After moving to Nashville, I kept trying to fill the void of knowing there’s something more I should be doing. I was restless with religion and church. We tried finding a church that fit us and switching a couple times over the years. I also jumped into the neighborhood association, donated blood on a regular basis, and we began foster care, among various other things. Of them all, foster care was the standout in what seemed to make a significant life-changing difference in someone’s life. Well, I suppose receiving blood when you have none could be pretty life-changing, too.
Around 2010-2012, there were a number of news stories about youth violence. This was about the time I stopped discussing politics on social media. Online arguing typically doesn’t make a positive difference in anyone’s life. I can’t learn empathy and awareness by simply holding on to my preconceived notions. Simply wishing these youth made better choices is about as effective as 13-year-old me wishing for a girlfriend to fall from the sky. Smugly saying that people deserve what they get and consequences are fair, certainly doesn’t help the innocent victims.
After seeing the stories, reading the stats, and hearing the cyclical nonsense of political mouths, I felt compelled to do something, specifically for male teens. But foster care wouldn’t do it since we agreed the kids would only be younger than our daughter who was then about 5.
At work, I had attended on two occasions a lunch-and-learn about Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS), pretty much for the free lunch (read: only for the free lunch.) I loved the concept but knew I didn’t have the time. On top of standard life events, I had a second job delivering pizzas. It was wise to only use my limited free time with my family. But I liked the concept so much, I even organized an event for the speaker to give the same presentation for our neighborhood.
In our Bible class, my wife was saying she felt worried and helpless when it came to terrorism. A friend of ours was reflecting on a Mother Theresa quote “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” Then said to take the biggest problem you can think of, what’s the smallest thing you can do about it. That concept has been a constant encouragement ever since.
About the same time, the non-profit my wife works at started counseling new fathers and I really wanted to do that, too. But besides the fact that my regular work schedule wouldn’t allow me, I don’t think I fit the mold for being either young-and-hip enough or old-and-wise enough. So one day we’re chatting online about it:
me: “that’s awesome, i wanna help with fatherhood stuff. just don’t know how”
her: “I’d say signing up for big brothers big sisters is a start. we have 2 male counselors that are available to us, but we haven’t used them for a while, lately. I want you to tell me about BB/BS later.”
“just ask you about it.”
“what about it? Is it serious? Do I need to ask HR about something?
“what? just talk. bc you’re my husband. and we talk.”
“I thought you had a question like where to deliver a baby.”
“huh? no. not Blue Cross Blue Shield… BBBS. Not insurance, big brothers.”
“ohhhhhhhhhhhhhh! my bad. I had HR on speed-dial. Thought we were having a baby.”
My wife then had that conversation with me and it kicked me in the butt, which is about the only time I do something out of my comfort zone. The second job had come to a close. I had a friend who had already signed up as a mentor and suggested I do it as well. So, I sent the initial email and got the ball rolling.
I was impressed with the process and how thorough BBBS was. They do not take this lightly. A couple meetings, a lengthy interview, then paperwork and references (ones they really do call), and a background check. They care about making this successful. Many of the kids they’re matching have undergone some kind of loss. Most are in single parent homes or living with relatives. They don’t want to get the kid’s hopes up and be let down again.
They asked what kind of kid I thought I would fit well with. My first hesitation. I feared I’d get a kid that wanted to do nothing but play rough sports. I don’t mind a game or two, but please don’t make me run more than I have to. So I said maybe a shy kid, one that likes computers and movies. After being approved, it took a couple months to find the right Little for me, and I think they made a great choice. We’ve now been matched for 3 years.
He’s a great kid with a caring mom. We’ve done a little bit of everything: movies, YMCA, cooking, disc golf, museums, work on cars, shopping, watch games on TV, go out to eat, we’ve seen just about every sports team in Nashville, he helped us move… oh yeah. There was moving….
BBBS asked in the interview process if you’re planning any big events in the next year with the concern that a major life event will distract you from being able to get together. Foster care was the only thing I had thought about, and we talked at length about that. Little did I know that I would end up with foster kids (twice), competing in multiple speech contests which ended with me traveling to Malaysia for the Semi-Finals, running and campaigning for a city council position, my wife getting pregnant, and moving houses, neighborhoods, and churches. All within the first year of me and my Little getting matched. And I remember my petty excuse for not getting involved earlier: not having enough time.
But it’s like we say with having foster kids, they just become part of your routine. Part of your family life. It’s another entry on your calendar. BBBS asks for 4-12 hours a month. My Little and I average a few hours every couple weeks. Honestly, if you have time for TV, you have time for this. Even if you don’t have a lot of “TV time”, you just incorporate them into your life. I see him on lunch breaks, late at night, on the way from here to there. It all works out.
I wish I had a miraculous, life-transformational story about being a mentor, but I don’t. He was a good kid before I came along. I just hope to be another good influence. Someone to help him experience new and different things. Maybe throw in a life-lesson once in a while. Something as simple as last night’s trip to the indoor trampoline park, where we spent most of our time playing dodgeball. It was obvious most kids were either skipping line to play or not leaving when they got out. Not a big deal, it’s just a silly game. But it was an opportunity to talk about honesty.
Maybe something like that sticks. Maybe there will be a big moment where I get a call from him to help make a big decision. Maybe we’ll just be friends. But that’s one kid who I won’t let slip through the cracks. If I ever see him on the news, it’ll be for a good reason. This is the small thing I can do with great love.
If we all did this one small thing, it would certainly be a great thing.