It really is an honor to be here this evening and speak to you all about a program that has had such a positive impact on my life. There are few organizations that resonate with me so deeply than Big Brothers Big Sisters. I am forever in the debt of this organization and my Big Brother, about whom I will speak to you tonight.
His name is Tom. An ordinary name for the most ordinary of guys.
When he asked me if I would be willing to come up to Maine and speak for a few minutes tonight, I knew I would do everything in my power to make sure I was there.
When he told me there would be cocktails at the event, I started my car and drove as fast as I could.
This past week, I scoured my brain hoping to find the defining moment in our relationship to sum up what he has meant to me. There had to be one.
Twenty years ago, my mother signed me and my two brothers up for Big Brothers Big Sisters. Our father had been out of the picture for years and she knew each of us needed a male role model to bring us into adulthood.
My older brother was matched up. Twice. But neither stuck. My little brother was never matched at all. I was matched with Tom.
Not a lot of my childhood pulls quite as vivid a memory as the day my Mom told me that she had met someone for me. She told me that his name was Tom and that I would like him very much.
Years later, my mother told me how nervous Tom was that night in the BBBS office, sweating in a suit and tie waiting to meet my mother for the first time. They met that night and she fell in love with him.
She told him, “When you meet Alex, don’t wear that. You’ll scare him. He’s really shy.”
And I was. I was a very shy little boy, not even seven years old at the time. I had a habit of hanging on to my Mom’s leg, untrusting of strangers and hesitant to talk to anyone at all.
The next Saturday morning, I remember Tom showing up to our little apartment on Angel Drive for the first time, wearing jeans, a T-shirt and a ball cap.
I ran right up to him.
And he’s been right there ever since.
I remember peering out of our apartment window at 10:55 a.m. because he said he’d pick me up at 11:00 a.m. I remember looking out again at 10:56 and 10:57. Sure enough, at 11:00 a.m., he pulled up in his blue Honda Civic and walked to our door to pick me up.
I remember him taking me to the driving range to hit golf balls, something I had never done.
I remember him bringing me over to his house in Prospect, CT. just to watch the UConn game.
I remember playing air hockey in his spare room and darts in his basement. I remember how he would never let me win and always make me earn it.
I remember him paying me a very honest hourly wage for helping him with yard work – picking up sticks in his yard, pulling weeds and mulching his garden. I remember going to Home Depot with him when I was 8 years old. I can’t imagine what a treat that must have been.
I remember playing HORSE with him in his driveway and him never letting me win, though he did let me use a smaller ball. I remember him always giving me a “Hail Mary” shot – a shot so absurd that if I made it I would be declared the undisputed winner. I remember missing that shot every time except once, and I remember not letting him hear the end of it on the way home that afternoon.
I remember him taking me to countless BBBS events – bowling fundraisers, banquet dinners, Pilot Pen tennis tournaments in New Haven.
I remember us meeting Arlene of BBBS, the woman who matched us, at a McDonald’s to do a news spot with what was News8 in Connecticut. They interviewed my mother, Tom, myself, Arlene and my two brothers. The point was to show what an impact one man could have on a boy’s life through the program and that two very similar boys from the exact same background still needed to be matched.
I remember doing a similar news spot a year or two later, just Tom and I at the Dairy Bar in Prospect.
I remember us being, quite literally, the face of the Greater Waterbury chapter in the late ’90s.
I remember Tom taking me to countless Red Sox games even though I told him repeatedly I was a Yankees fan. I remember meeting his entire family for the first time.
I remember my first UConn basketball game and football game with Tom. I remember telling him I picked UConn to win the tournament in 1999 over Duke and him telling me I was crazy. I remember my mother letting me stay up late to watch the end of the game and telling me I couldn’t call Tom until tomorrow. I remember him making me a UConn fan, and so much of that led to me becoming a UConn student and now alumnus.
I remember picnics at his brother Dave’s house in West Hartford when he would challenge me to remember the directions from Waterbury. To this day, I honestly thought he had forgotten how to get there each time.
I remember going to the circus, to fairs, to sporting events, family events. I remember countless Outer Banks trips with his entire family.
I remember him standing by the fence at my little league games on Saturday mornings and having a catch with me afterward.
I remember him taking me to West Point for Army/Navy football games every year.
I remember my 5th grade birthday party when he single-handedly organized several games of Wiffle ball, kickball and arts&crafts for me and my 20 11-year-old friends. Come to think of it now, he likely did that as much for my mother as he did for me.
I remember sitting in Arlene’s office at BBBS the night Pedro Martinez was pitching in the All-Star Game when I was told that Tom would be moving away. I remember being calmer about the news than Tom, my mother or anyone else had thought I’d be.
I remember not being worried about losing him.
I remember the dynamic of our relationship changing due to the distance and out of necessity. I remember my relationship with his entire family growing even stronger.
I remember being invited and welcomed into his mother’s home for every holiday. I remember gifts, so many gifts, and even more love from his sisters, his brother, his Mom and Dad.
I remember his parents becoming my grandparents, his brothers and sisters my brothers and sisters, his nieces and nephews my cousins. I remember becoming a member of the most incredible family.
I remember standing next to him at his wedding in Maine at the young age of 13 and wearing my first tuxedo.
I remember, as a much older young man than I was when we were matched, realizing the magnitude of our relationship — how I could have gone down the wrong path as so many of my friends and the kids in my neighborhood growing up had done.
I remember who made sure I never did.
Our relationship cannot be defined by a single moment. No, it can only be summed up by two decades of seemingly ordinary moments with a seemingly ordinary man that have meant the absolute world to a little boy.
Our relationship has been defined by the lessons he has instilled in me – that family, above all else, is the single thing in this world you can always turn to. And that being a man simply means being there for those that need you, when they need you.
Our relationship has been defined by his quiet strength and steadiness, the way he guided me into manhood and the way he now raises his children — the way I will raise my children one day.
To this day, I have never asked Tom what made him want to sign up for BBBS. To me, it doesn’t matter what the answer is.
Though there is not one defining moment of our relationship, without a doubt, the one defining moment of my life is the day I was matched with Tom.