By Collin Sebastian
It feels a little bit weird to say this, but I think, just maybe, that I’m a grownup. I have a job; I pay taxes; I can navigate social situations with comparative good sense and grace. I can even cook and do my own laundry - sorry, ladies, I’m spoken for.
Yet it wasn’t until Andy walked into my life that, for the first time since I was probably eight or nine years old, I found myself contemplating the question, “What does it mean to be a grownup?”
I was so nervous when I met him. I remember sitting in the booth of this little diner, my arms fidgeting, thinking to myself how ridiculous the entire situation was. It was Saturday. The night before, I had dinner with an actual billionaire, comfortably navigating my way through discussions ranging from technology to foreign policy to something which I know absolutely nothing about: football.
And yet, there I was in jeans and a cardigan, absolutely terrified…of a teenager.
I had no idea what to expect when I volunteered to be a "Big Brother," I just remember what my life was like when I was a teenager. Suffice to say, it was not a storybook experience. I originally thought my role would be like the cool uncle. I’d take him out, buy him stuff, and send him home having made his day.
Wow, did I misjudge what I’d be doing.
He walked into the diner, I waved, and he sat down. I offered to get him some coffee. He’s 13. He doesn’t like coffee. Why did I not put that together? I hated coffee at 13. Am I that out of touch? Has it been that long since I was his age? I could feel the anxiety building in my head. I was going to be horrible at this.
“What do you feel like doing today?” I asked him.
“I dunno. What are we supposed to do?” he mumbled back, trying his best to make eye contact but clearly feeling as nervous as I was.
“Well, tell me what you’re up to at school.” I replied.
“Baseball’s starting…” he began to answer. My brain pounced: baseball! I grew up playing baseball! I love baseball! I still keep score by hand. I’ve been to over 200 Yankee games! I. Love. Baseball. I’m going to spend the entire day talking to this kid about baseball and we’ll bond!
“… but I don’t know if I can play.” The second half of his answer broke my train of thought.
His mitt was old and torn. The other kids made fun of him because he couldn’t afford a new one. My heart sank. I remember being in the same situation in school, with a blue-collar family surrounded by white-collar kids. My family managed to climb out of it. His hadn’t.
We went to Big Five and I bought him a mitt, a bat, some gloves, and a ball. I looked at the receipt and it struck me that I spent more last night on drinks than I just had on all his gear. I felt ashamed of myself, of my priorities.
We spent the afternoon just playing catch. It’s amazing how naturally a conversation develops when you’re focused on catching a ball instead of the words coming out of your mouth. We’ve spent at least one afternoon each weekend since throwing that same ball around. It seems at times like I’ve learned more about him than I know about my own family. Watching him go through different experiences has given me a new perspective about my own. I’m less frustrated with how I was back then. I have less regret. I realize it’s a process, and that the most important lessons I learned, I learned through making mistakes.
Now, we catch ball games, too. We sit, eat popcorn, and complain about the designated hitter. But above all, we talk – about anything and everything he has on his mind. I’m his sounding board, the funny “soooo old” dude that tells stories that start with, “You know, when I was your age...” I’m the guy he asks questions to and counts on to ask questions back. I’m perhaps the only adult in his life willing to tell him, “I have no idea.” I forgot how important it is for a kid to see vulnerability in adults, how critical it is for them to understand that it’s okay to be lost, to not have all the answers – that the trick to being a grown up isn’t knowing everything, but understanding how to discover what you’re looking for.
It’s funny, but being around this little lost soul, this teenager stumbling his way into becoming an adult – it’s made me more comfortable with not having everything figured out at my age. And the more he seems how little I have things figured out, the more he’s come to understand that he’s much more normal than I thought, and that he can turn the next 20 years of his life into anything he wants them to be.
I always thought the term “Big Brother” was quaint and overly sentimental. I thought it was a marketing ploy to get people emotionally engaged. I can’t tell you how wrong I was, and I can’t explain to you how much meaning the term “Brother” really has. When I first met him, we both had this image of adulthood in our minds, and I think we both learned that actually growing up is something entirely different. This kid, this now-14-year-old aspiring shortstop, has become this amazing force in my life. He keeps me honest. He keeps me open. He reminds that there’s more to life than my job and my status. I can only hope I’m doing the same for him.
Ultimately, I’ve stopped trying to be his "Big Brother. I’m just his brother, and we’re figuring all this life stuff out together. I’m starting to think that’s what being grown up is really all about, and I realize how much more baseball means to me now than it ever had before.