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As different as two sons can be, but oh, so alike

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© St. Petersburg Times, published January 14, 2001

Talk about contrasts.

I have one stepson now, and will be acquiring another one when I get married soon.

One is a pornography dealer in the Red Light Zone of Amsterdam.

The other is an honor student at an academically tough Quaker college and a former standout high school and college tennis player.

Each, in his own very distinct way, is an example of triumph over adversity, and I am proud of both.

Milan Petrovich is the son of my late wife and, at 38, has overcome drug addiction and homelessness.

Before anyone freaks out on the porno issue, you have to understand that, generally speaking, the Dutch have a different view of sexual matters than Americans.

Prostitution and pornography are legal and regulated in the Netherlands, and employment in either industry doesn't carry the stigma it does here.

Whether that is a good thing or whether it supports the same degree of exploitation in that society as in this is a matter for another column, which I may well write after the telephone stops ringing about this one.

But the job got my expatriate stepson off the rolls of the destitute and, with the help of a good woman he met while she was volunteering at a homeless shelter, got him off a drug, methamphetamine, that had nearly destroyed his life.

He is now caught up on his alimony and child support and has cleaned up his act to the point where he feels comfortable in co-parenting his children again. (He stayed away when things were at their worst.)

He takes pride in his work, in the cleanliness of the shop he co-manages and in his grasp of retail economics, a new field for him.

I know that there are some rough edges in that story, but you have to have seen the clouds to appreciate the silver lining.

Casey Kennedy, my stepson-to-be, is a little easier to talk about.

Rather than pornographic, the books, tapes and materials he deals with are at the college library where he works part time. He eschews tobacco, drugs and most alcohol.

You wouldn't know it to look at the strapping young scholar-athlete he has become, but after having four brain surgeries as an infant, there was some doubt whether he would ever walk or speak, much less make straight A's and be working toward a degree in hydrogeology at Guilford College.

He grew up, mostly, in the home of a single working mother where he and his sister learned how to handle calls from bill collectors and how to live on the cutting edge of frugality.

But Casey had a lot of friends along the way.

Dr. Rina Ayala in Dade City was the physician who correctly diagnosed his brain disorder and insisted that he get the proper surgery that gave him the chance to excel physically and academically. A lot of kids visit a favorite teacher when they come home from college; Casey goes to visit the doctor who saved his life.

His grandfather, Tom Kennedy served as a role model, and, as important to both, instilled in him a passion for fishing.

Another name that has popped up has also proved educational for me. Alan Levine, who caught some flak from this column after his unsuccessful 1996 campaign for a seat in the Florida Legislature, was Casey's Big Brother in the Big/Brothers Big Sisters program and became a concerned friend who still stays in touch and revels in Casey's accomplishments.

State Sen. Ginny Brown-Waite of Brooksville was his mother away from home during the legislative session in which he served as a page in the Florida House. U.S Rep Mike Bilirakis then offered to nominate him to be a page in the U.S. House, but Casey decided to concentrate on his tennis instead.

Hillary Clinton said it takes a village to raise a child. Sometimes I think it took a Republican Party (with apologies to his Democrat grandparents.) to raise this one.

Living on different continents makes it unlikely that the two men will ever meet.

But the devil in me really wants to get them together for a beer.

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