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

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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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

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

In the First Light

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Whether turning points or new starts, I’m beginning to understand that it is more about the perspective we bring to a given moment that allows us to see our lives anew.  For me, this is one of the most redeeming virtues of Christianity; that we are baptized again and again in our faith journey.

My wife and I are constantly searching for ways to convey the power of this season through traditions.  True, they cannot grasp the full message of Christmas.  What they can understand is that each and every year, as a family, we gather around certain occasions to celebrate the coming of Jesus Christ.  This past weekend, there were two such events which, in tandem, speak powerfully to me and have provided this urge to write.

First, as a reward for their consistent good behavior over the Thanksgiving Holiday Tour we took, we treated our two older children to “The Star”. An animated movie from taken from the perspective of Boaz, or “Bo”, the donkey in the manger scene of the Nativity; “The Star” was a crash course of the events that lead to the birth of Christ in Bethlehem for my children. Startlingly accurate for a meeting of Hollywood and Christianity, “The Star” was an excellent choice to reign in Advent Season.  It featured, among other things, an amazing soundtrack, among its tracks a copious amount of my favorite songs.  As the music played and the video rolled, my mind’s eye was busy envisioning moments around our Christmas tree as a kid, at holiday parties with friends and family, warmed by the assurance God’s birth provided for me.  I can still close my eyes and see myself on a plush lounge chair, enshrouded in a blanket, warmed by hot chocolate in hand, held in the golden light of the Christmas tree as my father’s music collection melodiously filled the air with words and sounds of joy.  I was inspired in that moment to collect some of those songs and play them for my children.

Second, as we strung lights and unwrapped stashed ornaments from last year’s Season, my very own playlist ebbed through the room – this time as father and curator of the soul-filling experiences to which I was so blessed to be a part.  Among my father’s favorites, and by transference and common experience, my own is the Christian A Capella group Glad.  Glad has a series of albums dedicated to Christmas.  Among them include a track called In The First Light.  This song explores the reality of Christ existing before anyone knew, aside from his parents, that He was to give His life for the salvation of man.  It juxtaposes the heavens with the earth.  It talks of a baby, not yet speaking, being the Word of God to man.  They would hate Him, it says, and in anger, they would nail Him to a tree.  The song foretells of our failures.  The song foretells of the futility of those failures in the face of Christ’s Love.  The song is beautiful.

Beyond its soothing words and rhythm, it fills me with a sense that at any moment, we can alert ourselves to Christ’s presence and begin again.  In a world where failing is constant, feared and often chastised, Jesus gives us a new deal.  One where we can attain permanent Joy and Happiness through Him.  If our collective sins were the force that drove the spike into Christ’s wounds, our Advent wonder is the Light that exudes beyond which daylight can provide.  Regardless of the nature of our crimes, Christ offers us salvation through Him.  He offers us the opportunity to begin anew; to be filled by His Love and forever be held in golden light.  What a wonderful time.

Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness,

Will O’Connor

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A Week of Thanks: Family.Over.Everything

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Growing up Catholic, there were certain dates that were emphasized on a yearly basis.  If we have the same background, and you’ve been paying attention, then you know December 8 is the feast of the Immaculate Conception; that famed day during which the Angel Gabriel approached Mary, told her that she’d been chosen to bear the Son of God, and all she had to do was accept this great and terrifying offer.  Without hesitation, Mary replied “Yes.”  Before, as they say, the rest is history, there are two other important aspects to the story of Mary and her infant Savior.  First among them is that at some point she had to break the news to Joseph, her husband.  We are told in the bible, and on the 2nd Sunday in Lent during the gospel reading, that Joseph, having never consummated his marriage with his wife, intended to divorce Mary quietly, to salvage her reputation as best as possible.  This was his intention until God sent and Angel to Joseph in his dream, describing everything.  Joseph also humbly replied “Yes” to God’s plan.  Finally, January 6th is the feast of the epiphany, where among many blessings, Joseph is told in a dream of King Herod’s plan to eradicate all males born during the time of Jesus.  By fleeing to Egypt the both avoid the impending death of Jesus, but also take the same route taken by Moses, a great prophet for the coming of Jesus.

So it is that on December 7th of 2012, having been married to my wife for less than 3 months, we learn of our first pregnancy.  Sitting in our upstairs hallway in our Pig-Town rental – well past the moment at which our butts went numb – I alternated thoughts of “Holy Shit” and Thanks to Mary, given that I now could eagerly anticipate both her Immaculate Conception and my wife’s first conception.  Finally able to string a few thoughts together, we called my mother-in-law.  Fittingly, she was on her way to choir practice to prepare for the Mass of the Immaculate Conception the following day.  We all held that frame of reference in our minds.  We all cried.  So many firsts abounded out of that phone call.  A new generation on a tree.  New Grandparents.  New Parents.  New feelings of understanding the power of the word “Yes.”

So also we find ourselves, on the 2nd of January of 2014, a four-month-old wedged between us as the next round of pregnancy test indeed shows that we’ll be sprinting down the line to determine whether or not we’ll have Irish Twins.  As it turns out, we miss that label by 14 days.  Nonetheless, we have our own brand-new set of thoughts to sort out as we enter the event of the Epiphany.  My coming son’s birth was difficult to prepare for.  Both my wife and I were ecstatic to have another opportunity to bring life into the world, but financially and emotionally we were woefully unprepared for the strain it would bring, and to tack it on we knew what everyone was going to say.  Emerging out the other end of the tunnel, there could be no better brother for Quinn than Xavier; no better sister for Xavier than Quinn.  There could be no better pairing for Carolyn and myself than Quinn and Xavier.  As 4, we took a little break.

So it is that on December 1, 2016 we learn we’ll be adding another car seat to that mini-van we just bought sometime over the next summer.  It is also fitting that as we enter the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, both our baby and our concept of her still a seedling, we are destined to hear the comforting words of the tale of Joseph and his willingness to parent Jesus regardless of his knowledge that he is not his boy’s father.  That Joseph is willing to put aside his anxieties and beliefs for the Will of God is supremely comforting to me in that moment.  While I’ve always intended on having three children, and I’m beyond excited to realize that dream, I have my eyes wide open about its challenges.  In that moment, I am willing to embrace both the blessing and the challenge.  I am confident that my faith in God, my work ethic and my passion for my family will pave the way for whatever challenges we may meet to allow for God’s plan.

Over the course of the past year, that has certainly happened.  Personally, professionally, within my marriage – my faith in God has put me in the places I’m needed in order to be the best father, husband, employee.  The combination has resulted in a perfected vision of the Glory of God; that our faith is rewarded – that nothing we can do or have done can provoke God to rescind His Love for us.  Knowing that frees me from allowing previous guilt to prevent me from future successes.  In the past, I created failure in these arenas for myself based on guilt over previous failures.

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My children have been the very best daily dose of that medicine.  At the current moment, the five of us try as hard as we can every day to be the best support we can be for one another.  Each of us falls short.  Each of us forgives the others.  We don’t always succeed at that immediately, either.  We keep that in mind whenever we can.  None of us get it all right the first time.  We’re granted second chances by God’s forgiveness and the forgiveness we grant one another, and ourselves.  Teaching forgiveness to small children allows me a simplified understanding of it myself.  I need that perspective.  I need the biblical anniversaries and observations.  They remind me of the purpose and what I’m supposed to learn.  This year, on Thanksgiving, I’ve expressed gratitude for many things.  My gratitude for my children, and the person they’ve challenged me to be, just by existing, is life-changing.

So Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.  May we all be reminded daily of the things for which we are most thankful, for the things that make us happiest, and for the things which propel us towards a better and brighter future.

Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness,

Will O’Connor

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My Faith Journey: A Series of New Goals

Countless times in my life, I’ve chosen to leave my faith behind when confronted with a conflict between it and my lifestyle.  As a teen, as I’m sure most of us can testify to, the difficulty in fitting in balanced with preserving the integrity of my faith, I often wavered on the latter, choosing the former to be the projection of myself.  I always felt a departure from my true self whenever this would happen.  I lacked the moral fiber to intervene on my own behalf.  I posses a vivid memory – prior to meeting the woman who would one day become my wife, I was driving home from spending time with a person I very much cared for, but could not in any way convince to reciprocate those feelings.  I remember feeling as though the source of my unhappiness and my inability to court this young woman was the fact that parts of me had to be someone other than who my soul knew I was, in order to just be “around”.  I remember praying, while in my car, for God to bring to light the person with whom I could develop my true self.  That was the prayer that got me back on the road, in hindsight.  It certainly would not be the last prayer I would ask, nor that He would answer.  However, it did serve, and does still, as the perfect example of how the right prayer, when asked, is delivered.  God’s Love does not waver or diminish by our misdeeds.  It is a river ever-flowing.  All we need do is help ourselves remain along its banks.

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For each person in my life, there come with those relationships various beliefs in God and commitments to His Graces.  I was raised to focus on my own journey; to not determine the value of my relationship by the synchronization of our separate faith journeys.  For the most part, this has remained true.  I have never, nor do I still feel called as an evangelist by words.  My hope is that my life would indicate the value of allowing God into my heart, but it is by no means a pressing point for me to verbalize this towards others.  If directly asked, I bear no hesitation in offering my thoughts, but rarely, if ever, have I taken it upon myself to be the instigator of that conversation.

And so it goes that on the day of my third child’s baptism, one loved one made joking remarks to another about the consequences he might incur while in a church and still filled with sin.  It was, no doubt, intended to be a joke.  It also, no doubt, created discomfort in the man who is less frequently in a place of worship.  When I heard of the exchange, I felt pain.  Pain for the discomfort caused.  Pain for the un-Christian act of discouraging another’s faith journey.  Pain that I am in no place to evangelize either of the two.  For I am also Peter, on the night before the Crucifixion.  I have equally, and possibly far more frequently, negatively impacted the Kingdom of God.  And therein lies the rub.

In my introspection, I realized that we have all equally sinned in the eyes of God.  By turning our back on God, there is no one among us more worthy of claiming spiritual goodness.  All we can do is make every effort to turn back around; to face God with our eyes open, beg of forgiveness for our wayward missteps, and we shall have it.  It is a source of great happiness for me, this completely undeserved acceptance back into the flock.  The fact that there is nothing we can do that would deplete the reserve of Love God has for us is the most powerful internal force within me.  Over the course of my life, there will be countless times when I will not be the one to properly stand up and portray the Love of God to another.  I do not want that to happen.  It is written into our humanity.  What I can do about it, however, is to put myself in the daily frame of mind to review my actions, make it right with God, and mend the errors with that person, or those persons.

Our faith journey is an imperfect one.  None among us can claim otherwise.  Perhaps together, we can recommit ourselves to what is good.  Help each other along the way.  Do so with a less judgmental air of self-righteousness.  Preserve the integrity of the culture we ought to be seeking.  There will be much faltering.  Along the way, may there also be much happiness in the striving for a Love we can never rightfully earn, nor ever fully deplete.

Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness,

Will O’Connor

God’s Lake: An Event Remembered

 

EdisonProject51Opening the door at 6:00 in the morning, I could smell it instantly – the sensation of a hard day on the water foretold by the soggy smell of wet, stony soil and moss, barraged incessantly by a fresh whipping wind and heavy, sideways rain drops.  The lodge was situated quite perfectly near the center of the lake, but the ripest fishing grounds were to the extremities of the amoeba-shaped basin.  Having endured the first day, with much success, I knew that the catch awaiting us would be worth the cold, the rain, the bone-shaking combination of the two as the skiff cut through the water for the next 45 minutes.  I adorned my warmest jacket atop my thickest hoodie.  For good measure, I donned a winter hood, the kind with the round cut-out in it just large enough for your eyes and nose.  My feet were wrapped in two layers of wool socks and water-proof boots.  Despite the added weight to my attire, my soul lifted considerably beyond any height or breadth it had ever encountered.

A fifteen-year-old existence is one of extravagant uncertainty and misconception.  Not a week ago I grimaced, clicking through the television stations half-heartedly, as the phone seemed to refuse in stubborn defiance against ringing.  Plans made with friends for a day of summer open-endedness; forgotten in place of a better development that seemed, endlessly, to develop without me.  But now, out in the great open wilderness, a different stubborn defiance began to take root, stabilize, grow, split and double on itself.  A forgotten rhythm coursed through me, cracking and cragging former habits and idle preferences in favor of experience and adventure just in the same manner as the stone trodden upon on the path to the dock forced me to consider each next step.  Alongside my father and grandfather, I wanted nothing more than to prove my worthiness against the forces rippling and dousing my clothes and face.

Our potentially eternal trek ended with the quelling of the outboard motor; our wake catching us, rose to meet the stern of the skiff, lifting us back against the familiar rise and fall of the plane and crest of the boat in the inverse direction.  There’s a jolt that occurs when that aquatic rhythm is cut.  Time to gear down and tackle on.  July in Manitoba sees nearly no end to sunlight.  Still, the cover of heavy clouds masked the location, and warmth, of the sun as we prepared to try our luck.  When the jagged and violent snag hits the line, signifying the start of the battle, and snaps, taking with it not just the prize, but also the lure, I learned to set the reel’s drag a bit more on the forgiving end.  The monster on the other end at times needs room to run, to be identified, to be gauged before we can understand how to battle back.  I also learned the art of showing my opposition the boat.  As a beastly Northern Pike surfaces and sees what he’s gotten himself into, the innate desire to engage back against the line runs deeper than ever.  If not done with care, a loss of a hard-fought battle too close to the end of the line to properly stomach, threatens.

In the boat with my grandfather and our guide, wedded to bliss, permanently affixed to the fleeting nature of the moment, insubordinately disregarding the impermanence of the moment, I see now that I was given the most precious gift a man or boy can have with his grandfather and father; I was given the gift of time and memory.  There are but two photos that survived that morning, to my knowledge. They took place at our shorelunch.  The morning waned as the sun crept higher into a cloud-marred sky.  Hunger in the belly crept up, settling just under the surface much as our game did to us.  With a half-dozen or so freshly caught Northern Pike strung up off the port side of the boat, we set down our instruments of men, zippered back up and felt the outboard motor lurch to life.  An island not far off in the horizon pegged as our lunch destination.  Entirely saturated with the vitality of the morning surging through my nerves, coursing through my veins, we brought the skiff to shore, disembarked and greeted the rest of our party.  Five boats there were in total.  All with similar success.  A bounty of food as reward for our enterprising morning! While the guides battered and fried the freshly fileted fish deep in butter and with the perfect dash of flour, I grabbed my rod and began to cast off the shore.  I brought no added fish to the bounty, although I drew several remarks from the group regarding the unbridled happiness that occurs when an older man watches a younger man unable to set aside his rod in favor of the fork.  We ate like kings.  Only rarely throughout the course of my life have I experienced its equal.  Filled with fish, freedom and love, lunch finally came to an end.  As the group gathered to set back out for the afternoon; the time of the day for catching, packing on ice and shipping of fish commenced.  Just prior to renewing our adventure, one among us grabbed my father’s camera and beckoned me, my father and my grandfather to huddle together.

Pictured in the center of the shot, wet and only recently removed from the cold, braces exposed, hair matted and windblown, I stand beaming.  My father’s left arm wrapped around my shoulder, fingers curled just over-top, we stand eye to eye.  The same height for the first time in my life.  My grandfather, to my left, holding the remnants of his soda, lips cracked in his self-styled smile, decked out in camouflage and a hat from his award-winning hunting labs’ kennel.  Our eyes all miraculously looking through the camera, beyond it; a permanent reminder of the love that existed in that moment; has always existed and will always exist.  Evergreens poised behind us – descendants of the first trees that ever took root on that rocky island; have always persisted in their greenness, despite the ice and snow, despite the wind and rain, will always persist in their greenness.  Countless birds, fish, former fires around us – among us; home to all the life and livelihood any man will ever or has ever needed.  Kings in that moment, or at least the king with his princes.

In all the coming years that I hope to be blessed in fatherhood, my search for intentionality, happiness, fulfillment will always compare its findings to that moment.  The last vestiges of evidence copied into the back fold of each of my children’s journal.  Perfectly alive in that moment, I realized my contentment.  As I look back, its meaning to me has expanded as the carryover embers of that fire have themselves lit other fires, other passions – those I’ve held in my heart, stoked carefully, unknowingly awaiting the moment I would incorporate the generation brought about by my own doing into the pursuit of maintaining those fires; of preserving the tradition, legacy and love captured between us.  I will that it be passed down.  It is my purpose.  It was the moment created for me to remember the strength, pride and passion of my father and grandfather.  It is the cavern of my soul reserved for the men of my heart.  May it ever survive.

Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness,

Will O’Connor

 

Asked And Answered: My Memoir Journey Part I

As I put myself through the exercise of developing a Memoir, I have found a few books and a system for progressing through that endeavor.  One of the books, entitled handling the truth by Beth Kephart, has created a set of assignments for writers to follow through on, as a means for creating a structure by which they can fall back on during times of doubt, writers block, fatigue, etc.

I thought it may be beneficial to post some of those exercises here.  The first of which I encountered last night.  Without Further Ado:

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Assignment 1

What Do I Expect of Those I Read? What Do I Expect of What I Write?

For as long as I can remember, books have been on equal ground to near anything else that could lift me off my feet.  Not always driven to selecting my next book from the same list of qualifications, I believe the breadth of what I’ve read has led me to a common purpose in what moves me about writing: that each man, or woman, laboring behind the pages had a secret they so desperately had to share.  Any inexpediency to so express this desperation could lead only to total failure and estrangement from one’s purpose in life.

I often wonder what the lesson of the parables of the lives of Thoreau, Hemingway, Salinger amounted to; of the thesis of the meaning behind the clarity divulged by Hawthorne, Tolkien, and Lewis.  I’ve obsessed over the fledgling thoughts of J.D. Vance, Paul Kalinithi, Kurt Vonnegut and Jack Kerouac as they set out on their road to create their life’s works and passions.  I felt, and still feel, as though the greatest writers in history, whether in a single work or over the course of their lives, had an individual statement inscribed on their souls.  Something so unique, fragile, and uncommon that it could only be that statement on their soul that screamed for their work to come pouring out of them.  No matter the intention of the author, I look for the statement behind the work – the generation defining questions.  The intensely unique vehicles they take to arrive at their solutions.  The characters they developed, captured or conjured as a means to deliver their age-defining work.  All of these things matter.  Their use, but not overly so, of imagery.  The willingness they have to stop at the cusp of the flowery language – without descending back into beleaguerie.  As for those of whom I am currently discovering, or will soon delve, I expect to understand their voice and their mission.  I then expect to leave their work with questions that make me search my soul for how I might volley.  I expect the destination to be a place where my heart can accept the imperfections of our fallen world.

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Of myself I expect to deliver myself, as completely as I can, to those who might never come within earshot of my spoken voice.  I expect to consistently produce the weights with which I struggle.  To slam them down on the page, wriggling and insubordinate.  To grapple with those issues, demons and insecurities, exposed and unadulterated.  To expose momentary triumphs and setbacks.  To communicate how what I learned in early stages set the tenor for my approach to embracing risks and opportunities.  I expect to speak honestly of myself and those with whom the work encounters.  I expect to have to try this more than once.  I expect to toil, and loathe, and love and triumph.  I expect to use every word, but not one more than is necessary, to delivery my voice, my message, my thesis.  I expect to leave the reader with questions weighing on their soul, as to how they might volley – that the literary world turns on itself, and that I may be a cog in that visionary wheel.

Here’s to starting that process, to whatever end it may lead.

Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness,

 

Will O’Connor