Can You Come Out and Play?

“Uncle Donnie? Can you come out and play?”

What do you do when your two-year old nephew comes to live with you because his father didn’t want to be a father? I faced that dilemma when I was still a teen, 14 years-old. Run and hide?  Refer him to someone else? I never considered either of those options for a minute. After all—I’d had a father who’d been there all my life. I didn’t want him to grow up believing the wrong things about exactly what a father should look like and how he should act. So I stepped into that role, and I’ve never regretted one second of it. I firmly believe God put him into my life because He knew I’d never have any of my own children.

Countless hours showing him how to catch and hit a baseball, how to accept disappointments, helping him pick up the pieces after a broken relationship taught us both valuable lessons along the way. He received the first fruits of my time, even when I knew I had other commitments, like studying for a test or attending a school dance. I said yes more than I ever said no, and there again, God knew exactly what He was doing. Rather than seeing him as a burden, he was an unexpected gift, and I never wanted to waste a memory just because I had a paper to write.

Trying to explain the bond we had would be impossible because no words would suffice. As he grew older, he decided to discover exactly who his real father was, moving to Florida for a while. We stayed close, and when he returned it was like he’d never left. Absence made the heart grow fonder as I stood in the gap for him through most of his significant events including his graduation and eventual engagement. Ah—but God’s ways are not our ways, and He had a future for Robbie I’ll be destined to ask Him about one day.

1:04 AM Sunday morning the telephone woke me up from a sound sleep. My younger sister called to inform me that my nephew had been on his way home from a bachelor party, his friend was driving too fast, and Robbie was killed instantly when the car wrapped around a tree.  Bile rose up in my throat. My knees gave way. The closest person I’d ever have as a son was taken way too soon at age 22. I should hate the number 2, but for years it’s always been my favorite. I’d sacrificed many of my teenage years playing father, and I’d been forever changed as a result.

Fathers really do come in all shapes and sizes. Mine was a musician for over 6o years. I followed in his footsteps, though it never became my profession. I now have two step-children, but when a stranger asks if I have any kids, Robbie’s the first son I think about.  No disrespect to my step kids, but he’ll always be more than my nephew. So the next time your children knock on your door and ask you the following, take heed. Can you come out and play? Yes…is always the best answer. There’s no guarantee how many yeses you’ll get.


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