One Father

An essay on the Big Brother program by award-winning novelist Christine Nolfi.On Sunday Jameson trudged through the door with Q, a bashful 9-year-old boy from a disadvantaged home in North Charleston. Q has four siblings with a 5th on the way, a mother just a few years older than my son and a father in prison.

My son is new to the Big Brother program. In many ways, he’s your typical college-aged kid—idealistic, smart, ditzy. In other ways he’s atypical—a kid transplanted to the U.S. at age 6, curious about his Filipino roots yet still working out the abandonment issues common in many adopted children, even into adulthood.

Which brings us to Q, the boy my boy now fathers on weekends with trips to the park to toss around a baseball, and homework help in the pizza parlor (Q loves pizza).

As I sat at the kitchen table urging cookies and slices of apple on Q, using well honed Mom-speak to get him to speak, I couldn’t help but wonder: What did he make of the situation? Clearly he was enjoying himself (“More, please”) and his eyes danced as Jameson and I performed our normal repartee of silly jokes about school, life, and my oft-repeated phrase that vegetables are your friends. Buddy up to broccoli: it just might save your life.

But Q, what did he think? An African American child grinning wildly as his Filipino Big Brother chummed it up with his white mama?

Whatever Q’s musings, my takeaway was this: both the boy and my son missed out on the father love we all need for healthy psychological development . . . and yet they didn’t.

We all need one father, one mother, sistah love and brother kindness. The beauty lies in our ability to have these roles filled by many people in a course of a lifetime.

Today I’ll offer you mother love. Tomorrow? You’ll become the one father I need. A man’s divorce seems soul crushing until a woman friend offers the sisterly affection that gets him through. Brothers-by-choice band together on Saturday nights to bellow from the stands of their favorite sporting event. And so on.

The roles we choose to play for the people we choose to love aren’t restricted by gender. Women channel the traits we traditionally associate with fathering and offer steady-headed advice.  Men get in touch with their feminine side.  

Father, mother, sister, brother—your personality harbors facets of each. Which traits you cultivate and offer to the world is a personal choice.

And Q? For now, he glows beneath my son’s gentle guidance. He sends nightly text messages to ensure Jameson knows he’s excited about the next day they’ll spend together. If they continue in the Big Brother program, they’ll enrich their relationship with big brother- little brother bonding. Maybe they’ll toss in sistah love and the unconditional love we associate with mothering.

Best of all? One day Q, having experienced paternal love, will know just how to father too.

Photo © Dreamstime

About Christine Nolfi

I owned a small public relations firm in Cleveland, Ohio, but closed it fifteen years ago after I traveled to the Philippines and adopted a sibling group of four children. I've been writing novels fulltime since 2004. If you enjoyed this post today, please follow me and subscribe to my blog.


  1. susan dyer says:

    Omg! I’ve got a huge lump in my throat reading this. You are all special people and you must be so proud of your son!!

    • Christine Nolfi says:

      Susan, I am so proud of him! He returned home from college one day and said, “Hey, Mom. I’ve signed up for the Big Brother program.” He’d mentioned the possibility earlier, but I wasn’t aware he would get involved in the middle of the school year. And Q, his “little brother” is simply the sweetest child!

  2. Kudos to Jameson for choosing to be a Big Brother and bringing a very special aspect to Q that was missing from his life. How rewarding for all of you!

    • Christine Nolfi says:

      Thanks, Patricia. I suspect Q and Jameson will both benefit. You know my son–he always wanted a younger brother!

  3. Well. You made me cry. But it is inspiring and heartwarming to know that one woman, reaching out to her chosen children, has instilled in them the awareness and caring to pass it on to another generation. God bless you.

    • Christine Nolfi says:

      Wendy, it sure felt like a “full circle” moment. Amazing how people can help each other heal when they have the courage to offer a helping hand–and love.

  4. Deborah Murrill Blanchard says:

    Christine, you make me want to be a better Mom. I know I am a good one, as my children always let me know that. Jameson seems to be an amazing young man, to choose to give his love and time to a child, well, it just makes me swell up inside. These children need good examples, so they can pay it forward in the future to other children. You should be proud and so should your son. He is doing a wonderful thing. God Bless him and others like him.

    • Christine Nolfi says:

      Deborah, thank you for your kind words. Btw, I don’t think there was a day during the “hands on” parenting years when I didn’t think to myself, “C’mon, now. You can be a better Mom than this!” I believe the key for my son–and for anyone who suffered through childhood trauma–is to reach the understanding that by healing others, one can heal oneself.

  5. Awww. Even I’m feeling verklempt 🙂

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