My husband and I first met in 1966: Ray was born and raised in the United States of America and I was born and raised in Belgium, Europe.
Having left my native country in 1968, Ray and I were happily married in Pasadena in 1969.
This coming Father’s Day, we wish to proudly honor the amazing legacy that our respective fathers left to us, our children, all our grandchildren and great-grand-children. Even though these two men were born on two different continents, the products of two different cultures, they surprisingly shared striking similarities on how they overcame adverse circumstances.
Both were born at the turn of the 20th century: Henri was born in 1906 in a small Belgian village close to the German border, while Harold was born in 1916 in Indiana. They both survived the calamities of World War I, the Spanish Flu pandemic, the Great Depression of 1929, as well as World War II and everything else in between.
In 1918, the brutal German invasion had left Belgium totally devastated. Henri’s parents had lost everything in the war and his dad soon died, leaving behind a destitute widow to raise a son and a younger daughter. Against all odds, Henri set high goals for himself, helping his mother along the way in every way he could.
Henri went to work for a bank at a very young age, not having had the luxury of finishing high school. With undaunted courage and tenacity, he pursued education on his own, going to school at night for many years, using the limited public transportation of the time. He often went hungry and did not have a coat to ward off the freezing Belgian winters.
In his mid-20s he became a CPA and was hired by a growing utility company, of which he eventually became the chief financial officer. Never did he lose sight of his goal to succeed in life. Never did he receive any kind of government assistance or welfare. Never did he complain about the unfair circumstances of his childhood nor the societal inequalities. “Always strive to do your best and never give up!” was his driving motto.
On the other side of the Atlantic, Harold was equally familiar with adversity. His father passed away during the Great Depression, leaving his wife with three young sons to raise. Harold was a young teenager when the bank advised his widowed mother their home was being repossessed.
He and his two brothers were allowed to take out of their home only what they could carry by hand.
Harold went to live with an uncle who had a farm and was able to sell eggs and butter door to door. But he, too, had big dreams. He wanted to become a doctor. Having learned to play the trombone, he pursued his education and put himself through medical school playing late at night in night clubs and getting up at the crack of dawn to go to study and go to classes. His unrelenting efforts cost him a kidney, but nevertheless, in 1943, Harold became an M.D.
These two men’s examples have left an enduring imprint upon our lives. It has greatly helped me to face the tough spots in life with courage and perseverance. Neither Henri nor Harold sought easy solutions outside of themselves. With discipline they dug deep within to find hidden resources. In their most deplorable and unfair circumstances they never displayed a spirit of discontent or entitlement. No blame game for Henri or Harold!
Relying on their faith, they extracted fortitude through long suffering.
Without complaints, they persevered when all odds were against them, placing great value on education and self-reliance. Both Henri and Harold dedicated their lives to their wives, their families and communities.
Somehow, through it all, these two men stayed humble, never forgetting how it feels to be destitute, showing great generosity to those in need. We are so grateful for such a legacy! May we and our descendants proceed in their courageous footsteps.
Over decades my parents made yearly visits to spend time with us in California. So Henri did meet Harold and the two became friends, exchanging childhood memories and life lessons over games of cribbage.
A meaningful bond flourished between them until they both passed away, in 2000 — on two different continents.
Danièle Kosanke is a Castaic resident.