Growing up with a ‘Big Brother’

Just before Christmas there was word that the Kamloops Big Brothers/Big Sisters (BBBS) program was experiencing some financial difficulties and was having to pause some of it’s programs until the funding situation clarified. More details on the situation can be read here (Article) but the news of what BBBS is facing caused me to reflect on my own experiences with having a Big Brother and the significant impact it had on my life and what an important program it is.

I grew up a single child of a single mom and grew up in what you would call poverty.  Recently, I wrote a blog post about my experience living in poverty growing up and noted that one of the things that helped me escape poverty was the support system around me. You can read the post here if you are interested (Post). One of the key supports I had was a Big Brother for much of my childhood.

I was around 7 years old when my mom first got me involved in the program. I remember vaguely the first time I met my Big Brother, Tim, at the Trenton BBBS office and we subsequently hung out together numerous times. I honestly don’t remember how long we remained a match but it wasn’t too long and Tim decided that with a changing life situation he needed to back out. I was pretty upset about this and I was asked whether I wanted another Big Brother. Eventually I said yes and I was matched with Cyril, probably when I was around 8 years old.

Cyril was a humble, happy-go-lucky guy probably in his late 20s when we got matched. He was living with his partner and they would subsequently get married. Because my childhood is a bit of a blur, I can’t remember a lot of the exact details of what we did together over the years but I recall going fishing, playing hockey on his backyard rink, watching his softball and broomball games, and hanging out in his shop where we made a book case for my mom. I remember a number of weekends just hanging out at his house and watching football. My first time fishing in a canoe (fun), ice fishing (cold, hence only time), and getting a birdie in golf (one of the few) were some of the experiences I got to share with Cyril. He was also my father stand-in for parent vs kids hockey games.

While the specific moments have faded somewhat, the overall experience has stayed with me and I think often of the times we had. My time spent with Cyril was pretty important to me. While my mom had a great boyfriend while I was growing up and he was a profound influence on me as were my aunt and uncle and cousins, I think it was important for me to have another role model that had interests that aligned more with my own. He liked sports and played them and I had an emerging interest in sports at that time. This was very important for me as many of the people in my life didn’t have the same depth of sporting interest as I did. Having a Big Brother was also a portion of my life that was exclusively mine and not my mom’s or anyone else’s. Through his playing of sports, it enabled me to see and interact with other men, and learn other aspects of maleness, the good and the not so good. I also got to witness as he started his own family and raise his kids and see another example of a father and how he expressed love to his kids. With the exception of my uncle, being around Cyril was one of the few opportunities for me to see fatherhood in action on a somewhat consistent basis when I was that age.

I am a firm believer in the adage that it takes a village to raise a child and the Big Brother Big Sisters program helps fill a gap where it is more challenging to create that village for the child and connect them with more positive role models. Given the complexity in arranging well aligned and suitable matches, this takes a lot of resources as stated in the article I shared at the top. There are a lot of good charities that one can donate their money to and I can attest to the fact that Big Brothers and Big Sisters is one of them.

As a footnote to this, I lost touch with Cyril when I went away to university and subsequently moved to BC and hadn’t talked to him in about 20 years. My mom would periodically see him but even she had lost touch thinking that he had moved west. Apparently this wasn’t true and they ran into each other last year and long story short, he reached out to me and we have reconnected. It’s been great to catch up after all this time!

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