From The Ground Up – The Foundation
By Jim Kuiken
Although I’m responding to lots of questions about “what makes Kuiken tick” during this ‘Getting to Know You’ series, I’m still uncomfortable talking about myself – that always seems so egotistical and narcissistic (for an example of that, look at the current crop of national candidates and/or office holders).
I much prefer talking through the main character of my books, ‘Bekker’, or telling stories and talking about events, friends and others. As I used to tell my campaign staff (ad nauseam) while we were out talking to folks on the campaign trail (and I actually meant it…), “It’s not about me. It’s about helping others, making their lives better.”
I’ve always felt satisfied and fulfilled when I was working in a specific type of job – in one that was focused on a career in service (like the Marines, firefighter/EMT, law enforcement, public service, etc.) – and never felt that I was doing anything important, or contributing during those times when I was not in that line of work.
Two specific conversations have always stuck with me, and helped me understand that I had the need to serve others and make a positive contribution to society if I was going to feel that my life had meaning.
The first one was when I was a Firefighter/EMT, and my daughter Christy, who was very young at the time (probably around 5 or so), was visiting me at the station. We were standing out front on the tarmac in front of the fire station, and I had just finished showing her some equipment and things that we did, and she was standing right next to me, holding my hand and looking up at me.
She asked me “Daddy, why do you always do the dangerous jobs?” I still remember the instant feeling that flooded through me. I had never looked at it that way, or even recognized something that seemed so obvious to a 5-year-old, and it hurt me deeply when I realized that I had caused her that worry. I knelt down and looked her in the eyes when I replied.
“Baby, I don’t always do the dangerous jobs, I do the jobs that can help people. Sometimes those jobs just happen to be dangerous, but I’m doing them to protect people, or to help people who are hurt or need help.” I had never realized that the jobs I was drawn to tended to be dangerous, just that they allowed me to help other people – something that satisfied my need to be of service to others.
Many years later, I was talking to Lydia, my sister-in-law, when she said that I was “a protector” – and that it was obvious to everyone that it was my basic nature and what I was called to do. It was a watershed moment for me, because again, I did not spend a lot of time in introspection, and had never realized (or even thought about) what seemed to be so obvious to others. It got me to thinking about many incidents throughout my life, and how I had always stepped up – with the first well-known incident (in the family) at about four years old, to protect, help and serve others.
I think it was partly my nature – something I was born with, but was very strongly influenced by my upbringing. Nature or nurture? The constant question – but in this case, most likely both.
I was raised in a family with fairly traditional American values during the ‘50’s and early ‘60’s. My dad was a young enlisted military man supporting a family with two boys, and later, a girl as well. He didn’t make much, so to support his family, after he would get off work at the Air Force base he would head over to his second job – generally at a camera store, TV repair shop, or even a night shift at a local convenience store…sometimes even a ‘stop and rob’ in a bad neighborhood, depending on where we were living at the time.
When we were young, sometimes my mom even had to have a job to bring in a third paycheck, just so we could make ends meet. They both focused on family, and doing what was necessary to make it work during those early days, and us kids pitched in with chores, and even a paper route or bagging groceries at the commissary to earn some money, or working on our uncle’s dairy farm and picking berries during the summers. We learned those values early.
As a young ‘cowboy’ from Idaho, I was raised with those values – honor, courage, self-sufficiency, family, and taking care of and protecting those in need. Honesty and integrity meant that your word was inviolate.
Besides the Saturday morning cowboys like John Wayne, Gary Cooper, Randolph Scott, Glenn Ford and others…and the characters from books like those by Louis L'Amour, and good-guy action heroes like Thor and Superman, I had many real-life heroes to look up to and emulate.
These were my dad (Gerrit), Grandpa Kuiken and uncles, all with a record of service to our country. My Grandpa Hartley, a quiet, humble man who had great influence in Idaho (and in my life), and who also served during the war…in a slightly different capacity. My father (Bob) and Grandfather Rose, both career Firefighters in Boise. And in case you think all my heroes were men…think again. My mom (Penny), Grandma Hartley and Great-grandma Pokie – although not in public service, were mainstays and guiding lights in service to our family.
I’ll leave you with two things that epitomize the values I was raised with – and I hope are just as meaningful to you.
My youngest sister Beth posted this – from her heart (it actually describes her), and to you from mine. Humble and Kind.
And lastly, the quote you will find at the end of all my emails, on my website, and pretty much anywhere else I can put it…it says it all for me.
"What we do for ourselves dies with us. What we do for others and the world remains and is immortal." Albert Pine