Our old neighbourhood had a giant, yearly garage sale. The first garage sale after the kids joined our family was spent hanging out with our neighbours, trading our junk for other people’s junk and generally loving our awesome little East Van clan. Once we’d sold off most of our stuff, we took the kids for a walk around the nearby streets to see what other people had for sale.
The Boy had a new discman that The Wife had sold him. Yes, you read that right, she sold our child an obsolete piece of technology rather than popping it in the Free bin. Something about life lessons, I don’t know. So he was on the search for CDs. One street over, he came upon obsolescence mecca; someone was selling several of those big books with the CD pockets, you know the ones that zip up and hold hundreds of CDs? The Boy was quietly excited, slowly turning the CD pages over and over like he’d just discovered the most rare and amazing treasure. We encouraged him to go ahead and ask the guy selling stuff how much he wanted for his CDs.
This was a big deal for him, talking to strangers. It still is. And not just strangers either. Recently, I suggested he go and knock on the door of a neighbouring classmate to see if he wanted to play. “I’m not the kind of guy who just knocks on people’s doors!” he yelled at me, exasperated. But he really wanted some CDs that day, so he plucked up his courage and approached the guy. Now, I should say at this point that I would probably have been a little nervous to approach this guy too. He was a big dude. Kind of a biker type. Big boots. Utilikilt. A lot of piercings. Big black dreads in his hair and the beard of a pirate. Yup, think East Van pirate and you’ve probably got a pretty accurate image of this guy in your head. He seemed a bit gruff, to say the least, but The Boy wanted some CDs.
“Which ones are you interested in?” he asked The Boy. “Show me.”
The Boy led him over to the books of CDs and started flipping slowly through the pages again. None of the names were bands he knew. There wasn’t a LMFAO or a Katy Perry in the bunch.
“That’s a good one. You know Bob Marley?” the guy asked.
The Boy shook his head.
“How about David Bowie? You know him?”
The Boy shook his head.
“How much are they?” The Boy managed to ask again, still looking at the CDs rather than the guy.
“I’ll tell you what,” said the guy after a pause. “You can have as many of these CDs as you want…for free…”
The Boy’s eyes flashed open and flew to the guy’s face. Free is his favourite thing! Was this guy kidding?
“You can have as many of these CDs as you want…for free…under one condition…”
The Boy didn’t falter. He wanted those CDs. He was ready for anything.
“You have to listen to every single CD, all the way through, at least once. If you don’t like one, you never have to listen to it ever again. But you have to listen to it from beginning to end at least once. If you’re willing to do that, you can have as many as you want. Okay?”
The Boy nodded enthusiastically as we watched, somewhat dumbfounded. Along with the guy’s encouragement, The Boy picked out a big stack of CDs. The Pretenders. The Kinks. Aretha Franklin. Devo. Bowie. Marley. The list went on and on. It was a pretty amazing score.
“And when you’ve listened to all those, you know where I live, come back and I’ll give you some more,” the guy told him.
That night, The Boy fell asleep listening to his new favourite CD over and over again, The Blues Brothers. And over the next while, he listened to every CD in his new collection, at least once.
We ran into the guy about a week later and his face lit up when he saw The Boy. He did some kind of macho fist bump thing that The Boy didn’t quite know what to do with but was thrilled to be included in all the same. He told us his name was Steve. One day, when we were attending an outdoor festival in a park by our house, there was a big piece of paper where people were asked to write down great things about our neighbourhood. The Boy wrote, “Getting CDs from Steve”.
There are a lot of things we wish we could change about our kids’ lives from before we adopted them. One of those things was the lack of good men they knew. The Boy really loves the time he gets to spend now with his Big Brother, with his uncle, with Grandpa and pretty much any other man we know and trust. Make no mistake, having two moms is just fine with him, but he sure does love the men in his life and so do we. Steve is no exception. In that small interaction that summer day, he did so many things right, probably without even realizing it. And every time we saw him out walking with his old dog, driving in his big truck, or riding by on his badass bike, when he saw The Boy his face would light up in the same way. And it made our guy feel important.
Good men are important for boys. They don’t have to be dads. They don’t have to be superheroes. But their presence, their old CDs, and their fist bumps can let a little guy know he belongs somewhere, that he’s connected–whether it’s through music or neighbourhood or family–to something cool and that he is always welcome.
We live in a new neighbourhood now but I often think of Steve and feel grateful every time I do. Sometimes I think of him when I see the giant posterboard of The Blues Brothers that sits on our son’s dresser. Sometimes it’s when I feed his fish, Bob Marley. But every time I think of him, I feel a little lump in my throat and I can’t help but smile.
Thanks, Steve. And thanks to all the good men out there who take a minute now and then to make a difference in a little boy’s life. I’m really glad to have you in our neighbourhood.