Only in America

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

Courtesy of Robert Klose
Alyosha Klose as a brand-new member of the US Coast Guard. He’s been assigned to a station on Staten Island, N.Y.

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.

One day he appeared in my office. "Dad," he said, "I need to tell you something." He said this with such gravity that I caught my breath. And then the catharsis: "I've decided to join the Coast Guard."

In short, Alyosha, in his own good time, had found within himself the need for something more than he had. I told him I was behind him 100 percent. But this was only the beginning of the story.

The Coast Guard is very picky. It took Alyosha more than a year, with repeated testing, to achieve a grade high enough for consideration. And then, one day, his recruiter e-mailed him the one word that propelled him toward his future – "Congratulations."

In a short while he was off to boot camp. I wrote him every other day, but received only a couple of replies, one of which read, "So busy!" But I knew he was in good hands, and I believe he did as well. The eight weeks of training led to June 15. A bluebird day in Cape May. As Alyosha's unit passed in review, I searched in vain, not recognizing my son. For a moment I considered that he might have run off. But no, when his name was announced, he stepped forward, shoulders back, head high, and wearing service-issue glasses. After the ceremony I ran out to my boy and immediately found the old Alyosha – cheerful, considerate, and with a light grasp on life. The Coast Guard, however, had rounded the rough edges of his legendary disorganization. He was now, as they say in the services, "squared away."

After five days of R&R, I drove him to his duty station on Staten Island, N.Y. We passed through the gate, parked, and stood by the car for a few minutes. Alyosha hoisted his sea bag and stared at the administration building. "I'm nervous," he said. "We're all nervous at serious steps," I told him. "Thousands have done this before you. You'll be fine."

I watched as my son walked off into his future, never looking back. The Russian orphan found on a dirt road with his fingers in his mouth would now be protecting the Statue of Liberty.

Only in America.

Note: The Coast Guard station on Staten Island made it through superstorm Sandy intact. The station at Sandy Hook, N.J., though, was hit hard. In response, Alyosha helped deliver truckloads of aid to Coast Guard families in need.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Only in America
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today