Monday, November 26, 2012

Thankful on Thanksgiving

My American friends and family have just celebrated Thanksgiving, a festival that has its roots in the old European festival. Some of attributed the American festival to going as far back as 1621 when the first immigrants were arriving in the new world. There is a ‘legend’ of sorts that states that this was the one time the new arrivals and the indigenous Indians shared a meal together.

While I don’t celebrate Thanksgiving personally, I believe that there are things that the world should be thankful for. For a start, the world remains a fairly decent place because America remains the world’s superpower. Despite the economic crisis and the often bitter partisanship of her politicians, America on the whole has remained a force of good. Say what you like about America’s political system but it has held fairly steady and the current crop of politicians are being forced by voters to look at domestic issues instead of looking for foreign adventures to distract themselves.

For all the problems of the American economy, the country remains the hot bed of innovation. While the system may at times seem unfair and even destructive, it has constantly produced companies and people who have come up with the things that make our future. While America’s military strength may have been sapped by the lack of funding and overambitious overseas ventures, the power of ideas generated by American universities is shaping the world. The rise of tomorrow’s superpowers, China and India, can attribute to American Universities (As a friend of mine who was at University of Southern California pointed out – mechanical engineering courses at USC are filled with Mainland Chinese and software engineering courses are filled with Indians).

America has its problems and American policy, as anyone who’s dealt with the Middle East will tell you, has done plenty of harm. However, I remain with Douglas Hurd, Britain’s former Foreign Secretary, when he describes America as the “most benevolent superpower in history.” On the balance of things, America has been a force of good.

For me, my reasons to be thankful to the USA are more personal. Although I’ve career success with American companies like Citibank and GE, my reasons to be thankful to the USA are more personal – it’s family. The two Americans who come to mind are my stepfather, Lee (Mum’s second husband) and my step-grandmother, Joan (mother of my dad’s second wife).

Both Lee and Joan never thought of me as anything less than their own. To Lee, I was as good to him as his own flesh and blood sons. He’d always make it a point to ensure that I would never have anything less than my sister, Tara his natural daughter. There was a long stretch of my life where having Lee around was taken for granted as breathing and I know the same is true for him. When I do get a chance to speak to him, he tells me that I’ll always be the 13-year old boy he once knew and raised as his own.

Joan was the other reason why I am thankful to the USA. She took me as her own grandson and one of the last great memories I have of being in the US was visiting her in Chicago. She would quiz me about politics in Singapore and the UK as well as my views on the global economy. One of the most touching things she did was to keep every email that I sent to her when I was at university and to compile it into a small book. Not only did she take me as her grandson, she took my friend Joe on as well.  She was more than happy to be an interviewee for one of his early videos.

I’m probably very different from what either Joan or Lee expected of me. It was Joan who planted the seed of a dream I once had of getting an MBA at Northwestern. Lee feels that I have the potential for great spirituality.

However, both have left one major impression on me – the understanding that family is more than a question of flesh and blood. Family is more than a question of skin colour or ideology. Many of my friends wonder why I’ve put my heart into both Thuy and Yooga instead of focusing on having my own flesh and blood.  I think the answer is I’ve seen both these kids as mine regardless of the lack of a biological connection. With Yooga, I worry that his mother’s instability will affect him. With Thuy returning to my life as a young woman, I worry that every inappropriate adventure I had with the opposite sex will come back to haunt her.

Yet, I’m thankful for all the worries and responsibilities I’ve taken on. It’s like when people question me as to why I’m so passionate about wanting to do things for Yooga or Thuy because they’re not my flesh and blood, I wonder what my life would have been like if Lee had taken the same position with me. I believe my life would be the poorer for it.

I went to see Lee this summer. It was his 80th birthday and he made the point to the family that seeing me was the only wish he had. The process of going to see Lee in Washington State (Port Townsend) also meant I got to see my stepsister, Carol and her family.

The last time I saw them was 14-years ago. Her kids, my step nieces and nephews were children, just like me. The youngest of her kids, Brennon and Mikaela, were still small enough to jump into my arms and get hugged. Well, I returned to the USA to find Mikaela a mother of a two-year old boy and I arrived in time to see Brennon married off to my new found ex-step-niece Chava. Time has passed. We’ve made monumental life changes. There’s been an absence of over a decade. Yet the feeling of being welcomed by family remains the same.

I am also thankful that the USA has been good to my brother Max. Funny, when we were children (well, I’m quite a bit older, so I was a kid and he a baby), the expectation was that I would be the studious one and Max the rebel. Things have turned out quite differently. I have, as they say, become the bastard in the family, the type who gives his own parents nightmares. Max has turned out quite differently. A steady girlfriend in the shape of Caitlan has, I believe, brought out the best in him and he’s found a form of contentment that seems to elude most of us.

Say what you like about America and American politics. Say what you like about the mess of the American economy or the mess of its Middle Eastern policies. The country is the place that blessed me with a family beyond flesh and blood. It’s blessed my flesh and blood – it for this reason that I am thankful onThanksgiving day.

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