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My Dad

October 24, 2006

Today was a pretty awesome day. My dad got honored with the Lenawee Chamber 2006 Business Leadership Award. This is basically a lifetime achievement award for a business owner in the county, and is a pretty big deal. We went to this nifty lunch out at the Christian Family Center, all dressed up. The big surprise was that Uncle Frans managed to sneak Aunt B. onto the guest list, and she’s one of Dad’s closest siblings so he was real happy to see that. My oldest brother spoke about what Dad’s like as a dad, and Rick Nadeau spoke about what it was like to work for him. There were lots of laughs and congratulations.
Then it was my dad’s turn to accept the award and give a little speech, and I have to say, it was something special.
Grandpa and Grandma van Staveren have got to be two of the most courageous people I have ever met. They started their family during the war, in occupied Netherlands. They were very moral people, with strict standards, and refused to use birth control in accordance with their religion. The result was that my Dad was the eleventh child, born into a country with almost no opportunities. By the time he was born my grandparents had already decided to move here, and so when he was a year and a half the whole brood packed up onto a boat and came here. They had almost no English, with Uncle Frans (the eldest) speaking it best having about the fluency I have in French, and they had no money at all. Grandpa didn’t have a lot of education, and Grandma couldn’t work because there were eleven children to attempt to parent. Nevertheless, they came here with nothing, in hopes that their children could have a chance at something.
It wasn’t an easy time for anyone. Grandpa was always working, and so were the kids. Dad got his first job when he was five, picking corn cobs out of a field. Grandma is a hard woman, and didn’t have much love to share for her children, so the younger ones were raised mostly by their older siblings. One story has my aunts and uncles sleeping three to a bed to keep warm in the winter.
None of this matters to my dad though. Ask him about his childhood, and the stories he tells are filled with laughter, no matter what the subject matter is. He brushes aside these hardships, and today spoke about what his childhood really taught him, which is something he’s instilled in me all my life without me even realizing it.
Dad is the most dedicated American citizen I have had the pleasure of debating politics with (he’s a republican). His voice glows when he talks about this country, about how wonderful it is, and he reminds me what I sometimes forget in my ranting about the problems we’re facing today. We’re the land of opportunity, and that was made so clear to me today, listening to my dad and his siblings reminisce about their childhood. I may be stressed about managing my money, but I have never had to face not eating. My grandparents and parents have worked all their lives so that I can sit comfortable in a warm bed, keyboard pulled on my lap, and write an lj rant about how much people suck. They have sacrificed and done without so that I can splurge on CDs, or waste time with my boyfriend. Compared to them, I live a worry free, spoiled life, and they still continue to do their best to keep me in ignorance of that fact. They have taught me to appreciate what I have, but never guilted me into that.
The immigrant work ethic runs deep in Dad’s side of the family. I found out recently that five of my six uncles on that side served in the United States military, and not for the reasons I had thought. I knew that Uncle Frans was in there, but I thought it was for financial reasons. My Dad tells me that they served because they felt it was their duty as citizens. They put on uniforms for a country they weren’t born to, because they felt they owed this country. Dad says that he wanted to join up, but he turned eighteen during the Vietnam War, and didn’t want to commit suicide. Even now, after so many years and knowing the facts, there’s guilt in his voice when he says he didn’t join.
I know I harp a lot about voting, and I’ve ruffled some feathers. I’m contemplating toning that down, and we’ll see if that happens. Thing is, I feel we all owe this country, and at the very least we owe it our voice. Everyone together is America, and things don’t work when people are too lazy or apathetic to be a part of the system. We have rights as citizens, but voting isn’t one of them. We have the right to free speech, but that doesn’t mean we always have to speak everything we think. We have the right to our religion, or to peaceably assemble, but that doesn’t mean we have an obligation to do those things. Voting is not a right, because a right is an option. Voting is a responsibility, like paying taxes, something that we are obliged to do.
America is a land made great by the people, and my Dad and his siblings today offered me a view of who it is that makes us great. Simple people with simple goals: to be happy and healthy, to be respected by those whom you respect, to always do your best, and to raise your children in the same ideal.
I leave you now with a picture that is very special to my family. It’s my dad’s family on the day that they became US citizens. Dad’s the little guy on the end of the line. My dad is an amazing person who, together with my mom, has taught me most of the important lessons in my life, and I consider myself lucky to have been born his daughter.

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