Father-Daughter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Yours in the Pursuit of Purpose,

Will O’Connor

Founding Principle

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

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

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

 

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

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

Yours in the Pursuit of Purpose,

Will O’Connor

Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness,

Will O’Connor