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Only in America

My son Alyosha's trajectory took him from Russian orphan to US Guardian.

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I have never been a fan of platitudes, but "Only in America" was the first thing that came to mind as I sat in the bleachers at the Coast Guard Training Center in Cape May, N.J., this past June, watching my son, a newly minted Coast Guardian, pass in review.

Alyosha's story is not so simple or unremarkable as a kid growing up and joining the service. His beginnings were difficult, and certainly inauspicious. As a small child, he had been found wandering in a tiny Russian village, dirty and malnourished. Who would have thought that my life would eventually intersect with his? But it did, at an orphanage a couple of hours south of Moscow. By then Alyosha was 7, healthy and rambunctious. He had not been told that I was coming to adopt him, but when we finally met, his first word was "Papa?"

That was in 1993. In the intervening years Alyosha marinated in American culture. He went to school, made friends, learned English, and proved to be a loving son with an independent streak and a real talent for soccer. It was only upon graduation from high school that his trajectory began to wobble. College? Not sure. Work? A little of this, a little of that. Goals? Vague and undefined.

One of the lessons I learned in raising my son was never to compare him with other kids, especially his high-achieving cohorts. As I sat in the stands with other parents, watching our kids play basketball, soccer, or baseball, the conversation was often about the colleges these kids had settled upon, their desire to be engineers or architects. In some cases the parents had groomed the kids for success. One couple even announced their intent to buy Junior a house, so that he wouldn't have to worry about a mortgage.

Sitting among them, I felt like an alien. And I continued to watch Alyosha, my boy who would soon be zigzagging his way through life, happy for the successes of his friends, content to be in his own skin.

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