Kids with fathers say things like, “My daddy can beat up your daddy.” And they say it with sureness in their voices.
This, of course, is ridiculous, daddies quit beating up one another during medieval times. Today, it’s more fitting to say, “My daddy’s minivan can outrun your SUV.” Either way, a fatherless child doesn’t have a dog in the hunt.
Kids like Willie.
He was a nice kid. Dirt poor. His grandmother dropped him off every morning for Vacation Bible School, where he took part in five-days of moderately competitive activities, led by a qualified Outdoor Recreation Supervisor in a stupid red T-shirt.
When kids finished music class, leaders ushered them outdoors. There, I did my best to encourage every child—no matter what age, athletic level, or blood type—not to run toward the highway, and not throw punches without first clearing it with me.
Willie played hard. Whether he was smashing balloons with his hindparts, or balancing an egg on a spoon. But, he hardly spoke to the other children.
One afternoon, the boy’s grandmother approached me. She was as country as they come. “He thinks the world of you,” she said.
That was news to me, he never opened his mouth.
“I wish he didn’t feel like an outsider,” she went on. “I wonder if you’d let me tell him a little fib.”
“Just to bring him out of his shell. Would you mind if I told Willie you were his cousin?”
The idea was ill-conceived. The closest I’d ever come to being a role model was when I ate two boxes of fried chicken at a Church’s in Jackson, Tennessee for our youth group. I went down in history.
The next day, Willie was happy as a cricket. After each activity, he’d give me two thumbs up. By the end of the week, Willie had taken to high-fiving and calling me, “Dude-Man.”
The last day of activities, Willie and Dude-Man competed in the three-legged race together. We won. He slapped my hand hard enough to break a wrist, and said, “You’re the best cousin ever.”
That was a long time ago. I don’t know what made me think of it, or what happened to him. But it bears mentioning: I felt ten-foot tall and bulletproof that day. I guess fathers get to feel that way all the time. I’m sorry Willie’s didn’t want to.
Wherever that child is:
I hope we’re still cousins.