Making a Difference

Someone recently asked me: “Why would a person want to be an Ambassador?” I was tempted to go with the cliché: “To have a chance to give back.” But even before the words reached my lips, I realized that they would fail to do the job. They were indeed a cliché. I, like so many others, was taking a massive pay cut to serve as Ambassador. If I wanted to give back, I could just contribute that money to worthy causes.

I realized that the real motivation behind becoming Ambassador was slightly different: to have the chance to “make a difference.” To change relations; to implement and affect policy; to alter lives for the better. And that proved to be the main joy of the Ambassadorship. We made a difference.

Usually the difference was on a macro level – securing Belgian help in the swift end to the war in Afghanistan or to securing the lives of innocents in Libya, or changing popular opinion so that, in 2011-12, Belgium finished first in the world with the highest increase in its favorability toward the United States. But even more rewarding was the chance to make a difference in the daily lives not of policies but of people.

And that was why seeing and contributing to the successful end to the story for Lieven Vandendriessche, his husband Jeff and their daughters Ella and Maya in their fight in Belgium to have the Belgian State recognize their U.S. adoption was so satisfying. The fear for any parent of having the State seek to take their children away from them is real and palpable. The anger is just as vivid. I could feel it when Lieven and Jeff reached out to me, as the U.S. Ambassador, for help. A gay couple’s struggle with the potential injustice of the international adoption system.Howard Gutman

I had no idea at the time or until just recently -– a month after Lieven’s book was published – that Lieven was going to write a book recounting their plight to have Belgium honor their lawful and proper U.S. adoption of Ella and Maya. I had no idea that a chapter would someday be entitled “The Ambassador.” I had no idea that we would secure significant credit for the successful ending of their plight.

But even in reading the opening Acknowledgements in the new book: “In the Best Interest of the Children: A True Story”, (available at, I knew that we had indeed made a difference:

“Our story has a happy ending, thanks to the many people who helped and supported us. Many of these people were government officials who did what they could because they knew what was happening to us was neither right nor just.  In particular, our immeasurable thanks go to the Ambassador of the United States (Ret.) Howard Gutman.”

So Michelle and I send our love and best wishes to Lieven, Jeff, Ella and Maya.

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