With the help of Dan, Gabe is growing strong.
Male role models were difficult to come by for Gabriel. For his nine years, he has been surrounded by a circle of artistic, nurturing women. Even at school, all but two teachers are women. Angela became concerned that her son would not have a positive male role model to identify with. A little more than a year ago, Gabe was paired with his Big Brother Dan. Angela laughs: “Dan brings out this little boy personality in Gabe. Every time he returns from an outing with Dan, he comes back as this little dude.”
She jokes: “I’m a woman, but I’m not a girly-girl. Nonetheless, Gabe needed to experience the elements of a male personality that he can observe and emulate if he’s to grow up as a positive young man.”
Although Gabe and Dan seem an unlikely match, they satisfy a vacancy in each other’s lives. Gabe’s relationship with his father is sporadic and unreliable, so he lacked male companionship; Dan’s children have grown, left the house and now have families of their own, so he missed that fatherly role. “It’s hard to put your finger on it,” Angela says, “but they really seem to enjoy each other.”
Gabe and Dan, a small business owner, are both shy, so when they first met, Angela felt like she was in the middle trying to draw them both out. After a few outings together, they opened up and have been building their relationship ever since. “I was really shy,” Gabe remembers. “I could barely talk to him because I didn’t know him. Eventually I was with him all the time, and got used to it—that’s how I stopped being shy.”
The pair has attended sporting events, played Wii games, undertaken yard work, and, as Gabe happily remembers, played ping pong together. “I’d never played before. First we were on the same team, but then I got better so we played against each other. I think I even won!”
“I thought Gabe would buddy up with a younger man, maybe a college student,” Angela recalls. “But Dan and he have really connected and bonded.”
Perhaps the most memorable activity was when they planted a garden together last spring in Dan’s backyard. Because it was Gabe’s first time digging in the soil, Dan sent Angela pictures of her son covered in dirt, joyfully planting his bean and radish seeds. Dan planted carrots and onions, and the two decided to have a contest to see whose side of the garden would grow the fastest. Every other week, they’d take progress photos of their crops.
“Once, I thought Dan’s carrots were weeds and I pulled them up,” Gabe laughs. “He joked ‘are you trying to make me lose!?’ When it was finally time to pick my vegetables, I brought them home to my mom, and we put them in a salad.”
Big Brothers Big Sisters match support specialist Bernadette checks in regularly with Angela and Gabe, asking for feedback and addressing any concerns. “I feel like Big Brothers Big Sisters is monitoring the situation to be sure that Gabe is safe, happy and watched out for.”
“Enrolling Gabe in this program gave him the opportunity to explore more of his personality,” Angela continues. “Even the best parents that try really hard—there is only so much you can do. Sometimes it takes a village, and we’re happy that Dan and Big Brothers Big Sisters are in our village.