself that when my children are grown, or even just a bit older, my salary, drive to succeed, plans to write and to read will all still exist.  It is the innocence of children that wipes away quickest.  So for the time being, I resolve to let those other things call to me from the back of my brain, in hopes that I’ll continue to be granted one more night to be called to that body pillow, to pray and sing and cuddle – one more time.

Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness,

Will O’Connor

My March

This might be heavy.  It also might sound political.  I promise it is as personal as I can approach a thing.

In light of yesterday’s March for Life, the 45th edition of the collection and peaceful demonstration, speaking to my experience on both sides of this issue, and in the middle, felt like something I had to do.  The march for life, sponsored and attended by those who believe abortion ought to be eradicated from the earth gather in our nation’s capital on the third Friday of January and spend the day listening to a great many speakers, while also marching the streets of the capitol to display the mass of their movement. I’ve never been.

Growing up Catholic, it was just a fundamental truth that abortion was wrong and that conception of a child meant only deliver or miscarriage. It was never specifically discussed with me beyond the basic tenants.  I received no defense training of our position as a culture.  It was not until I began expanding my circles that I encountered those who differed.  There were a wide variety of reasons; abortion is a health-care issue, I was told.  Abortion is a woman’s right to choose, because pregnancy requires the mother to endure countless changes to her body, psyche, lifestyle and future.  Abortion is merciful to a child who would otherwise be unwanted.  The one that got me the most; abortion is not a man’s domain because it he has no choices to make, no changes to endure, beyond conception.  As a youth and then a young man, too timid to wade into those waters, I accepted my obsolete opinion, and stowed myself on the fence.  I lived there for many years.  In many ways not able to understand my true roll in the debate until my daughter was born.

At the height of my indifference and confusion, I had ended a relationship with a girl I’d dated for nearly two years.  Knowing I did not want a long-term relationship with her, yet unable to find an alternate relationship that took hold, she and I began interacting with each other merely on a sexual level.  My world shattered on the day she told me she was pregnant.  Prior to even gaining my footing, she told me she wanted an abortion.  I recall feeling relieved, as the alternate would require a commitment on my end I desperately did not want to make at that point in time.  I was able to trade self-respect and accountability to my actions for the elimination of my offspring.  For some time, I felt as though I escaped that crisis on top.

I am not sure where to start to turn the coin here, but I’m absolutely certain I lost – that I created an eternal crisis to escape a momentary one.  Given that it was a direct desire of mine to avoid accountability and honesty from the age of seventeen to the age of twenty-three, its a wonder this event didn’t occur more than once.  I think about what my 10 year old child would have done for my life.  I think about who he/she would be.  I am ashamed I didn’t speak up, that I allowed myself to be persuaded by tertiary concerns to spite primary issues.  Although true that I ultimately could not have held the final decision, perhaps it would have changed the course of events had I possessed the vantage point I hold now.  I am sorry that I ever allowed myself to believe that fatherhood was less vital to a child than motherhood.  I am sorry that I forgot the role my father, his father, and so many other strong men played in my life.  That none of them ever sought to recall their integrity for the course of expediency was a gift I benefited directly from.

Now, nearly thirty-three years of age, I now have three beautiful children with my wife.  Even if they weren’t so stunning, I can’t image ever not wanting to protect their life and dignity with fierce obstinance and pride.  As a Catholic, I value the just law of Jesus to protect and defend every life.  But had I never come across Jesus’ teachings, and somehow still had the three children I have now, I would still know in my heart that these miracles turn every argument for abortion on its head.  I know now that abortion does nothing to advance or protect society, the mother, or the baby.  Abortion, and the arguments for it, have numbed generations of men to the salvation that is a loving and committed family.  The culture of interpersonal communication between men and women in romantic settings has simplified due to the immediacy contact can occur and then be severed, both between man and woman, and the offspring they create.  Culture has plunged with the “me first” mentality that has invaded the public persona of the individual on the path to “enlightenment.”  It isn’t just obvious through abortion.  Countless avenues of human interaction have taken a hit in the past 50 years with the ripening of socialist-styled government programs.

From what I have seen, I feel even more for those young men and women just now coming to the age I was when I traded everything I’d been taught for the immediate freedoms that are delivered when we sit on a fence.  I worry  that those too insecure to properly weigh justice and mercy may overwhelmingly choose the side of mercy, afraid to stand up to pluralism, globalism and the dawning of the age of American Politi-theocracy.  Perhaps they aren’t even afraid.  Perhaps they’ve been convinced that “it doesn’t matter if its true, you just can’t say that sort of thing to somebody.”  These are things I see growing – and they feed the pro-choice argument.  Moral relativism negates the ground held by pro-life proponents.  Secular society demands we separate church from state, even when the framers of the constitution merely wanted to avoid a state-sponsored religion.  The fact that someone publicly proclaims Jesus Christ to be the Lord and Savior of  all is not exclusive of those who would not share the same claim.  It is not hate speech, and it does not foster an environment of discord.  Jesus Christ was the authority of inclusivity, thoughts on love and environments of peace and understanding.  Refusing to agree does not make it less true.  He, and all of His teachings were designed to include those on the margins.  Respect for life, dignity and individual agency are chief among the ways we can include others.  Outlawing abortion would only bring us closer to those ideals.

I’m not sure I have much faith in abortion ever being overturned in this country.  Perhaps I am too cynical, but progressive legislation and jurisprudence seems to be on the down-hill portion of the slippery slope.  I regret contributing a child to the hideously enormous list of children killed at the hands of their parents.  I believe it will be the major sin I will have to do penance for when I meet God in Heaven.  I can only hope that perhaps, someone out there can learn from my mistake.  That they can understand that trading accountability and truth for a pliable moral reality always means we make the least harmful decision for us in the moment, yet very frequently the most harmful choice for our long-term outlook.

Yours in the Pursuit and Growth of Happiness,

Will O’Connor

Mom

 

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.

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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.

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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,

Will O’Connor

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Refining Happiness

“Happiness is neither virtue nor pleasure nor this thing nor that, but simply growth” – William Butler Yeats

Of late, I’ve found myself furiously taking notes while reading through Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project.  For those not acquainted, Rubin determined for herself a few year’s back that while she led a charmed life, she perhaps did not appreciate it enough.  For anyone who may feel that appreciation is something they lack for themselves or their situation (I do), especially in critical moments where things feel tight and we aren’t sure of important outcomes; this venture hits home.  Only part-way through her report on her findings, I am finding her structure to be something I believe I’d really benefit from.  I have augmented some of what she’s done, but plan to mimic several aspects, tweaking along the way.  I also have found the research she has included, as well as the quotes and stories to fill areas of my quest that I had not yet been able to define.

While The Edison Project is simply a continued experiment to determine a path towards many things; authorship, intentionality, documentation of my life for my children – it is also a probe into what makes me happy.  Striving for positivity and remaining focused on these objectives have led me down extremely intriguing paths.  I have set markers for myself at the beginnings of each of these forks, that I might – much like Hansel and Gretel – find my way back to probe each of these deeply as I move through life.  The timeline for this experiment is a long one.  Such a discovery has led to increased patience as I feel the need to understand these undiscovered aspects of my character before determining a singular course for anything as massive an undertaking as a book.  Where this time last year I was aimlessly creating characters and scenarios, I’ve pulled back to uncover the reasons for why this person might exist in my world – or that one might not necessarily need to be involved.  I’m working to understand how these people may behave in such a world – or worlds – as my ideas vary from month to month on where such an effort should most organically take place.

So here I find myself exploring the quote above.  That happiness is characterized as most likened to growth is the truest explanation I’ve ever felt.  When I read that passage, I looked up from the page, set my book down, and began to investigate that posit within my own life.  Indeed I have always been most happy when at the cusp of something new and important.  I’d add only that to Mr. Yeats’ deep and layered thesis.  That growth must be focused in ways true to our character is as important as the fact that growth is even happening.  Fortunately, there are many areas in which this young man can grow.  I intend to continue to believe that for as long as I draw breath.

At work, new building techniques, applications, building uses and challenges may create a large learning curve, but it is determination I already posses.  When arriving at the apex of the challenge, where the curve drops off and the production takes form, I am exhilarated beyond belief.  Such has been the case for the seven years I’ve now undertaken this industry.

At home, witnessing landmark events, exploring my children’s own unexplored territory with them provides a rush and sense of bonding that can’t come from the dinner table, not to dismiss the importance of a family eating dinner.  Working with them to create their own perceptions of what is good, what is worth exploring, I find myself inspired to look inward on my existing perceptions and alter, perhaps, some of them to include lessons they’ve just then taught me.  The adventure can be as simple as watching my infant daughter lay on the floor giggling.  It can be as trivial as observing the ways my son constructs duplo-blocks to portray, even if in a slightly ambiguous form, towers or castles or rocket ships.  It can be as superficial, yet layered, as interacting with my oldest while she’s holding and caring for one of her many baby dolls.  Watching how she loves these inanimate objects alerts me to what she’s learned through witness, and creates in me a heightened sense of my contributions to this formula.

With my wife, watching each other grow as we establish new roles while learning to balance all of our existing responsibilities as we balance our natural desire to grow with the weight that parenthood can sometimes add to focus and energy; I am bolstered by what the future promises.  I am emboldened to act now the way I want to feel later.  It is in these acts where the depth of our relationship is revealed; that although we have known each other for nearly ten years, we have merely skimmed off a fraction of what we are capable of – both individually and together.  Beginning to depart from old habits in order to create space for new goals makes me love her in a light I haven’t before held vantage of.

These are the aspects of my life that create my happiness.  It is not the thought of becoming happy, but the act of fulfilling happiness that compounds on itself.  And each and every day we are granted here on earth we have the opportunity to invest that effort into areas that will generate into something greater.  Refining that happiness towards growth in the foundation of our character reflects areas, yet undiscovered, where light can be found and happiness experienced in full.

What a truth to explore!

Yours in the Pursuit and Growth of Happiness,

Will O’Connor

Listen Up, Son

My wife and I were born to parents who were baptized into the Catholic Church as infants.  That I am aware of, all four of my grandparents and all four of my wife’s grandparents were also born into the church.  Tradition is our family’s thing.  Conversion has historically not.

It takes, I think, total submersion into a Catholic Parish in order to come away from church with more than two readings, a series of songs, a clear understanding of when to sit, stand and kneel and a murky sense of which prayers you may be able to one day convert in your brain to the new version they switched over to ten years ago, and which just are hopeless.  Connection on an individual level, during the process of the mass, is not the highest priority.  While I understand the reasons for why, I sometimes look to other friends, who attend other churches filled with a greater mission to praise through prayer, music, etc and feel a twinge of jealousy.  I have to remind myself that the Catholic Church believes its mass not only provides us with the nourishment of the body of Jesus Christ on Sunday, but sets us up to be good Christian people most every other day of the week.

So as my wife and I, throughout the course of an infrequently granted date night, occasionally danced in and out of what we might do to benefit our spiritual journeys, and those of our children one day, we found ourselves simultaneously upset by the failings of the church – and our inability to grasp some of the greater meanings, and the myriad of reasons we have achieved successful faith-filled blessings throughout our time together.

By all appearances, just as God intended we found ourselves that next morning at 11:15, listening to the sacred scripture for the first week in ordinary time.  The first reading was from the Book of Samuel.  Two prophets, Eli – an established church leader and teacher of students like Samuel, a boy who was one day to be another to foretell the coming of Jesus.  In the story, Samuel is woken many times to a voice saying only “Samuel”.  The logical choice being that Eli, his teacher, is calling him – Samuel goes to Eli three straight times before finally Eli arrives at what is happening – Eli is experiencing his own calling from God.  As Samuel answers Eli the 3rd time, Eli says to Samuel “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”  Samuel does so.  When the Lord calls the final time, Samuel does as he is bid.  This results in Samuel knowing God, and God blessing Samuel’s words, that he be heard and believed for all of time.

For the rest of the mass, including the homily, I reflected on the church’s position relative to mine.  I sensed that I’d been thinking as those of old with respect to the earth and sun.  The earth, no matter its significance to us, does not hold the orbit of the sun.  Alternatively, the earth orbits the sun.  Just as I may wish the Catholic Church cater to what I believe I need, it is the centerpiece in this relationship.  Its constant in my life is what has allowed me to know God, even if only in a minor way.  Here I am, Lord!, should be my sentiments toward the possibility of a greater relationship with God, and yet I am worried about comparing the lifeblood of the Catholic Church to that of a non-denominational church that opened 5 years ago and probably won’t survive being handed down to another due to faith-based differences that naturally exist between to lives of faith.

My position within the church is one of many callings.  The trick is to call on those vocations at the proper times.  I am called to listen to those who might teach.  I am called to minister to my children and my friends.  I am called to promote the future of the church.  I am called to be a member of a flock.  I am called to be a shepherd in times in which a wolf presides.

It is hard to know which of these is needed at various times.  Right now I get the feeling that God, and Samuel, are trying to remind me that the parts of me that need to connect with my faith in all of the various ways needs me to listen.  Something that does not come easily, or naturally, to me.  For the time being, my happiness, or the expansion of it, seems to be calling me into the realm of “Speak, Lord.  Your servant is listening.” As I am called by my faith, church community, wife and children to fulfill various roles, I am to listen first.

I’m always amazed at the rate at which at least one amongst the readings specifically speaks to me or to an issue I’m having or concern I’m contemplating.  This Sunday’s was no different.  If we are to truly exist in happiness, then we must do so hand-in-hand with God.  Step one starts with listening.  But we can’t listen without truly first believing there is something to be gained by listening.  I think I’ll start there.  I’ll let you know where it leads.

Yours In the Pursuit of Happiness,

Will O’Connor

S#*thole

Last night a friend in my close, inner-circle shared an article detailing the now infamous s#*thole comment we’ve been all been talking about all day today.  Last night, I wasn’t sure if it was real, or a manufactured story.  These days its truly hard to tell at first glance.  Today, I promised myself I’d listen, first.  I wanted to listen to my liberal friends.  You know, the ones who haven’t liked a single thing the President has done.  I wanted to listen to my most conservative friends.  You know, the ones who haven’t had a negative word to say about the man.  In case you weren’t aware, the main topic of this Congressional session is immigration reform.

Apparently, having become frustrated with some form of the bi-partisan talks about how legislation could take shape, Donald Trump formed a question.  “Why”, he asked, “do people from shithole countries come here?”  In the context of the meetings, the question surely came as a way of dragging out from Democrats a response somewhere along the lines of “well, because our country provides freedoms, securities and luxuries that no other country will, or even can, to immigrants, while also being the most willing to accept peoples of all nations into its borders through legal processes.”  I’m not sure what the answer he got was, but I’m betting it wasn’t that.

As one who evolved over the past decade from a Progressive Democrat to a Reaganite (that’s the closest I can come to describing policy I completely support), I can appreciate the position of both parties, although I really only believe one to be correct.  I’d like to explain, after listening, pondering and checking against what I know to be true, the three reasons why I agree with the President, even if I wish he’d package his delivery in an easier-to-swallow tone and message.

  1. President Trump wasn’t labeling people, only nations – and he’s not wrong: Okay, so I don’t happen to agree that word selection should be shithole.  But it is a matter of objective fact that the United States has accomplished more in the sectors of human rights, liberties, economy, just military activity, peaceful political transition… and just about everything else, than nations he specifically referred to – Haiti, El Salvador, various African Nations.  This is not to suggest that these nations can’t elevate themselves to more equal standing in some of these areas.  But to be clear, they’ll never achieve complete and total equal standing with the United States and at present nearly anyone who has the means to leave these mentioned nations for another nation essentially does.  This indicator of immigration/emigration is a prime indicator of a nation’s place on the spectrum of misery/prosperity.  The United States, by all accounts is decidedly prosperous.  Haiti, by all accounts, is perhaps the least prosperous of all the nations in the Western Hemisphere.  None of that has anything to do with the people governed by corrupt and totalitarian regimes led by careless authoritarians or oligarchies.
  2. Over the past seven years, I have worked for three general contractor firms.  I have worked in Baltimore, Maryland, Washington, DC and Richmond, Virginia.  On a given day, any of the fourteen projects I have managed are somewhere between 35%-75% Hispanic.  Those people come from all over.  Many of them are illegal immigrants.  Citizens of El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico and Venezuela; I have had the opportunity to have in-depth conversations with many of those whose presence has been continuous.  Nearly to a man, financial relief is sent to family back home.  Also, nearly to a man, their chief hope is that they can one day save enough to move every single member of his family to America.  And the rational is not merely that America is so prosperous.  It coincides with the complimentary fact that drug lords and gangsters control their homelands.  Returning to their country with enough money to retire often alerts these crime rings to pay a visit to a family and demand patronage of some sort, in order to remain protected.  Their government, police force and elected leaders (if they are fortunate to live in a democracy) offer no help. Some have even discussed the miserable reality of having elected leaders and police officers side with the crime ring or in some cases be the entity that propositions this patronage relationship.  By their own admission, their country is firmly affixed to the opposite end of the spectrum of misery/prosperity.  They would never use the word shithole out of veneration for their ancestors and friends lost to drugs, crime and corruption – but the words they use are essential interchangeable, if only slightly less profane.  Candidly, my experience does not extend to Haitian or African citizens.  There are decidedly less of those individuals in the construction industry, if only because their nationalities are not as present in the area of the country in which I reside.
  3. Finally, the prime defense I’ve witnessed in attacking Donald Trump is that this statement is racist.  In an era where a Caucasian levels a statement whereby a minority – whether an individual or entire citizenry – is compared to a Caucasian of the same magnitude, that statement is automatically racist in its roots.  This is purely a derivative of temporal movements.  Racism is the inherent belief that the color of one’s skin creates superiority in-and-of-itself.  When someone accuses another of racism, it is a serious accusation.  And yet recently, the context by which this accusation is delivered is increasingly diluted – for two reasons.  Many of these cases, such as yesterday’s, incorporate variables having nothing to do with race.  Haiti’s historic response to deadly disaster after deadly disaster has prevented it from achieving any stability.  Their size and limited profile of resources similarly guarantee its economy will never be as vivacious, dynamic or sustainable.  Haiti’s culture, rooted as a hotbed for slave trade is pervasive even to this day in the class system that exists.  Upward mobility is not a word that can be employed there.  It is not racist to assert these things.  In fact, in Eastern Europe, in places such as the Balkans, there are similar examples of nations riddled with natural disasters, limited economies and culture of authoritarian dictatorships/communist influence.  While their men are not subject to slavery,  its women very much are.  Would it be racist for me to call Latvia a shithole? Is it even a shithole, or is its distant location to me and history of soviet occupation just create in my mind a false pretense? No doubt, Latvia is probably a fine place to live.  But if I had to choose, you wouldn’t be able to accurately represent with a stopwatch how quickly I made my decision.

If I were a person of influence with Donald Trump, I’d tell him he was doing a fine job of incorporating his campaign promises into legislation and through judicial appointments as well as executive order (only when necessary).  I’d also implore him to do two things – 1. Stop Tweeting.  Although he has been able to effectively deliver his message to his constituency without manipulation by the media, the topics he’s chosen to engage in have been suspect at best and harmful at worst.  Perhaps a daily rundown at the end of the day, where he’d only be using his Twitter account between 7-9PM and topics would be pre-determined. 2. Politics in a democracy is a balance between content and packaging.  While Donald Trump, generally, has provided decent content.  His packaging has sucked.  Historically, we’ve had Presidents who would come off just like Trump had they been subject to a 24 hour news-cycle, and these men were considered very effective leaders.  Teddy Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John F Kennedy, Jr., Andrew Jackson chiefly among them.  These men cursed like sailors, cavorted with women like they played for an NBA team, and just generally didn’t have to worry about packaging their message but for the State of the Union Address, and they occasional direct statement publicized in papers to reach the American people.  Trump shares some form of this rough-edged personality with each of these men.

I have no idea what type of President Donald Trump will turn out to be.  He has three years left on his first term.  Much of his legacy is yet to be written.  My hope, and reason for getting political tonight, is that Donald Trump will package his message better AND that his opposition will make more of an effort to understand that some of this is just poor packaging, while other aspects of the affront are simply higher levels of ethnocentrism, patriotism and hot air.

May God Continue to Bless America,

Will O’Connor

Anniversary Edition: The Proposal

Six years ago today, I walked onto my job site a nervous wreck.  Long had I informed my colleagues of my intentions that night.  I had everything set up.  Now it was just a matter of time, literally, until I could set the stage for the first major milestone in my relationship with my girlfriend in a string of permanent promises.  Even with critical deadlines approaching, the rest of my team was eager for me to arrive at my meeting with destiny.  I was jettisoned from my project at lunch-time.  Told to go buy flowers and get some rest in advance of my plans.  I did so.

For Christmas that year, my wife had requested her gift be a date out to see The Lion King, playing at the Hippodrome Theater, Baltimore’s premier house for live-action theater.  She’d also requested dinner somewhere nice.  Unbeknownst to her, the developer of my project, having taken a special interest in me, offered to pay for the dinner.  Anywhere I wanted, he’d said.  Off to Tio Pepe’s we were. EdisonProject59 I had made reservations at the historical landmark restaurant.  Located in the basement of an old brick building, just north of the Inner Harbor, Tio Pepe’s is a famed Italian restaurant.  A label it has earned.  The Paella is a masterpiece.  The ambiance of soft, dimmed lights – crisp, white linen and low, ebbing music allows for each patron to experience intimacy of food and conversation exactly as a five-star feature would define it.

Important to note, prior to leaving our Pig-Town row-home, I’d scripted a letter with the words I’d intended to say that night, on the off-chance I totally botched the delivery.  Its contents included the reasons I’d determined were most important to detail my love for my girlfriend.  I ran back in, last-minute, to the house to set the letter and a vase of red roses on her bed-side table.  Felt box in hand, we resumed our itinerary for the night.  The would be one final surprise destination, to which I hadn’t determined how I’d reveal its inevitability.

We parked in an obscure lot located just across the street from the restaurant.  Walking in, we were seated and the Paella was ordered along with a bottle of wine – one glass.  I’d continue with my water. Although I do not recall the matter of the conversation, I do remember it being a wonderful start to the night.

We moved on to the Hippodrome.  I’d selected mid-level seats for us.  We had a perfect view of an excellent adaptation of The Lion King.  I think my favorite aspect of the show was actually the costumes.  I can’t say I feel that way about costumes frequently, but the deft way they handled retro-fitting humans into Serengeti figures was amazing.  The score, nearly the same as the Disney Movie, was powerful in that small house.  My wife was thrilled.  I had an excellent time but was still mainly concerned with getting to the heart of the nature of the night.

Our last stop: the Washington Monument located in the heart of Mount Vernon on North Charles Street, was strung up beautifully in lights for the Christmas Season every year.  Although I never got to the famed lighting ceremony, I always wanted to spend some time below it.  This was my chance.  And under that pretense, we scuttled north to the monument after the show.  Nearing on 11:00 PM, I had the energy to last days in the future.  This was my moment.  Now was the time. EdisonProject58

As we sat on the bench, small-talk mostly ensued.  Conversation of our take on the play, dinner, the lights of the monument.  A man approached as I was nearing my monologue.  I’ll never forget it.  He was a black gentleman, well-spoken, who bemoaned his bad luck in having sent his wife and child to a shelter north of where we were – that he needed some money to go join them.  It was the Christmas season, and he was stepping on my vibe.  I handed over what small bills were in my wallet, wished him well on his way, and awaited his departure.  In that moment, I spoke of things best left between two people in love.  I told her of my forever plans to keep things this way.  I moved off the bench and got down on one knee.  At the culmination of my speech, which I think I nailed by the way, I asked her to marry me under those lights, in the heart of Baltimore, the hub of our home and the place our life was to take shape.  She said yes.

I’ve written, from time to time, of the value my marriage holds in my life.  I’ve discussed some hills and peaks.  We’ve all lived through them.  My, our, journey is no different from any other, with the exception of little details here and there.  Christmas is often a time for these proposals to occur.  While I shared that sentiment, I wanted our story to be remembered in our own special way.  A great dinner, a powerful show, and an etching of our own into the history of the City of Baltimore were all on my list.  They were successfully covered.  We returned home – called several family members, and took this one and only photo of the night, which I’ll cherish forever.  EdisonProject57Recently I’ve had cause to examine the nature of the choices in my life.  Whether or not I’d do this differently or that the same.  So many landmarks to peruse as the timeline gets longer.  So many I’d do differently.  Such is the nature of humanity.  This one I’d never change for all the gold in Fort Knox.  It was the beginning of our journey in permanence.  Three years and a bit we’d dated at the time of our engagement.  Six years since.  It is becoming hard to reconcile that our life together, nearly doubled that of our time before our engagement, has yielded so many blessings.

As we find ourselves deep in the Christmas season, where shopping, cooking and maintaining timelines from one party to the next can often usurp the real meaning of the season, I wanted to pause and remember this momentous occasion.  Here’s to hoping each Christmas season can convey such happiness; both for me and for each and every one of you.

Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness,

Will O’Connor

100 Months In

On June 6, 2009, I walked into the office of Virginia Suaro, LCSW for my last, first counseling appointment in a string of first counseling appointments.  My parents had tried everything.  I was listless.  I cared about my journey verbally, but not enough on any level to do anything about it.  Not enough to get out of my own way.

Virginia was a lovely woman with a reassuring voice.  She gave me permission, from the outset, to be honest without judgement.  Rather than correct my actions, she’d probe.  As a surgeon under drastic illumination, slicing through layers of outer shell, carefully displacing tissue and organs to reveal the heart of the matter, Virginia had a knack for cataloging surficial issues while grazing cautiously past them on the way to where my soul had fermented.

In late April of 2009 my grandfather had passed away.  He was, and is, my north star.  More than eight years removed, some of it has become lore more than fact, but the light shines just as bright no matter the integrity of the backstory.  I had expressed disappointment in myself to my parents.  That I had never reached a point during my grandfather’s life where I could point to winning battles the way he did.  That I’d let myself become overwhelmed with the work required to climb the mountain.  That in some way I was leaning away from him, even when I said I was leaning in.

It may not have been the first or the second session; it was probably the third or the fourth when, during the course of conversation, Virginia used a slightly different inflection in her voice and whittled down from her normally descriptive language to the bare, “You know, Will, it might be a good idea for you to consider quitting drinking.”  I can still hear the words echo in my mind.  I left that meeting pursuing those words in my soul.

Probably about a month later, on August 6th, I met up with my friend, Juan, at work and waited for him to get off of work.  I had a few drinks and we were set to go out for a brief period.  My parents were out of town and my girlfriend was coming over.  I told her to hang out and I’d be there by 10:30.  That quote turned to midnight, and then before I knew it, I was driven home at 2:30 by a friend, with a series of others’ in tow.  It had been a festive evening.  I spent way too much at the bar and was in a great mood.  I went upstairs to my room to wake my girlfriend.  It was time to keep the party going.

I turned the dimmer up slightly and WHAM! in a flash I felt my grandfather, the love I had for the woman who I desperately wanted to one day be my wife, and the words of Virginia echo through the house.  Not my mind – these words were real.  My epiphany showed me the times and ways I would push away everyone I ever loved because of my inability to curtail my use of alcohol.  It showed me the life I’d lead if I were to continue to aimlessly meander from goal to goal, never sticking with anything for long enough to have anything to show for it.  It showed me the inability I’d have, forever, to make up for having missed the chance to show my grandfather that I was made of the same stuff he was.  I walked out the door and told my friends they had to leave.

In tears, I moved back into my room and toward the bed.  I shook my girlfriend awake slowly.  Sobbing, I told her I was sorry for pushing her away, that I did not want her to leave; I wanted to stop drinking.  I was going to stop.  I’d had my last drink.  August 7th we woke up and she asked me if I’d remembered what I’d said.  I’ll never forget what I said.

And so here I am, 100 months to the day, not another grain of hops or barley, set for fermentation, ingested.  I first realized when 100 months would occur on my 8th Anniversary of sobriety.  I did the tabulation in months, in days.  I realized the next round number in days, 3,000, closely coincided with the next round number in months, 100.  I don’t know where 3,000 days is on the calendar for me.  I stopped counting days around the time I hit six months.  I mostly just count years now.  100 months just sounds good to me.  Daily, I am reminded of the miracle by which my epiphany blessed me.  I have the love of my girlfriend, now my wife.  Together, we’ve partaken in God’s creation together, ushering in three beautiful lives.  We guide them daily.  And we guide them so that they can get to a point where they can, too, realize that they are made of the same iron that William Cody O’Connor, Sr. was – that his legacy will become theirs.  I am reminded of my miracle by the measurement I take of myself.  Though it be a fraction of where I want to be, I am on the path.

I still set goals.  I don’t always hit them.  None of us do.  Goals aren’t meant to be a measurement of perfection.  They’re meant to be a knot in the line in the measurement of happiness.  Those goals I fail to hit are usually casualties of other, more basic requirements expanding in the short-term.  I can be honest with myself about that now.  Alcohol used to be my cloak from honesty.  Honesty hurt in the face of failure.  Now I realized that failure is most permanent when we refuse to allow ourselves the room for failure.  Sobriety has given me that strength.  I have had to exercise that muscle, and I still fail in that.  I resume my heading as fast as I am able, adjusting goals to reflect what I know to be the newly revealed obstacles in my path.

My support network has been critical along my journey through sobriety.  It is not always easy to discard the “Why can’t I do that,” questions that swirl through my head at holiday gatherings or trips with the boys.

And yet here I am, 100 months in, buoyed by the fiber of my forefathers, the love of my wife, and the gentle, yet firm words of a tactical surgeon of the mind and heart.  God grant me the serenity to continue.

Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness,

Will O’Connor