2/11/2016, 9:18 am.
Newest Voicemail read: Unknown
I hit “play” followed by “speaker” on my iphone screen. The voice on the other end seemed to be in a panic state.
“Hi John, my name is Steve. I’m sorry to bother you, I got your number from a friend of a friend. Listen, I don’t really know how to go about this……
My wife and I just got word that our two year old son who has Down syndrome was just diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia on Wednesday. I understand you’re son, Jack just finished his treatment for A.L.L. so i thought I’d reach out to you.
Honestly, I’m really freaked out right now and could use some advice from someone who has been there. I think you were on the Kaiser path… any tips or anything else you can offer would be greatly appreciated. Again, I’m sorry to bother, it’s just that I don’t really know who else to call… can you call me please?”
Chills ran down my spine as I pictured Steve pacing the hospital hallway, frantically trying to find some sense of security; some reassurance that his little boy wasn’t going to die. I envisioned Steve trying to talk quietly on the phone while holding back the tears. It was more than a vision, rather a memory as I did the exact same thing through a friend of a friend. Before this moment, that memory was a distant one.
I listened to the message again. I was trembling. Clicking “call back” on the iphone screen, I became more and more nervous with every ring. I didn’t have a clue as to what I was going to say. As the phone rang, for some reason, I thought of an article I recently read by Bill Gates earlier in the week. He described how over the years he’s discovered listening is 90% more effective than talking.
A month ago, a friend of mine said to me, “You know- You and Angi are THOSE parents now. You’re the experienced ones who parents will turn to for advice, answers, and HOPE when they find out their child has cancer or Down syndrome. Not only because you’ve been through it, but you also chose to share your journey with all of us in a very public way….”
I remember thinking, I’m okay with that, and somewhat shrugged the statement off. It’s just that I never anticipated that day would come so soon. Am I that dad now? I always pictured random phone calls at this stage of parenthood to be about tee-ball practice or cub scouts or even a camping weekend. I never imagined connecting with other fathers through childhood cancer or Down syndrome. Angi and I have been blessed to meet some amazing parents through this journey. The world truly works in mysterious ways….
In all honesty, it’s heavy. Part of me wants to run from it all…. put it behind us and move on. I know that might seem harsh and maybe even cold, but I promised to be honest on this blog thing, so I am sticking to that. As much as I want to put it into a box, stuff it in the closet and let it collect dust- I can’t. I need to be there for Steve, just as others have been there for us. This isn’t about being noble or riotous or whatever. It’s about humanity. It’s about paying it forward.
I did talk with Steve for an extended period of time, but I’ll keep the details between us. Steve and his family have a long road ahead of them and I plan to be a text or phone call away….and will try to listen more than talk.
Note- Name (Steve) has been changed to protect privacy.