A little over six years ago my personal life felt like it was spinning out of control. I was in a marriage where I was really miserable. I felt isolated because I really couldn’t confide in any friends. I didn’t really go out much. The only outlet I had was work and you can only work so much. I was just lonely.
For whatever reason I decided that it was a good time in my life to volunteer. I had always wanted to volunteer and make a difference but I will be honest and really never carried through with the idea. I think part of it was the fact that I had always wanted to be a parent and it looked like that might not ever happen so how could I help influence a young person’s life (aside from my niece and nephews). I decided to volunteer for the Big Brother/Big Sister program of Boston.
It took about two months of them vetting my application, doing a background check, and making sure that I wasn’t some psycho guy wanted to hang out with little kids. I remember when they first talked about matches they actually presented me two. The first was a young man about 9 years old and then there was the kid I would be matched with Zach. Zach was 12 at the time. He came from a good home. His mom is great. His dad is in his life. His grandparents live literally down stairs from them. So he wasn’t necessarily what I was expecting.
I guess I was expecting a young person who needed a big brother because their parents were busy or he had no strong male influences in his life or whatever. That wasn’t necessarily true of Zach. I must also admit that I thought it might be weird for two additional reasons. First, here I am a 36 year old guy who is going to be a “big brother” to a 12 year old. I mean I could be his dad. So that gave me pause a bit. Second, Zach is a African-American kid and I didn’t how he would react to an old white guy coming into his neighborhood to hang out, go to movies, etc. He might think it a bit weird. I think some his friends still think it a bit odd.
I remember the first time we met. It was in April of 2010. And it was awkward to say the least. I didn’t know how he felt about me and I was totally nervous. I mean I am 36, what do you do with a 12 year old. I had never been a parent. I was nervous that he wouldn’t like me or that we wouldn’t have anything to do or that he wouldn’t want to talk, etc. It took a couple of meetings, but Zach eventually warmed up to me. That first year we did a lot of outdoor activities, played football, went go-carting, I helped him with his homework a bit, and ultimately movies. We have watched a LOT of movies together. In fact, that is basically our routine now. I pick Zach up (he still doesn’t have his license), we go to lunch, a flick, and then go home. In the interim we talk, discuss future plans, joke around.
Over the years Zach has confided a lot in me. He has told me that I am one of the few people he can talk too. And I greatly appreciate that. I give him advice and whether he takes it or not that is up to him.
I write this because Zach recently graduated from high school where I got to see him graduate and Mrs. ROB met him for the first time (she loved him). Zach is attending Husson University in the fall. Husson is a small private school in Bangor, ME. Ironically, Zach is going to major in Communication, which is what I teach at my university.
Today, Zach and I went to go see Suicide Squad. I hated it, he didn’t think it was that bad. We had lunch and then I dropped him off at home.
It has been six years and I can’t tell you how much he has meant to my life. While we only see each other once or twice a month it is one of the most enjoyable times of my weeks, even if only for a few hours. Today, might be the last time I see Zach for a while. After all he is going to college, which is a rite of passage I hope most young people get to experience. It will be good for him to get out on his own. He has gotten a job, is saving money, and just in the last six months I can see him mature much faster than the previous five years we have been together.
It is bitter sweet. I know it is good for him, but as he exited the car today I felt a great sadness that I might never see him again. I know that is most likely hyperbole. We already have plans to get together before he leaves. I am sure we will see another flick.
Over the past six years I hope I have had a small influence in molding this wonderful young man. I am extremely proud of him. He is a great kid and will do great things in his life. I hope that when he reflects on the story arc of his life that he will think of our time together fondly. I feel like my son is going off to college, not just my little brother.
I just wanted to write a tribute to my friend because he deserves it.
To Zach: It has been an honor, a privilege, and one of the great experiences of my life to be a part of yours. You will do wonderful things. I can just tell. Twenty years of teaching helps you read young people and I am, of course, a little biased. I promise to be at your college graduation, your wedding, and any other life events that you allow me to be. Thank you for giving me so much when it has felt at times that I have not given as much as I could to you. You hold a very special place in my heart. I love you young man. Go forth and do great things. I cannot wait to watch and hear about them from you.