Igniting the Fire: Creation of Joy Through My Son’s Eyes

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On Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014, my son Xavier Slade O’Connor was born into this world.  Weighing all of 10 lbs 8 oz, forcing his mother through three hours of intense pushing, my son has been willful since his arrival.  In that, he is like his father.  Now three years old and having witnessed his mother, father and sister exert themselves, he is undoubtedly a little boy filled with passion.  More than anything, Xavier loves to laugh.  He loves to make his sister laugh.  He loves to make his parents laugh.  He’s overwhelmingly successful.  What Xavier doesn’t know, can’t know, won’t know until he is a father himself is the powerful effect his boyish devil-may-care approach has on his father.

September Uploads 034I’ve captioned this photo on this page before, but there is no better photographic evidence of the fire Xavier ignites within my heart.  During the moments under his captivating exuberance, I am reminded of my own boyishness, and I feel alive in ways manhood does not create on its own.  Windblown hair on open water on a sunny day with your son is how I wish for every day to be.  On top of all of that, having to constantly check my teaching style in order to creatively administer a lesson to a willing pupil has made me sharper, more patient and more reflective on my psychology, and my son’s.  His beauty is in his joy.  Also, in the indelible marks he’s left on my heart.  I have not the words to adequately express the unique happiness that arises from the bonding of father and son.  I’ve been a beneficiary of it my whole life, with my father.  I only hope that my efforts will meet with similar joy and success.

Over the weekend, we spent our time with family, back in Maryland.  It was our first opportunity since Christmas to see all of my wife’s family and we had so many joyous achievements and special days to celebrate.  Since last we all gathered, my wife’s youngest sibling had taken another step in realizing his dream; as he was drafted in the 5th round of the amateur professional baseball draft by the Atlanta Braves.  Both of my sisters-in-law have successfully created niches in careers up in New York City, my brother-in-law and his wife are expecting their second child right before Christmas and my wife and I have welcomed our third child into the world.  My son and his Godmother share a birthday, so we celebrated all of that together in a gathering on Saturday.  We played games, ate excessively and caught up on the details we often don’t have time to delve into during the busy course of life and long-distance communicating.  On Sunday we went back to the church where my wife and I were married nearly five years ago.  While there we saw friends and even more family.  We returned back to my in-laws’ to open presents for my son and to get in a game of baseball my son desperately wanted to play with his uncle.  When my brother-in-law makes it to the big show, that will be a memory he’ll be proud to have.  Hopefully it happens frequently.  We wrapped it all up with a crab feast at my wife’s Uncle’s place.  It was a perfect afternoon filled with people who love each other, and the best cuisine God ever created.

I’m so grateful I had the chance to celebrate in the way.  So often we are in a rush to jam events in between items that have to happen, and happen successfully, in order for our growing family to have what we need to get by.  Work is pressing for both of us and there’s always the opportunity to seek the excuse in favor of less labor-intensive events.  Driving 3 hours in the remnants of a hurricane, then having that same system follow you up to Baltimore for one of the two days could have been reason enough to stay home.  My wife being 3 weeks postpartum via a C-Section could have been reason enough to stay home.  Several members of our family encouraged us to take it easy, that there’d be no harm done in remaining at home.  Probably true.  What we would have missed would have cost us more than we were willing to part with.  So glad we didn’t miss the opportunity to celebrate my son’s 3rd birthday with a great portion of the people who matter most to us.

And if he wasn’t already willful, he’s now 3, so we’ll have the blessing of experiencing that wonderful phase while praying the trips to the doctor’s is minimal.

Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness,

Will O’Connor

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With Whom We Walk The Path

I woke to a cacophony of beeps, compressions and shuffled steps.  Peppered among them were the short, frightful breathes of a woman desperate for the end of this particular journey; freely ready to trade it for the next.  The room was dimly lit; a light over my wife, while all others had been snuffed out.  I found myself under a sheet and what only the most disadvantaged would refer to as a blanket.  Underneath of barely anything, but on top of even less – a twin mattress, unhindered, may have been all of two inches thick.  With my frame, I could easily feel it’s.  There’d be a sterile procedure in a few minutes, I had overheard one of the nurses say to my wife.  Best get your husband up.  He’s not permitted in the room during the administration.  Leave it to me to be the one sleeping through the beginning stages of labor…

I unraveled myself from the linen and put on my shoes; a quick kiss on the head to my wife prior to heading for the door.  It was just past 4:00 AM and there was nothing open.  A jaunt around the perimeter of the hospital took just ten minutes.  I’d have to improvise.  In my rush to leave, I’d separated myself from my phone.  I’d have to go it alone, sans social media for the remainder of the time.  Fortunately, I’d brought my book.  On three hours of sleep, in the wee hours of the morning, its impossibly difficult to read.  The time passed, slowly.  Eventually, I re-entered our labor and delivery room.  Not quite sure of what I’d find, or if I’d be permitted to sleep by the woman who, minutes before, had kindly explained to me that my sleep, or lack thereof, wasn’t really an issue worthy of making the list at that moment.  My brain objected.  My tongue held steady in the moment.  I’d passed that small test.  Upon re-entry, I found a subdued, if not relaxed spouse.  Our doctor was due back around 7:00 AM.  Hopefully with answers, maybe insight is the better word.

As time wants to do in moments of anticipation, the big hand seemed to slow to a crawl at times, leap to a sprint at others.  All the while the little hand was curiously disconnected from its usual concerted efforts with its longer, less important comrade.  Yes, under such a watchful eye I was convinced both of the lazy lot were Bolsheviks.  Lunchtime came.  Nothing.  No pushing.  No sustenance.  No baby.

Finally, as we made the lap around 2:00 PM the word came out of the doctor’s mouth like manna from heaven; it was time to push.  Again, not having any real responsibility, and knowing even less what to do, I was assigned the left side of the bed as part of the delivery team.  30 seconds.  Push for ten.  Breathe for 20.  Do it again.  And again. And again. Between frequent ice chip retrievals and leg support sessions, my wife began to complain of the heat of the room.  After adjusting a few times, the nurse began to realize that the temperature readings they’d been taking orally were compromised by the ice chip habit, or addiction, that had been forming.  A test under the arm revealed an elevated temperature, that coincided with the baby’s elevated heart rate.

Chorioamnionitis also known as intra-amniotic infection, resulting from a burst amniotic sack for too long, had developed as a delivery complication.  As we could see the baby’s head, the doctor quickly assessed that potentially a vacuum (terribly misnamed instrument by the way, its more like a plunger head with a string attached) could be implemented to avoid a C-Section.  Immediately at least 3 more people entered the room.  The bed manipulated in such a way as to rival the brigade of Transformers – lights turned way up from places I didn’t know existed. Still more people entered. The din got louder.  There was an explanation from the labor and delivery person for each new inhabitant. My focus both broad and narrow.  I began to forget the reasons for each persons presence. I had not the time to wonder, either.  The doctor totally overwhelming me in the best sense of the world with  efficient word choice, movement and action.

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What seemed like only a moment, but must have been several minutes, resulted in the successful delivery of Quinn Teresa O’Connor to the world at 3:42 PM, tipping the scales at 8 lbs 9oz, and 21 1/2″ long.  At the very first sight of my daughter, my world expanded.  There was never a thought of “I can’t do this” or, “What do I do here?”  I felt totally prepared for being a father.  What never occurred to me was the total change of perspective, as if I’d just zoomed out on my life twenty-fold and was now staring at a much bigger expanse of area, now filled with a beautiful girl that I had played a part in breathing life into.  What a mental exercise that was, and still is!

In the days, months, and now four years that have followed, there’s not been a day I was paying attention where I haven’t been totally sideways at the thought that this little girl is my little girl.  That this little girl has gone from that moment, which I’ll never forget, to this one.  That I just spent the last few hours of daylight teaching her how to ride a bike! How did we arrive at this moment? How am I going to deal with first dances, graduations, engagements, and on down the line when no gap of time permits that first moment may ever recede from my memory?

While I’ll never fully grasp that concept, I am eternally grateful to God, my wife, and the host of angels, living and en memoriam that have provided the wisdom, grace and providence to bless me with such a captivating little spirit.  I’m completely biased, but there’s not another soul on this earth I’d choose to be the one to make me a daddy.  Four years later and my course through time has altered dramatically.  I’m also told that this is just the tip of the iceberg.  That thought is as unfathomable as any I had, prior to my daughter’s arrival, about the impact fatherhood, my children, my daughter would have on me.  I’m strapped in for the ride, not quite sure what I will encounter, praying it all remains just as magical.

Happy Birthday, Quinn.  We love you so.

Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness,

Will O’Connor

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An August Whirlwind

Welcome back! To both you and me.  I’ve been absent from my blog, among many other things, this month, due to a confluence of things.  A windfall of blessings has come my way over the course of the past few weeks.  Several I thought I would share; intended on sharing at the time(s) but the extra effort necessary to install them here properly required my attention might be diverted elsewhere.  So here I am, back now, with the time, energy and perspective to share:

Personally: August is filled with incredible moments for me.  Landmark events that are keystones to the perception I have of myself.  August 7th marked the 8th Anniversary of my sobriety and abstinence from alcohol.  Those who know me know that for the years usually earmarked for social drinking, my habits ranged from average among my peer group: recreational yet qualifying in the binge-drinking category, to excessive with respect to the dream and goals I said I had for myself.  From 16 to 24 years of age, I put more energy into fulfilling my weekend (or even weeknight) plans than I do into fulfilling my long-term plans.  I was upside-down on life.  I was mortgaging my future with a present I didn’t have the planning funds to defer.  When I finally realized it, I found myself standing in the middle of my childhood bedroom, a 24-year-old man, knowing with ever fiber of my being that I’d undoubtedly push away everyone I ever loved, or that ever loved me, should I continue down the path I was on.  Under the only epiphany I’ve ever experienced, I vowed then and there to my girlfriend, now wife, that I was done with alcohol.  I did this under a considerably high level of intoxication, unprovoked, while certainly not unwarranted, and my wife tells me often of the skepticism with which she approached the topic the following day – uncertain of the level of commitment, or even the level of memory, I had to my statement.  The result has been the single most stable era of my life.  While there have been considerable valleys, they are attributable to other, more common deficiencies among humans.  The peaks have been exponentially more resounding within my soul than the lows.  This fact serves to propel me further; to ask myself what more I can tackle – where else is there room on my plate?  I’m far from efficient in carrying these items to their fruition, but the my sobriety has brought me to closer relationships and a greater level of achievement in my endeavors.

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Since the first week of December of last year, I’ve been eagerly anticipating the birth of my third child.  On August 9th, Eve Corinne O’Connor entered the world a very pink and healthy baby.  We’re in love with Eve and eager to get to know her.  We believe Eve will settle in perfectly with our young family and her big brother and sister have already fallen for her.  Eve was also born via C-Section, a first for our family.  We had to make that decision rather quickly, as it was discovered that my wife had contracted Chorioamnionitis during labor, the same infection that forced my first daughter to be born with the aid of a vacuum.  My wife was not as far along with Eve as she was with Quinn by the time the infection was noted, which reduced our options to either waiting an hour and having no choice but to have a C-Section, or to schedule one immediately.  We chose the latter, and at 10:00 PM sharp, we became parents for a third time.  I’ve never had the experience of incorporating a new family member while also nursing my wife back to health.  Both of our previous babies left my wife sore, but surgery had never been a requirement.  While my daughter is essentially exclusively dependent on my wife, my wife and my older two kids are essentially exclusively dependent upon me.  My blessings and my requirements multiply.  In the end, I’m in love with another beautiful, healthy girl and I’ve now tacked the 9th onto a growing list of circled dates in the month of August.

Professionally: The past 12 weeks have been a blur, without the added content above.  I was assigned to a project at the University of Richmond, starting May 15th.  While not a complicated job, having only 12 weeks to renovate 14 apartments is challenging.  When the permitting process takes two weeks longer than you anticipated, it really becomes more like 10.  What results is the necessity to open the job for all possible hours of the week.  Twelve hour days become the norm and seven days a week become the only way you are going to steal back that time; because the University has students coming and they’ve hired your firm to deal with the speed-bumps along the way.  Typically, from the time drywall is first hung in a unit, there is 45-60 days before it can be turned over.  We did it in 28.  It was grueling, especially given my wife’s pregnancy and the attention two toddlers need at home.  How my wife was able to stick out her end of this deal is as impressive as the feat we pulled off.  On August 8th, the day prior to my wife’s scheduled induction, we obtained our Certificate of Occupancy and met our goal.  It wasn’t an epic trail because it wasn’t long enough to be, but those six weeks where I spent half of the time existing in a week at my project was a test I was proud to measure up to.

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Culturally:  I made the decision to spend what free time I did have not stuck in front of a TV, but inside of a book.  Over the past two weeks I’ve read two books, together completely opposite on the spectrum from one another, increasing their yield ten-fold: Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell and When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi.  1984 hardly needs an interlude.  I read this book this year, for the first time, in part because of the political allusions many on the left made to this book with the incoming Presidency of Donald Trump.  While I can’t personally draw any parallels to this presidency that don’t uniquely reside within his administration, there are countless specific pieces of information that certainly create internal dialogue about our awareness of ourselves as it relates to what we can verify along international comparisons, roles of various agencies within our government, etc.  I found it to be excellently written and Orwell is doubtless prophetic in his analysis of how powerful people retain their power.  Kalanithi and When Breath Becomes Air is perhaps the most moving, powerful memoir I’ve ever read.  Granted I’m on maternity leave, but I devoured this book in two days and am currently grieving a loss I never knew I experienced until I picked up the book.  I haven’t determined an exact means of expanding his legacy in my own right, but the phrase he borrowed from Samuel Beckett “I can’t go on, I’ll go on,” is sure to be at the heart of my effort.

Taken as a whole, the first half of August has been an excellent few weeks.  I’ve been afforded the opportunity, in countless avenues of my life to stop and reflect on What Happiness Means to Me.  I’ve been able to add to my understanding of what makes a life worth living, and how to live those values in the moment. Moreover, I’ve gained more clarity as to how my values can vary from those dearest to me without their values being in direct conflict with mine.  As I’ve known, but strengthened my knowledge in, one’s values creates their identity and provides them with a guide as how to best live their life going forward in the most beneficial way to the world possible.  While there are, and will always be, those who act counter to the best interests of the world, it is our charge to filter those actions through our values and respond in the most effective way possible.  Not just to shout down hatred and violence and bigotry and regression.  But to reinforce the hopefully expanding trend of creating as much freedom and opportunity for the most amount of people possible; so that happiness can be found and meaning explored by all who wish to pursue it.

Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness,

Will O’Connor

The Music of Your Life

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I wrote the below piece about 16 months ago.  Given the expected addition to our family in the coming weeks, I thought I’d pull this from my archives and send it out there to any who’d wish to read it.
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I have a spoiler to share with you all.  I haven’t mentioned this publicly on this blog, or anywhere else really, but when Carolyn and I found out we were having our first child (Quinn, now almost 3), I decided to create an opportunity to speak to her in adult fashion in real-time, using my most creative outlet, writing.  I began to keep a journal for her.  Ideally, she’d be rolling around the floor, or running around a soccer field, pick a scene, and I’d get my writing itch and pull out the journal and tell her whatever it was with which I was so inspired.  I had always watched parents speak to their children like children and wanted to find a way to bestow my parental advice through more sophisticated terms.  At some point, this was to become a gift to her.
Then, when Quinn was just 4 months old, we found out we were expecting another bundle of joy.  Except that with the financial strain of providing for a new child, daycare, formula, diapers, yada-yada-yada it wasn’t quite so joyful.  Don’t get me wrong, we were floored that God had given us another chance to raise a child, but we didn’t feel equipped to handle the material and financial obligations of a second child so quickly.  I resolved to buy another journal.  This one for “baby dos”, but it took me a while to got around actually following through on it.  To be honest, there’s a blank space in my journal to Quinn where a gap of time between entries occurred.  Stress gives me writer’s block.  Its only when I’m in tune with the world around me that the words spring out of my brain, onto the page.  Frequently, my fingers can barely keep up with my mind.  It’s exhilarating to flurry through 2, 3, 4 pages of text, stopping only to un-cramp my hand.
Eventually, however, I recovered from my haze and I began to write.  This year has been really good for my writing.  I try to write to each of them twice a month, and am keeping a separate journal (typed) for myself.  I never thought I’d ever explain this publicly, and am only doing so now because its imperative to the context of the entry I decided to share from yesterday (below).  This one is from Xavier’s notebook, although I’ll probably type it up for Quinn and put it in the back of her journal, where I keep other loose letters, photos, etc.  Selfishly, I dream of this being a prized possession one day.  For both of them.  Who knows.  So to set the stage, this entry’s original is found in Xavier’s journal, in the early portion of what I hope will one day become a multi-volume work.  We’ll see.  I wasn’t really sure I even wanted to share it, but those who’ve instilled music within my soul deserve to know I’m passing it on.  I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it.
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Xavier,
I’m writing to you from work today.  There’s asbestos abatement going on in the building, therefore I cannot go in.  It’s a beautiful day and I’m listening to music.  As you may someday find, music is the strongest conduit to our memories of the past.  A song comes on and “Boom!”, there you are, smack-dab in the middle of a moment you’ve already lived, watching old scenes, remembering former exhilaration and heartache.
Such is my inspiration for entering this passage today.  The saddest part of these memories, this musical voyage, is that we cannot fully go back to that time.  Not to change anything, anyway.  Then the thought struck me, “Xavier will live through this same problem.  Maybe I can pass to him the importance of REALLY living.  When he’s 16 and in love with a girl, or at a concert with friends, or playing baseball in the backyard, whatever it is.”  So here I am, telling you, begging you to lay it all out there, to go for it.  You won’t get it back and you can’t take it with you.  The worst possible outcome of this trip down memory lane is you encounter a scenario where you wish you’d done it differently.  Listen to me, Xavier.  So much of this book will be special moments we’ve shared or I’ve witnessed.  They are special.  While you are young, please don’t miss opportunities to be on fire for the things you know you yearn for.  Chasing down your dreams, while prioritizing faith, family and friends is our mission in life.  There will be a time for responsibility and providing for others.  That is a separate phase we can only be truly ready for when we can successfully say we’ve discovered enough of life to know what we need, compared against what we don’t.
In the meantime, keep track of the soundtrack of your life.  Play music often and loudly and in the company of those who help you come alive.  It will sustain your days both in the present, and then later on down the line.  It will revive green grass in winter moments.  It will help you feel the sun on your back, hear pure laughter, recall innocent bliss.  You’ll recall your first kiss, the beginnings of a best friendship, the loss of a loved one; heartache and euphoria.  Live in that music so that, one day, when you are old and tired, and a song comes on from the spring of your life, you’ll look back at how alive you were and smile.  And hopefully, take pride in how much of that flame you’ve kept burning.
I love you with all of my heart, no matter what the season.  Here’s to hopefully being a part of your soundtrack.
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– Dad
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Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness,
Will O’Connor

Love Me Now

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John Legend has been one of, if not my favorite artist of my adult life.  From the start of my freshman year, he has featured dozens of songs that capture the essence of love, passion and happiness.  There has been perhaps no one better in this generation, especially given the tendency for most other artists to focus on the more banal needs of life.  At the end of last year, or the beginning of this, I can’t remember; John Legend released Love Me Now.  At first, the song seemed to rub me the wrong way.  Don’t get me wrong, its composition is beautiful, but something in the message seemed off to me.  Recently, I’ve had the occasion to listen to the song under my new perspective of Me.Now.  The title of the song and the mantra of the Me.Now.Movement are directly compatible to one another; and the message is resounding in an alternative fashion.  That’s the beauty of music.  The notes and lyrics don’t change, but in time, as our perspective changes, the message evolves within our own minds.

Here’s what I didn’t like about it when I first heard it:

I was raised Catholic and retain that identity to this day.  Being Catholic, and married myself, the idea that he wasn’t sure if his wife (I’m assuming he wrote this song about Chrissy Teigan, especially since she features in the video) wasn’t assuredly going to be in his life forever.  He talks about not knowing who is going to kiss her when he’s gone.  Why would you question that? Do what you have to do to stay with your wife! It’s clear that you love your wife at the moment, so why would you envision the moment when she might be gone? He then goes on to explain that he doesn’t want to think about it, and that he just wishes for love right now.  Again, the immediate gratification that pervades our culture from all angles infringed upon my perspective.  Why would he be solely focused on right now? You have to plan your life for the long-term, and to do that, the best course of action is conservative growth, or so I thought.

Love isn’t money.  We shouldn’t approach it the same way.  He’s not saying he’s going to leave her or that she’s going to leave him.  He’s saying he doesn’t want to think about it.

Here’s how the message changed for me under the context of the Me.Now.Movement:

If the listener focuses on the “I don’t want to think about it. I just want to love you now,” portion of the chorus; if we admit we don’t know whats in the stars, but that we know what’s in our hearts, we can begin to separate our strategy of long-term financial growth from the urgency and immediacy with which we must live our lives.  John Legend isn’t saying his wife is going to leave him.  He’s not implying I should be thinking about my wife leaving me.  He’s urging me, reminding himself, that what’s important is abandoning the future plan that we might live for Right Now.  What a powerful idea! We mustn’t think about how the years will go down.  It will be alright.  And has he follows, let’s make the most of every moment, tonight!

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If we’re lucky, we’ll find someone who mirrors our hearts.  If we’re attentive to that symmetry, we’ll maintain that love.  The relationship is built on blocks, day by day.  Love is conducted like electricity.  It’s there when we energize ourselves in the moment.  When we cut that circuit, it still has the capacity to conduct energy, but we won’t be able to see it or feel it.  John Legend has the right side of the coin showing here.  I’m hoping I can bare that in mind more frequently.

John Legend, and his work, has long been a source of relaxation, contemplation and happiness for me.  I’m glad I revisited this particular song with the idea of happiness and presence in the now on my heart.  This most recent revelation is just another in a long string of recent thoughts that help me magnify my focus and gain new appreciation for What Happiness Means to Me.

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Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness,

Will O’Connor

Keeping Myself Young – Shared Experiences of Happiness

I was flipping through some images online today at my lunch break.  Not looking for anything in particular, I came across a few that made me stop in wonder.  In that moment, I felt such a wave of gratitude for the gifts and responsibilities bestowed upon me that I felt compared to share.  The first picture listed below is of my son, Xavier.  Xavier is two years old.  He’s a brilliant, creative, burst of energy and will.  Nearing his third birthday, he’s got an idea for how every moment should go and will tell you when you aren’t acting according to the plan.  Xavier is the boy I needed but never envisioned.  He’s more perfect than I could have ever expected.  In the photo, you can see we are on a boat.  The boat belongs to my parents.  We try to get out on the water as frequently as possible, and some of Xavier’s favorite moments on the boat are when the throttle is slammed against the dash, propelling us as fast as possible to our destination.  There’s something magical about the wind pulling at your cheeks, flailing through your hair as you anticipate swimming at your favorite beach.  All the more magical, for me, is the opportunity to watch him full of excitement as he rests against me.  The sense of security and belonging we have to and for one another is a unique bond I hope to foster forever.

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There’s a growing sentiment among our friends and family that my daughter is my wife’s mini-me.  While it is true that I am glad she doesn’t have her father’s looks, Quinn has always reminded me of myself, without the inhibition surfacing when new to a public scene or a gathering of large people.  I love this photo because it incorporates Quinn’s personality to a “T”.  Pictured below, we sit on the Brown’s Island Bridge above the James River on my birthday this past March.  My daughter has her Elsa jacket on; something she rarely braved public spaces without, shouting her excitement towards the photographer.  From the day Quinn was born she felt like she fit right beside me.  I rarely experienced feelings of doubt or apprehension of what to do with her.  She’s grown into the most amazing 3-year-old.  She’s on the brink of learning to read, has an amazingly giving heart, and loses her s#*! when I leave for work in the morning before she wakes up.  To say my daughter is precocious would be an understatement.  She’s wildly curious about information, and feels several years older than her birth certificate would reveal.  She’s a blessing of the highest order and I can’t wait to watch her be a big sister to a baby girl.  That’s going to be both a wonderful, and tiresome process; as I am sure we’ll have to reinforce the fact that she is not, in fact, the baby’s mommy.

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As I moved though my photographs, I stumbled upon this one.  Richmond saw one measurable snowfall this year.  Quite a departure from the 3-5 we averaged in Baltimore the years prior to this one.  The snowstorm coincided with my plans to put the fire pit I was gifted for Christmas together.  As soon as I busted out that first screwdriver, Xav had to be out there with me.  My wife stepped out in the snow briefly to take some pictures, apparently.  I didn’t notice until after this one, and its candid-ness is brilliant.  You might notice the pink gloves.  Those are his sisters.  He had not a care in the world for the color of the mittens – they were the ones at the door and that was the stipulation for coming out into the snow with me.  My favorite part of this picture is the emotions our eyes transmit to the viewer.  My son, looking adoring at me, so happy to be building something with his Dad.  My eyes reflect the same pride I see in old photos of my dad and myself.  There’s a partnership forming there; a feeling I love sharing with my father.  Whether we are splitting wood, starting a fire, watching a baseball game or prepping for a less frequently occurring activity, I love that my father always included me in his tasks.  It’s absolutely something I want to transfer along as a father to my children.

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I don’t think I have a more favorite photo in my album than the one pictured below.  Taken by my sister at the Baltimore City Train Museum as we waited for our train ride with Santa Claus two winters ago, I was joking with her about something small.  Had to have been because I don’t remember its reason.  I also had no clue that my sister was taking a picture.  The profile shot of my daughter’s smile is the most perfect capture of the life within my daughter, and the life within me when I am with her.  There are so many things I’m not very good at.  But there’s rarely a moment I get to experience something new with my children where I am not as eager to reach that experience than they are.  My children bring out the very best in me.  Being their dad is the most important thing in my life.  I have to opportunity to shape the worldview of two, soon to be three, little people.  That’s a very serious charge.  In the short time I’ll have with them, I’ll need to impress upon them the need for ethic, empathy, integrity, accountability, compassion and love.  I’ll have to expose them to the raw nature of the world at varying lengths of time.  I’ll need to prepare them for the course they are to chart for themselves and I’ll need to do all of this knowing I’ll have to take my hand off the wheel at some point.  I’m always thinking about this line.  The amount of time between here and adulthood; where they’ll stretch out and form their own plans and perspectives.  Just as my parents did, and still do; I’ll have to help them find their purpose, watch from alongside, allowing for their own discoveries while instilling the reminder that my presence will always be there.  In the meantime, I have this picture to remind myself of the beauty of being a parent.

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The O’Connor’s are inside of our one-month count-down to Baby O #3’s expected arrival to this world.  Switching from man-to-man to zone defense will be a new challenge for my wife and myself, but I’m beyond ecstatic to welcome a new timeline of anticipating experiences together to our crazy schedule.  We’ve been blessed with so much, and can only hope to continue praying for God’s assistance in forming the hearts of our beautiful children.  Alongside my wife, my children are the purest form of reminding me of my happiness and helping me clearly recognize What Happiness Means to Me.

Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness,

Will O’Connor

Every-Day Absentia: Combating Malaise with Forceful Wonder

There’s a general malaise one gets when they’ve forced themselves into the world of lofty goals.  For anyone having a “5-Year Plan”, or anything of that variety, the tiny miracles that exist in the passing moments often get missed.  As humans, our brains can only devote energy to so many things.  When we devote our active energy to our difficult goals, we’re placing our priorities in the future.  This is important! Anyone striving to build for themselves something larger than they previously had imagined should place priority on these goals.  It just should not be the only priority.  How do we go about administering priority to our various goals – short, mid-term, and long?

I like to look at these ideals as a “confidence poll” – very similar to what you would see passed out in the office during football season.  It goes like this: There are a dozen match-ups on the slate.  For each match-up, you must select the winner and assign a number to each.  The team you are most confident in gets the highest number.  You don’t need to pay much attention to this game because its some behemoth team versus a puny or under-performing one.  You put down the number 12, giving it the highest value towards your total, but it is actually the game you are least stressed about.  You move on down the line until you find the match-up against the two teams that are both play-off-bound and you meekly circle one (the home team), and place a one in that blank column to the left.  At the end of the weekend, you tally your points and weigh them against the rest of the players in the office pool.  You accumulate points and the winner gets a gift card, or whatever small prize your office has selected for the victor.

I look at the breakdown that way.  My biggest goals are assigned value based upon not just their importance to me, but the needs I have in attending to them.  If my goal is, lets say, to write a blog post every day, I assign that total to be just under performing my job that day.  Performing my job has a big total.  There’s a lot riding on it.  But I also know that the habits I’ve formed over the years create conditions where I do them implicitly.  This is not to say that I stress any less about it, or that there won’t be items that pop up during the course of the day or week that require my uninterrupted attention.  At those times, my brain is in hyper-drive and I’m working only on that.  Personal calls aren’t answered – hell, sometimes even the other aspects of the job have to be momentarily suspended until I get this thing right.  But when I’m done with that, I move down the line to my other priorities, in the order in which I’ve placed the most value.  This gives me an opportunity to attend to most, if not all, of my priorities during the day.

Playing with my kids has a high value on my daily “confidence poll.”  There are three main reasons.  First, they’re my kids, and they’re only going to be young and that type of adorable for so long.  There’s an expiration date on the terms of their play and the level to which they offer me engagement in that play.  Second, it’s a de-stresser.  When I am teaching my son how to hit or catch a baseball, or helping my daughter learn how to pump her legs to propel the swing by herself, I’m solely focused on that aspect of my life.  Sometimes, maybe most times, happiness is derived from simplicity of an event.  The closer that event brings me to my childhood memories, or to witnessing their belly laughs, the happier I am.  Third, and most importantly, my children stop in wonder on a regular basis.

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They’re truly amazed when they unlock a new piece of information, or figure out how one idea fits in with another.  They find ants to be fascinating.  At the lake last weekend, my daughter caught a small ring snake because it was upside down and she thought it was a worm! I mean, how thought-provoking and satisfying a process! To watch her transfer knowledge that if a worm is harmless and an animal looks like a worm, maybe it is harmless, too.  I promise you that I took the time to educate her on the difference between certain snakes, but we did that after we marveled at the miracle of the variation of animals in the world! My son has a book called The Mighty, Might Construction Site.  There are ten different pieces of equipment in the book (two of them are mis-labeled, but we took care of that) and the book provides context into how each one is used.  My son stares at that book every single night, as I read it to him, and studies the differences in form before he lists them off to me.  He knows each of them, two months before turning three.  He can tell you the difference between a front-end loader and backhoe; between a pump truck and a crane.  These things in isolation aren’t going to gain him admission into Harvard – but they are building blocks in the process to studiously differentiating different things.  The byproduct is all of these minor miracles being noted and categorized into various departments of information.

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All of this to say that happiness is found in balancing the big, burdensome plans we’ve devised for ourselves while taking the time to smell the roses.  I rarely smell actual roses, however.  My roses take the form of my children, my wife, baseball, reading, writing, Saturday’s with the Boys (had to), my parents and siblings, and all of the minor miracles and tidbits of information the unveil to me and unlock for me along the way.  I take happiness from being a part of their processes, and hope that they derive the same from mine.  It is my hope to keep gauging these confidence polls, to take the time to rearrange which I value most, and to keep my mental and spiritual direction moving in positive directions – to achieve goals – both grand and minute in scale.  For sometimes it is the smallest thing that unveils the greatest pleasure.

Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness,

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Will O’Connor

Memories To Last a Lifetime

I recently read a book by Daniel Kahneman entitled “Thinking Fast and Slow”.  Among various other topics, Kahneman discussed prospect theory and highlighted several times over the benefit of understanding someone’s reference point, which his theory incorporates, over utility theory, which does not take into account the subject’s position when selecting their choice between a sure thing and a gamble.  Essentially, those who are faced between a sure thing and a gamble, elect the sure thing when both outcomes are good; while those faced between a sure thing and a gamble elect the gamble when both outcomes are bad.  Essentially, we hedge our bets so as not to be disappointed with nothing when we could improve our situation, while we gamble on the risk when we have everything to lose.  It has proven true time and time again in economics; and so too does it hold true with behavioral economics.  Kahneman looked closer at how people elect to utilize money and time.  Shockingly, or maybe not so shockingly, a great number of people tested in his analysis over many generations have reported the greatest utility of their time and money is derived from creating memories.  That memory creation creates a lasting impression that goes a great way towards improving our happiness.

As this is a blog about achieving happiness, I find this to be vital information.  I also found myself shaking my head in agreement when he made these points.  Through my own experiences, it is in making of memories that we are able to recall our happiness and utilize it as a means towards furthering that pursuit.  That is to say, memories are fuel for the engine of our lives.  We can use them when our tank is empty to continue forward.  Likewise, when we are at leisure, when we are not necessarily on empty, but just relaxing, we can funnel those memories back into ourselves and reinforce the investments of time and money that we are making.  We receive a hefty return on that investment, because those memories serve as reminders of why we are doing what we are doing; why we push ourselves to success and why we endure stress and strain.  We do it so we can direct ourselves to places where we can enjoy ourselves, and our loved ones, most fully.

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Over the past month, I’ve had the opportunity to collect memories with my family and friends in Charlotte, NC, over father’s day with my family and my brother-in-law, and again at the lake and our house in Richmond with a party of 13, comprising grandparents, parents, siblings, children and friends.  We saw fireworks, grilled, went boating, swimming and rested together.  It wasn’t always perfect, but we left each other with a greater since of pride in belonging to one another.  I’ll draw on those memories in various periods of reflection, reference and re-fueling to encourage my inner self to push for the next opportunity to be so fortunate.  My favorite thing about this past month is that I’ve had an opportunity to enrich my life with the presence of each one of these people; those whom I’ve already come to love are endearingly more so beloved.  I hope I am seen in the same light in each of their eyes.  For that is what is truly important.

These are my people.  They are my tribe.  I love so many others, but I am in love with only them.  They accept me for who I am, support me in who I want to be, and push me to keep a tether between those two things.  Spending time with them is my reference for gauging happiness.  They are my sure things and I’d choose them over anything else I ever had to consider before me.  My month of June was a drastic juxtaposition between being a ball of stress at work and a husband, dad, son and brother outside of it.  I tried hard to be my best self for each of them.  I’m not sure I succeeded, but I gave it my honest best effort.  Hopefully, I’ll be more capable this month than last at achieving that goal, but each and every one of them created a better sense of self within me, and for that I am eternally grateful for the memories we shared and built in June of 2017.

Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness

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Will O’Connor

Vacation Happiness: From Planning to Action

 

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Greetings, all and Happy 4th of July Weekend! Hopefully it is a time for everyone to take an opportunity to rest from the intense heat, spend time with loved ones, cook and eat, drink and visit.  Most of all, I hope it is a time for everyone to reflect on the amazing benefit we have all had of living in the United States.  We are truly blessed.  I’ll be headed up to the Lake to see a whole slew of family.  At the house will be: my grandmother, my parents, my brother, my sister, my wife and our two (three when you count the baby in her belly) children, my sister-in-law and her boyfriend.  Its going to be a full house! So full, in fact, that half of us will be driving to and from Richmond and Lake Anna on a daily basis as my parents house cannot fit the whole group of us.  I’m so excited to be around all of the people I love so dearly, yet rarely get the opportunity to spend time with.  My parents live in Fairfax, Va.  My sister and brother live in Charlotte.  My sister-in-law and her boyfriend live in New York City and my grandmother lives up near Appleton, Wisconsin.  Having known of this plan for some time, I’ve had plenty of opportunity to envision the fun we’ll have.  Boating, fireworks, the jet ski, crabs, and lounging on the dock.  The anticipation of the event is killing me!

That got me to thinking about my quotient of happiness.  It seems, at times, that I’m happier in the anticipation than I am at the event.  Almost as though anything that crosses wires with the image I had constructed in my head brings my happiness down a notch or two.  I think I’ve always faced this challenge.  I’ve always had problems dealing with events not matching my intentions for them.  It has created issues in the past, and I’ve resolved not to let that happen in the future.  What are some of the ways I plan on doing this? I’ve thought about that.  Here are a few of them.  First, I am going to start by not disturbing myself from dreaming of the endless possibilities we’ll encounter.  I’m not going to sap my happiness of anticipation by not setting hopes for myself.  Second, when I get to the lake, I am going to wipe my goals away through positive thought and earnest investment in the present.  I want to allow for the happiness to unfold before me.  I want for speedbumps to be just that; speedbumps.  I want to interact with those I rarely see with the best me I can possibly muster.  Most importantly, I want to look back on the weekend and recall how awesome that time was, even if it wasn’t necessarily what I had envisioned.

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Although it carries with it many advantages, one of my challenges can be my strong personality.  It steers me well in much of my life.  I am a focused and passionate individual, and I can articulate my wants and plans, but the ability I have to positively influence matters seems to be tethered to an absolute zero value.  That is to say that my personality has the potential to steer things in the exact opposite way, with the same degree of intensity or impact.  Understanding that about myself, my plan is to check in with myself more frequently during the weekend.  To gauge my emotions, determine what corrective action I need to take, and do so within myself, prior to taking others down that road with me.  This plan gives me great happiness! I can already feel a different vibe within myself than I have in similar events in the past.  I am grateful for the frame of mind the Edison Project has provided me.  It has pushed me to search for my means of happiness; and in so doing has highlighted the ways I might increase that feeling across the board.  Many times, simply by removing the negative, we can experience more of the positive.  That is my goal for happiness this weekend; to experience happiness as presently as I can by setting my often minute desires aside, checking in with myself, and removing the negative.  The rest of the trip will take care of itself.  I look forward to touching base on my success with this plan at the Holiday’s end!

Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness,

Will O’Connor

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