Imagine you are surrounded by a bunch of kids, all of them screaming and throwing mud cakes. It’s your birthday, and your dear brothers and sisters think this is the most fantastic way to celebrate it for you.
At times, this was a typical scene for Sam VanTifflin, Hesston College freshman and the sixth oldest in a family of 21.
VanTifflin came all the way from Michigan to Hesston this year to play soccer. Everyone knows him as an excellent athlete; few know about his many siblings, all of whom are adopted, except for two of his brothers, Nathan and Seth.
VanTifflin was born in Jamaica and was adopted when he was four months old. His biological mother could not afford to raise him due to her addiction to drugs. Afterwards, he moved to Washington D.C and then to Michigan with his new family, where his parents adopted kids who came from countries all over the world: Vietnam, South Korea, Haiti and Ethiopia.
When asked about the family member he is closest to, VanTifflin mentioned his 18-year-old brother, a football player who may be younger than him, but is by no means smaller.
“My brother Ezra is not only my ‘big’ brother but also my best friend.”
Ezra was adopted a couple months after Van Tifflin, so they have a special connection.
“We love sports, and we both play a collegiate sport. So that makes us a lot closer,” he said.
The happiest memory VanTifflin has with his family is when they got Landon, his last (and favorite) brother from California. His parents left for three days to bring Landon home, when he was three years old. VanTifflin remembered his family screaming and shouting through tears when they saw cute little Landon.
VanTifflin and his family get together often. They have family reunion annually, playing dodge ball together. They also do special things with their immediate family, such as the annual trip to Mackinaw Island in Michigan, where they bike around the whole island. According to Van Tifflin, the best thing about having a big family is that he never gets bored. He always has fun, even arguing over the remote control with his brothers.
“We could argue about stupid stuff but it is obvious that no matter what happens, your family is always there waiting for you,” he said.
But he is not always so positive. VanTifflin says people sometimes show predjudice against his family, talking behind their backs, making fun of them because of the races of his brothers, who are black, Hispanic and Asian.
VanTifflin considers his family the most important thing in his life and the most influential.
“My parents have brought me up really well and made me the man who I am,” he said. “They taught me a lesson that no matter how hard it gets, it always get better and we will make it through.”
He says he thinks about his older brothers as his coaches, who have motivated him to enhance his goals in athletics.
VanTifflin sends out a final message to his family: “I am so grateful to your upbringing and you’re helping me through everything,” he said. “You are the only ones who are always there for when I am need it, no matter what. Thank you. I love you.”