Sunday, January 9, 2011

2011 Serendipity 1. Celebrate an 80th Birthday

The man of the hour, my father -- Donald Siplon-- at his 80th birthday party. I find it slightly disconcerting that I have about the same amount of gray hair that he does.
 My parents are the only two people I know who retired from Florida in order to move to Michigan.  But when you consider that my dad was born and raised in Western Michigan, and you can't go ten steps without running into someone to whom I'm closely or distantly related, it starts to make a bit more sense as a retirement destination.  I have to admit that making the winter trip from snowy New England to Florida used to be somewhat more enticing than the same trip to Western Michigan.  But it's not every day that your father reaches his 80th birthday, so it was off to Michigan to join my siblings and the rest of my family for a celebration of this great occasion.

After the party --back row: Brian, Katrinka, Susan, me and Rick; front row: Mom, Dad, Tigist, Emma, Jim, Grace, Daisy, Donna, Alex and Jean

We kids have definitely scattered.  I live in Vermont, my older brother Jim and his family live in North Carolina, my sister Katrinka and her family live in Tacoma, Washington, and youngest sister, Donna and her family are the sole Michigander group among the siblings.  Then there is my "other brother", Jean, or as my sister Katrinka puts it, "Don's oldest son, but not his first".  Jean is French, and joined our family in 1973 in his first visit as a teenage french exchange student when Katrinka, Jim and I were in elementary school (and Donna was not yet born).  He's now a doctor with three kids of his own, and has been back countless times. He has also hosted various family members as well as sending his own kids to stay with members of our family over the years.  He came with his girlfriend Mary from France for the occasion, since, obviously, a family party would not be complete without him.
All my dad's kids back home after the party: me, Katrinka, Donna, Jim and Jean
At the party, each of us got a chance to toast my dad, and tell some stories about him, then we opened the floor for other friends and relatives to do the same.  Finally, my mom and dad both spoke and we had cake and champagne.
My Dad saying a few words after everyone else has had their turn, while my mom and the kids look on

Back at home that night we launched into a round of political debates, since it's not possible for us all to gather without one.   And finally, as people peeled off for bed, my dad told my sister Katrinka and me stories late into the night about his early days in the Navy when he served as a hospital corpsman in New York City, and the tragic fate of some of his closest friends there, who died in the Inchon Invasion in the Korean War.

The next day Jim, Susan, Emma and Grace started the drive back to North Carolina after all of us took a lunch time trip to the resort town of Pentwater and the Brown Bear.  It was cold, but the lunch portions at the Brown Bear were huge, so we felt amply compensated.
Dad and his "non-identical twin" brother, Bob who came from Wyoming.  They were born on the same day, exactly 15 years apart.

Jean and Mary came all the way from France for the party.  Here they're braving the cold in front of Lake Michigan in Pentwater with my dad.
Tomorrow, most of us head back home through the snow to our various corners of the world feeling a little bit luckier for having been able to celebrate a milestone in the life of someone very important to all of us, my dad.  We are all the products of our experiences and the people of our lives.  My mother has always maintained that, of all the children, I am the one who is most like my father.  If that's true, I think I'm pretty lucky. When I was a kid, my dad was the most principled person I knew, and the one most interested in new ideas and perspectives.  He also taught us that the greatest lessons are learned through example as much as lecture, and that there is no substitute for integrity in the way we live our lives. I'd like to think that I learned through his example, and I'm hoping to keep learning from him in the years to come.  Happy 80th birthday, Dad!


  1. So sorry we missed the festivities but I am glad that your dad got appropriately feted by family and friends. We send out love to him and all of you and hope he stays in good health for the next 80 years!

  2. How wonderful that you were all together to celebrate. Love the pictures, much love to all of you and see you SOON.