Family Is Paramount: 15 Values I Learned From My Foreign Father

by Sonya Matejko

My father came to this country with nothing but big dreams and $200 in cash.

He left his home, his family and his life to start something grander than what a then-communist country could offer.

Fresh off the boat after serving his time in the Polish Navy, my father flew across the ocean to find himself and a future. My father came to this country knowing little of the language and the culture.

He didn't predict how hard it truly was to start from nothing in order to become something.

But, he worked, and he worked hard. He took the odds jobs, the so-so jobs and the ones you would probably scoff at.

He fell in love with my mother at a Polish church, and he was too shy to tell her at first.

Then, they traveled the country together while they worked, and they bonded over leaving a world they once knew.

My father is a stubborn man, a believer and a hard worker.

But, most importantly, he is kind, and he is a loving man. He is the type of father I would want my husband to be.

He is absolutely everything to me, and it’s not just because he came from a foreign country.

Yet, that sacrifice was one he made for a family he did not yet have. And, once he created that family, he continued to make sacrifices for us.

He raised two daughters, and I would hope he is proud of who we have become.

We are so proud of him, and we will never forget what he taught us by leaving everything he knew behind.

1. He taught me risking everything for just a shot at happiness is always worth it.

2. He taught me, sometimes, the dirty jobs have the prettiest rewards.

3. He taught me family matters the most, no matter how far away they are.

4. He taught me tradition isn’t something to be embarrassed of; it is something to celebrate.

5. He taught me the simple things can be the most meaningful.

6. He taught me knowledge is my best weapon.

7. He taught me strength lies in the heart.

8. He taught me true love means giving up anything for someone.

9. He taught me the world is meant to be seen, to be read about and to be lived in.

10. He taught me about managing budgets and my fears.

11. He taught me to try my hardest after I have already given up.

12. He taught me how to play cards and how not to let boys play with my heart.

13. He taught me learning a second language is an incredible gift.

14. He taught me you can survive off the clothes on your back if your bags get lost.

15. He taught me the best moments are those surrounded by family at the table (and Polish sausage, too).

16. He taught me you can’t wait for happiness to find you; you have to go find it no matter what it takes.

He taught me about Polish beer, about solidarity, how to cut wood, how to pick berries, how to change a tire, how to choose poisonous mushrooms from the safe ones, how a proper kebab should taste and how to dance at a Polish neighborhood festival after a couple of shots of vodka.

He taught me everything I know. And for that, Dad, I thank you.

I thank you for all the things I never said thank you for and for all the times I have yet to say it. I thank you for teaching me, raising me and loving me.

Mostly, I want to thank you for showing me the world through your heart.

I know the man I end up with has an awful lot to live up to because of you.

Thank you for leaving your world to create one where I got to know you, to be your daughter, to be your friend and to be your biggest supporter.

Thank you for risking everything for me before you even knew me.