My entire childhood was spent as the only child of a single mom. I was fairly physically inactive as a kid, we lived in housing and there were plenty of other kids, but it took encouragement to get me off my duff and outside. That’s not to say I was couch-bound the majority of my young life – I do recall casual games of softball, tag, and red rover with the other neighbourhood kids. I spent my summers in our hometown of Swift Current, Placentia Bay where days were filled with swimming, fishing, boating, and fearless exploratory hikes through the woods. Those activities were often solitary though, but they sometimes did involve cousins. I went right through Beavers, Cubs, and Scouts and enjoyed camping, making fires, and orienteering.
I suspect part of my mom’s motivation to get me involved with Scouts Canada had to do with ensuring I socialized with kids my own age more, but it also created lots of great memories and developed skills I otherwise would have never had. Still though, I was a big kid. At my heaviest I was almost 280 pounds – a lot of weight for any person to carry, but certainly so for a young teen. I could have done with more regular and (to my chagrin) intense exercise.
Enter Big Brothers Big Sisters. Mom and I discussed in some detail what being matched with a ‘big’ meant, what activities were possible, how it would work, and the ways she anticipated it might be helpful. I listened and offered my thoughts and we agreed to contact the organization and apply for a match. Back then, the organization sent a rep to your house once you got so far through the process. They sat down with us to go over the program and talk about match candidates. After they left it wasn’t long before the match was made and I met my first Big Brother. Our initial match turned out to be less than ideal; the big was busy and after a couple of hang outs and missed meet ups the match was dissolved. The experience had not deterred us though, so the office established a new match, and that’s when I met John Doody.
Having a regular male role model would give me the space to ask questions and learn from someone who likely shared the same curiosities and experiences when they were growing up. It wasn’t that my mom couldn’t have answered certain questions or that she was ill-equipped on her own. I’m all for families of all different types – those with two dads, two moms, or just one of either – all are equal to the ‘traditional’ picture in my eyes. My mom just recognized that an additional relationship would probably be helpful and wanted what was best.
John was a young professional in his 20s, and he drove a slick red early-90s Toyota Celica. I’ll never forget the first day it pulled up. I was obviously cautious and nervous but loved the car. It had headlights that flipped up, bucket seats, a rear spoiler. He often had Tears for Fears Seeds of Love and Billy Joel River of Dreams in the car. John was an office kind of guy working hard to build a career in government (something I was already interested in); he was involved in basketball leagues and played very regularly. He also had his own place, shared with a few roommates over the years that I also met and befriended.
We often connected on weekends, sometimes weekday evenings, and our outings regularly consisted of me watching his team play basketball where I learned sports lingo, felt like I was helping the team by filling water bottles, and had fun cheering him on. John also took me to the library, a place I hadn’t frequented since I was young, visiting the children’s library at the Arts & Culture Centre with my mom. He showed me the QEII Library for the first time, returning to it a number of times thereafter. He went through the different newspapers on big sticks while I explored the stacks.
When we popped by his house on Saturdays, he sometimes made us brunch before we consulted the paper while eating to pick a movie to see. I remember he had these jet black plates that were square – I was young, it was the 90s, and I’d never seen a square plate before. To this day, I still think differently shaped dish sets are cool.
Eventually he saw that my interest in basketball was growing, and he encouraged me to give it a try myself. He had become a coach with Youth Basketball Canada (YBC) so the opportunity was right in front of me. I tried. And, I liked it. Being a part of a team sport was eye opening and never something I expected to find myself doing. We had grey-green t-shirts (I still have mine), called ourselves “Jazz” after Utah Jazz and I was #7, often playing defense. John’s holiday gifts started to reflect our shared interest in basketball, he gave me a mini basketball table-top game, a commemorative Toronto Raptors book, and a San José Sharks jersey over the years (I know that last one’s hockey which is the sport I take highest interest in as an adult, and my team’s now the Penguins).
John also traveled a fair amount for his work, which took him to China and Japan among other foreign destinations. That inspired such curiosity for me and I was always keenly interested to hear about it after he returned. A pair of Chinese Baoding Balls in a silk box still sits proudly in my living room, a stone lizard carving from Mexico is by the front door, and I still have a beautiful visual weekly planner he brought home from Japan – trappings of his travels.
I was honoured when he took me across the island to meet his folks years into our match – it was an exciting cross-island drive (in that Celica!). It was likely the first time I went from one end of the island to the other. My involvement with Big Brothers Big Sisters also led to other opportunities as well, including being chosen for a trip to Quyon, PQ to stay at the Tim Horton’s Camp there (that was one heck of a summer in 1997!). I was also invited to speak as a ‘little’ at the 2001 Big Brothers Big Sisters Celebrity Secrets show at the old Memorial Stadium to share my big/little match story. There I was, 16 years old in front of thousands – my knees were knocking, but the pride I had in my ‘big’ got me through the stage fright.
We had also shared many memorable and important conversations. John helped me learn about taking care of myself in a friendly casual way as I got older, like when it came time to shave and pre-emptively suggesting that deodorant is your friend. I also remember him telling me, “don’t drag your feet” one day. I’m sure the dragging of my boots irked him, but that lone comment forever made me conscious of how I walked, and I’d suggest now that it made me walk with more confidence.
I suppose that applies to my experience figuratively as well. All of these things that John brought to my youth separately of one another seem insignificant. But when you’re older and look back at these memories and actions as a collection, only then do you realize their full true effect. I gained a new and deeper appreciation for just going to the library and spending a few quiet hours, for something to do. Too few people seem to these days, so I’m thankful that he helped spur on an interest in libraries for me. I’d likely never had gotten as into cars or hockey as much as I am as an adult were it not for him. I wouldn’t enjoy certain recording artists as much as I do now were it not for his influence. He gave me that cliché moment when it was time to start shaving, he made me healthier, he showed me ability I never thought I had, and he inspired certainty and confidence.
The point here is that our youth are so impressionable. Things John said and did had a much, much deeper impact on my development as a person than he probably ever realized. The interactions we have with youth are precious and meaningful, and should be treated with respect. Know the role that you play when you become an adult in a young person’s life and seize the opportunity to guide and develop their skills, perspective, and potential.
Thank you John, for being one of the many people in the figurative village it takes to raise a child who helped me through those years.
Joshua Jamieson, Former Little Brother