An Unexpected Passing

The obituary in Sunday’s Grand Rapids Press was informed by a narrative I would not have predicted:

KUIPER – Thomas Albert Kuiper, age 55, passed away unexpectedly from his life on Sunday March 14, 2010 and entered into eternity to wait for the Lord’s return. Tom, the 4th child of George and Kathryn (Haan) Kuiper, was born on December 24, 1954 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He was an ordained Deacon and active member of the New Apostolic Church. Tom enjoyed preparing pig roasts for his brothers and sisters in faith, fishing in Canada, and golfing through out the States. He was a licensed auto mechanic, licensed builder, and past Business Agent for the I.A.T.S.E. Local 26. He was preceded into eternity by his mother, Kay. Tom will be lovingly remembered by his wife of 22 years, Karen (Scheerhoorn) Kuiper; father, George Kuiper Jr.; brothers, Steve and Sue Kuiper; Ray and Judy Kuiper, Ken and Debbie Kuiper, and Paul and Nancy Kuiper; sisters, Kathy Blake, Patty Kuiper, and Ann Kuiper; brother-in-law, Ray Scheerhorn; sister-in-law, Pat Scheerhoorn; several nephews, nieces and many beloved friends. A memorial service will be held on Saturday, May 22, 2010 at 5:00 p.m. at the New Apostolic Church, 4501 56th St SW, Wyoming, MI with District Elder Scott Heidema officiating. Those who wish may make memorial contributions to the charity of ones choice. We are only on this earth for a short time. Make an impression on someone else’s life, help someone in need, do a good deed without rewards, smile and laugh as much as you can. That’s how Tom lived!

Tom Kuiper was my biological father. The last time I saw him, I was perhaps six years old. I actually still remember the scene: My mother and her new husband, who was trying to adopt us, welcomed Tom into the house. It was shortly before Christmas, and Tom asked me what I wanted Santa to bring. I recall not wanting to tell him, but he persisted — so I whispered to him: “Just sign the papers.” 

The last time I saw my biological father, I asked him to give me up for adoption.

Over the years I have occasionally thought about him. Although Ed eventually did adopt us, and did good by us, part of me had a detached sort of curiosity about the paternal bloodline.  Irrespective of where one falls on the nature/nurture question, some things are unavoidable — disease, for one. Was I more open to heart conditions or Alzheimer’s or any other condition that has a genetic risk factor? Did I eventually have any half-brothers or half-sisters out there?

Family is a funny thing. The Kuipers, it seems, had absolutely no interest in their genetic kin. The Gillikins, by contrast, welcomed Brian and me into their huge family with open arms, with no red-headed-adopted-stepchild nonsense on display. Once we were Ed’s, then we were Gillikins. Enough said. And even though I have drifted apart from his larger family, I respect and appreciate the way they embraced us.

I often wonder whether bloodline is the least important part of being family. The people who we keep close, no matter the source of their DNA, are family. Others, no matter how close the blood, simply never make the leap. Family is that group of people that you could call with a 3 a.m. emergency and know that they’d answer and do something to help you.

To some small degree, I regret that I never had any contact with the Kuipers over the years. I wonder what I might have learned about myself, had I the opportunity to go fly fishing with Tom.

I will probably attend the memorial service; I may sneak in the back and observe. See the dynamic in action. See the faces, hear the voices, then close the door permanently on a question that was resolved not by my inquiry but by impersonal circumstance.

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  1. Hi Jason…What a sad thing that your dad died without you knowing him or the rest of his family. The reason we never could see you was your mom’s request once the adoption was final. You were no longer a Kuiper by name and you had a new family. We did not even know your last name till I heard it today from Karen Kuiper. We knew you when you were little and always wondered what happened to you and Brian. We knew your mom was a good mom and you would have a wonderful life with her and Ed. But, life is crazy with kids not knowing their own parents. Tom was a good person and he did the right thing to give you up but it was a hard thing for him but he did what needed to be done. Regrets, lots but he loved you and Brian just the same. I hope you were able to make the funeral. I wish we would have known that and said hello and shared with you who all the Kuiper were at the funeral. It’s a big family. Perhaps some day.

  2. Jason,

    The thoughts and questions in any divorce are “Why?” Your statement even to some seems somewhat correct is far from the truth.

    “The Kuipers, it seems, had absolutely no interest in their genetic kin”.

    Nancy my wife and I met you and your mother a few time after the divorce and there was a distance and separation that was made very clear to us that she wanted. No one can control another’s wishes and a respect of wishes is sometimes a better thing. Once you push yourself on someone’s wishes it always makes things more difficult and most of the time pushes then farther away.

    We lost contact and it was far from our choice. Then the years go by and the distance gets farther away and then the questions get bigger and harder to answer. I worked on building your house in Rockford, MI and remember you very well. I also know that no one puts blame on you for what you did (no matter what age you were). No one in the Kuiper family is angry or upset at you and the fact is this is the first time I have ever known what happened. Tom never said why and to respect him I never asked. I hoped and prayed it was the right choice but bottom line we had to respect both Tom and your mom’s wishes.

    Now that you are of age and can make choices for yourself it becomes your turn. I for one would very much like to meet you and Brian. Not to bring up hurts and pains of the past but to reflect on the good things that happened in your lives like the day you and Brian put sand in the lawnmowers and I can remember Tom laughing till he almost wet himself.

    Jason, divorce is not good in any way shape or form. Being part and yet not having a choice in the part is even harder. My choice was to continue our relationship but we had no choice. You and Brian can become a complete part if you choose; we open up our arms to you both.

    Paul Kuiper

  3. Hi, this is Mark Kuiper replying. I stumbled upon this thread while doing some casual geno-searches. I’m related to John Kuiper (grandfather), who attended Calvin College in the 1920s and left Grand Rapids to teach Philosophy at the Univ. of Kentucky for 39 years. As the story goes, my grandfather left Grand Rapids because his family did not approve of his marriage to my grandmother, a Canadian Baptist (I also assume that working at the U of K was also hard to turn down.) Anyway, he left a large and extended family behind in Michigan. He also never looked back, and contact with Michigan Kuiper-s was nonexistent, and persists to this day. I knew my grandfather well, and he never talked about his family and Grand Rapids. I can only assume the memories were too painful.

    I do remember meeting his sister, Deana Beasly (forgive the spelling) at his funeral in 1977. But, beyond that one momentary experience with her, his family has remained a mystery to me. Once in 1997, when I was working in Manhattan, a co-worker of mine, who was from Grand Rapids commented that he knew of my grandfather, but quickly ended the conversation, implying that he had been a black sheep and was essentially exorcised from the Dutch Reform community of Grand Rapids. Can you imagine? Some 70 years hence?!

    I’ve spent a great deal of my adult life making sense of, and eventually exorcising my father’s dysfunction, and while this task has not been wholly related to my grandfather’s problems, it certainly had a lot to do with his family’s absence in his own life and my father’s childhood.

    In the end, no one benefitted from my grandfather’s estrangement. My father grew up not knowing any Michigan family only to pass that legacy on to me and my siblings. As a grandchild, I’m left with the fallout. Would my father and aunt be better people had they had the benefit of knowing Michigan kin? How would my life be different if they had? Would it be richer? I’ll never know the answers to these questions.

    At the end of the day, you can only try and understand your family and make peace with them and hope something good comes from it. I think this is what is meant by rolling back one’s stones.

    So Jason, I don’t know if we are related, or if what I’m writing makes a lick of sense, but you and I are bound by a common history and surname. I can tell you with all certainty that it would be a mistake if you did not accept the Kuiper’s invitation and connect with them.

    You write: “I will probably attend the memorial service; I may sneak in the back and observe. See the dynamic in action. See the faces, hear the voices, then close the door permanently on a question that was resolved not by my inquiry but by impersonal circumstance.”

    You go through life with a last name, which is attached to a history. You can’t divorce yourself from that history, even if you change the name. It dogs you for life Jason, no matter how hard you try to rid yourself of it. I wish you all the best with your journey. God bless you.

  4. Hi Jason.

    This is your uncle Ken. I have been trying to keep up with the family tree. Yes YOUR name is on it, as a Kuiper, I agree with what Paul and Nancy have said but I am a person of few words. So I tell you this Jason. You were born a Kuiper, you are a Kuiper, and there is no one in this world that can ever change that. I don’t dought you might have your father’s laugh, or maybe his sence of humor, no matter, you can’t take out bloodline. You are old enough to make your own choices, and you are welcome anytime.

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