ANNAPOLIS, Md. (May 29, 2010) — I’m sitting in Annapolis writing at the kitchen table of Gene and Kathleen Severens, a couple whose townhome I’m renting during Commissioning Week at the U.S. Naval Academy.
My son, Andrew Donald Mathes, graduated yesterday and is now a second lieutenant in the Marines. Joining me for the pomp only found at a service academy graduation are my father Donald Kortus (whom my son is named after), my stepmother Bettye, daughter Rachel, two brothers, two sisters, their spouses and a niece and nephew.
All together there are 15 Kortus family members in Annapolis to celebrate Andy’s graduation, which included a fly over by the Blue Angels and a commencement address by Vice President Joe Biden.
We are staying at the Severens’ four-level townhouse. It quickly became our home for the week even though the walls have pictures of loved ones we’ve never met and the shelves are filled with books we’ve never read. It is home because we are all here together.
I’m from a family of 10 children and five of us are in Annapolis. My father seems just as proud that so many of his children have come to their nephew’s graduation as he is of his grandson’s Naval Academy diploma.
Dad is the patriarch of a remarkable family— not because of our personal and professional accomplishments, but remarkable in that all 10 of us remain close even as the oldest turns 60 and the youngest 47.
I’ve lived long enough to know what an achievement this is. Too many families lose their connections by the time they reach mid life and family get-togethers become obligations rather than welcomed reunions.
My father has always insisted that his children remain loving and loyal to each other. His most important lesson has been to accept the successes and failures of each other and to remain steadfast in our love.
Dad taught us that if you turn your back on someone you love out of anger or disappointment you could be turning your back on him or her forever. That is a risk he never took and never wanted us to take. He trusts that people will ultimately make the right choices and I’ve found that they usually do.
These thoughts bring me back to Gene and Kathleen Severens. While my family was arriving in Annapolis last week from Minnesota, the Severens were traveling in the opposite direction to their summer cabin in Minnesota.
When Gene and I first spoke last fall and he told me of his Minnesota connection, I knew his home was destined to be the one I rented for Commissioning Week. Gene talked the same “Minnesota nice” I find in most people from my home state, a niceness that translates to kindness, caring and trust.
The Severens’ trust was evident as we walked in the door of their home. It was as if Gene and Kathleen had just left for an errand and would be back in 15 minutes. All of their personal valuables — photos, artwork, jewelry, electronics — were left in place trusting them to a family they did not know.
People like my father and the Severens believe that people are inherently good and worthy of their trust. And that is a wonderful way to live your life.
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