My Father is My Hero


What is a challenge? Webster’s dictionary defines the word as anything that calls for special effort. We all face and overcome challenges from the moment we’re born. Babies are probably the fastest learners and the most effective in making special efforts. The learning curve gets less steep with years passing by. Regarding of our age, every day we are given many opportunities to learn, to make special efforts and to overcome challenges. It is up to us how we react to the opportunity to except those challenges and what we take out from our experiences. I would like to share with you an inspiring story of my father and how he overcame challenges of his life.

This blog features new Minnesotans who are studying English at Rondo Community Outreach Library in St. Paul. This blog entry was written by Natalya Berler.

My Father Nikolai Khan had a hard and challenging childhood. He was born very sick. People were saying that he wouldn’t make it. He was treated with several sessions of acupuncture when he was a little baby. He survived, but was not as strong or tall as his siblings were. When he was about twelve, his family was deported from the far east of Russia to Kazakhstan because he was Korean. They traveled in a cattle car. All their possessions were lost. It was a cold winter and the trip took two months. After their arrival, his parents passed away. He got into an orphanage, where he was always hungry, lonely and lost.

Despite all these challenges, my father grew up into a kind, loving, generous, optimistic, and outgoing man. When WWII began he wanted to go to the war, but he was rejected because of his Korean heritage. My father wrote a letter to Stalin and got permission to go fight. He joined the army in 1942 and was honorably discharged in 1945. He participated in the Kursk battle, which was a turning point in a course of WWII. Many of his comrades fell during this long terrible war. Fortunately, my father was not even wounded.

After WWII he worked in a factory and began to write for the city newspaper. Gradually, he became more involved in writing and over the course of three to four years he became a newspaper reporter. At the same time he went to college and graduated with a major in journalism. He worked in the city’s major newspaper for over fifty years and published few short books.

My father devoted his life to people. My Dad invested a lot of time and love in us, children; not only in his own three children, but in all of our neighborhood kids. We read books, played soccer, volleyball, chess, spent many days working together on various projects. That became a model for raising children. And today those kids became adults, who are raising their own children the same way my father treated them.

He worked as the head of the newspaper department, to where people would send letters or would come with their problems, troubled situations, request for help. And he tirelessly and scrupulously would “investigate” every situation, and help people the best he could, using him name and the newspaper’s authority. When he died about six years ago, the newspaper named the department, where he spent most of his life, after him. There is also a small scholarship in his memory. Young people studying journalism and working in the city newspaper got some support to be able to get a formal education and to continue what my father started.

My Dad is not with me anymore, but his love, his spirit, his strength, his positive attitude are always guiding me in my life.

I came to Minnesota from Russia (or former USSR) in 1992. I was born and grew up in Uralsk, a small town in the southern part of Ural Mountains. After graduation from high school, I went to college in Saint Petersburg and lived in this beautiful city for 6 years. I married there and our daughter Anastasia was born in Saint Petersburg. After graduation, I got a job in Aktubinsk, a highly industrial city of Kazakhstan. I worked in a research lab for about five years. When we lived in Kazakhstan, our son Ilya was born. Later we moved to Lithuania, where we lived for ten years before coming to the USA in 1992. I work in a chemistry lab and study English at Saint Paul Rondo library. I’m learning grammar, reading and writing. I have a lot of fun while building more confidence.