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Proving Who I Am Was Tougher Than I Thought It Would Be

by on July 31, 2018 4:30 AM

I love living in Happy Valley.

Pennsylvania, maybe not so much.

I’ve done a good bit of traveling out-of-state the last few weeks and doing so always gives me an appreciation for the rules, manners and methods of other states. In addition, during these last trips I was reminded again about how many people from other countries come to live in the U.S.

While traveling I had the pleasure of being served by a Portuguese in an Italian restaurant, an Albanian at an Oyster Bar, a Frenchman in an Irish Pub, and a Turk and Romanian at separate vintage American restaurants. It’s indicative of the melting pot status of America – people from all over the world want to be here. And it’s something that inspires me to want to visit other countries.

It was this line of thinking that led to a series of events a few weeks ago when I had the opportunity to understand how former President Barack Obama must have felt at one point in his life.You see, as someone approaching his 60s, I have a confession to make. I do not now, nor have I ever, possessed a passport.

This is not to say I’ve never left our country. I’ve been to Canada, Jamaica, Mexico, and the Bahamas. There was a time when a few countries in our hemisphere allowed you to travel there using only a driver’s license, or a driver’s license in conjunction with a birth certificate, as a means of identification that you were an American and could enter their countries. More importantly, you could get back into the United States and get home. I think we can all agree that’s a very nice way to end your trip.

However, being able to travel only in the United States hasn’t been limiting. Why not? The U.S. has us covered in terms of many of the geological aspects of this planet that you might want to see. You want shore? The United States has over 88,000 miles of shoreline. It ranges from tropical and sandy to frigid with boulders and high tides. You want mountains? The United States has 96 mountains which exceed 14,000 feet in height. Ten of those exceed 16,000 feet – the point at which the atmosphere contains about half as much oxygen as at sea level. You want water? The United States contains over 3.5 million miles of rivers and streams and also borders the largest freshwater lake by surface area on the planet. You want desert? The United States is home to the hottest place on earth as well as one of the top 10 lowest elevation locations on the planet.

In terms of historical buildings and cities, the United States, with its first settlement only occurring a little over 400 years ago, and the official creation of the country only a mere 242 years ago, cannot compete with civilizations in Europe and Asia. But humans have inhabited this land for thousands of years and aboriginal tribes left clues to their existence at numerous sites if you choose to look for them.

My point is there is a whole lot you can see and experience without ever leaving the United States of America. At my age there are still nine states in the United States that I have never visited, and I am looking forward to eventually getting that list down to zero.

But as I mentioned above, I do desire to visit other countries. You know, experience more of the world.

So it was that a few weeks ago I decided to look into finally getting that passport which allows you to do such a thing.

Except, proving that I am who I say I am turned out to be not quite as easy as I thought. In completing the necessary documentation to apply for a passport, the birth certificate I have was deemed unacceptable.

The birth certificate I presented was issued by Pennsylvania in 2003. This was after the more stringent travel requirements had been put in place and I found that my true original birth certificate, the one I had used my whole life to prove my age for such seminal moments as going to school, getting a driver’s license, and obtaining a critically important Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) card – the one that you produced when questioned about your legal ability to purchase and consume alcoholic beverages – was no longer acceptable for travel to Mexico. I was required to pay the state for a new “approved” copy of my birth certificate.

And for those knowledgeable in this area who may be questioning the accuracy of my original birth certificate – it was not my birth registration (I have that) or the suitable-for-framing hospital certificate (I have that as well). It’s the original – and normally resides in a fireproof lockbox.

Yet, as it turns out, the copy of my birth certificate I paid the state for back in 2003 is no longer acceptable either. Apparently the state neglected to list the names of my parents on the certificate (Why this information is important in determining the fact that I exist is lost on me).

That means I’m now required to pay the state for another copy of my birth certificate, which according to them will be acceptable to the federal government in determining that I am who I say I am, a United States citizen, and will be allowed to travel to lands far and wide across the globe.

All of which gave me a better appreciation for the travails that former President Barack Obama went through a few years ago.

It’s enough to make me think that although I love living in Happy Valley, maybe we could be annexed to another state.



John Hook is the president of The Hook Group, a local management consulting firm, and active in several nonprofit organizations. Previously John spent 25 years in executive, management and marketing positions with regional and national firms. John lives in Ferguson Township with his wife Jackie and their two children.
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