My father was an immigrant who came to the United States when he was 15 years old. As he did not speak a word of English, he joined the kindergarteners in learning the language. Each month, as his skills improved, he was bumped up a grade until he finally arrived at the appropriate level and was speaking fluent English.
Until I was in 10th grade, I never realized that he spoke with a slight accent. I had interviewed him for a history project, An Immigrant’s Point of View, and, when I played the tape to the class, the first remark was about his foreign speech patterns.
Even though it was pointed out to me, I never heard his accent again, for, when I looked at my Dad, I saw past his exterior to a person I loved and admired. And, there was so much about which to admire my father.
Soon after he mastered the English language, he was forced to leave school and start working in his family’s business. At 18, he was already living on his own. He moved from job to job and finally apprenticed as a mechanic. Through hard work, he became a supervisor, although he was not totally satisfied with this monumental accomplishment for an immigrant who did not even speak the language five years prior. My father wanted to live the American dream of professional success, a home in the suburbs, and a family to fill that home.
So, again, he set out to make his mark on the world. He managed to save up enough money to buy his own garage, and, eventually, he even started his own trucking company. He married my mother, and together they produced a family of four girls. The family moved to the suburbs, and my father made sure that each of us received the college education of which he was deprived.
My father’s legacy to his children was his superior work ethic and his love of this country, which provided so much opportunity to him. He was proud to be an American and took the rights afforded to him very seriously. He told us many times, “I don’t care who you vote for, as long as you promise me to vote in every election.” Consequently, every time I pull the lever in the voting book, I feel I am fulfilling my promise to him.
Most importantly, he showed my sisters and me how to always treat others with respect and to go above and beyond to help your fellow human being. The best compliment my father issued was, “He’s a nice guy.” To most, the word”nice” may sound benign, but we kids knew if my father thought someone was nice, it meant that person was a very upstanding citizen who took care of his family and friends and was a helper to humankind.
To this day, I try to live up to my father’s definition of “nice.” I believe my father was right in thinking that if everyone played nice, there would be fewer problems in the world, as well as in our personal relationships. Nice could make the world go round! Therefore, I do my part to spread “niceness” wherever I go, and every time I put my hand out to help another, I hear my father’s whisper in my ear, “I’m proud of you!”