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Two strangers from two countries raise a servant son

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Jazmin Granger
  • 9 AF (AFCENT) Public Affairs

In 1994, a future American Airmen was born in Yokohama, Japan. However, before he was an Airman and before he was an American, two fathers shaped his life and desire to serve.

His name: Kenichi Watanabe.

Born to a Japanese father and Filipino mother, Watanabe can remember his dad teaching him the importance of working hard, focusing on his studies and being multifaceted. He inherited his father’s mantra “Gashin-Shotan,” which means to do your very best.

He grew up watching his dad travel the world selling medical equipment and working on 100-foot HAM radio antennas as a hobby. This opened the world to Watanabe, allowing him to meet many friends overseas. By the age of 15, Watanabe was able to speak and understand English, Japanese and Tagalog.

In 2009, however, tragedy struck when an accident took the life of his father.

“When my dad passed, there was a feeling of regret,” said Watanabe. “I wondered how we could have prevented it.”

Watanabe went from a boy to the man of the household. “I tried to protect not just my mom but also my younger brother.” He now had to embody “Gashin-Shotan” for his family.

“My mom was working full-time during the day and at night to support us.” Even with the high cost of tuition and fees for school, she would not allow him to quit. “I knew I had to support my mom and brother mentally. I did my chores and did everything I could do.”

However, there is sunshine after the storm. Before coming to the United States at the age of 20, Watanabe’s mother remarried.

While for some, it may be hard to accept a new parental figure, this was not Watanabe’s experience. “Of course, he was nice to my mom because he loved her, but he was also nice to me and my younger brother. He respected our traditions and the things that were already passed down to us.”

His stepfather, an American civilian working for the U.S. Navy on Yokosuka Naval Base, went from a stranger to a role model. “He is the one who influenced me to join the military. He served for 33 years and gave me the opportunity to experience many activities, which I had not done before I moved to the states. It helped me to get involved with the local community and get accustomed to living here.”

Watanabe is now serving as a staff sergeant in the U.S. Air Force as a Supply Manger for 9th Air Force, Air Forces Central (AFCENT) A4, Logistics Operations Cell. He is also the expectant father of a baby boy.

“Every time I think about becoming a dad and seeing him grow in my wife’s tummy, I tell myself I have to be a dad like my dad and stepfather.

I have the advantage of having two dads from different cultures. I want to teach my son to respect people. You never know who you’re meeting. They can be a forever friend or one-time acquaintance. Simply put, it is important that he respect people.”