“His middle name is Lee? So he’s named after you?” someone said to me at a family gathering last year.
“We'll, as you know, it's a common middle name in the fam﹘”
“No, he’s named after you,” said my niece, Brooke.
Those five words, spoken about her son, still make me emotional. I’m a never-married, 48-year-old who never expected to receive such an honor.
I tried to be a father-figure to Brooke when she was growing up. Looking back, my methods were often flawed, and I would do many things differently if I had a chance to do it all again. But those five words tell me I might have done a few things right, as well.
Brooke was born with cerebral palsy in her lower extremities. I’ve lost track of how many surgeries she endured ﹘ eight, nine, ten … somewhere in that neighborhood. I cried three seconds after they wheeled her off to the OR, every time, wishing I could take her place.
I attended her school plays and concerts, watching as she struggled with her walker to take her place by the other kids. One such memory is on replay in my mind. She was five or six when she rolled her way onstage to sing “Must Be Santa” with her classmates. She cut her eyes back and forth, spotted us in the crowd, waved, grinned and began to sing.
She was tiny, even at that age, which allowed me to lay flat on the floor, and lift her over me. She would spread her arms like a bird as I said, “Brooooookie Bird.” She giggled with delight.
She had this Raggedy Ann doll she called Dee Dee. She liked to lay on the floor next to me while I tossed Dee Dee straight up into the air so she could try to catch her.
“Higher,” she would say.
I’d toss Dee Dee a foot or two higher.
She laughed even harder when Dee Dee hit the ceiling. Hearing her uninhibited giggle did something to my soul every time I heard it. I would have thrown Dee Dee to the moon if it would have made Brooke happy.
Fast forward eight or ten years, and we are sitting in my car in front of her middle school. She’s about to go inside to perform in another school concert, but we were locked in a battle. I was responsible for getting her there that day, and she tried to pull a fast one on Uncle Lee. She had on more makeup than Tammy Faye Baker in her heyday.
You probably won’t believe this, but my bathroom wall still contains a speck of pink goop from that day, which means it’s been there more than a decade. I told her that a while back, and she said, “Eww, you haven’t washed it off yet?” She couldn’t understand when I told her I will never wash it off, but she will one day when her son does something in which she’ll want to have a tangible reminder.
Before she performed in her school concert that night, I made her go into the bathroom and wash off her masterpiece. She wasn’t happy, but she did it anyway. She has always shown me respect, even when she disagreed with me.
Fast forward ten more years, and Brooke is being wheeled off to another OR ﹘ this time for the birth of her son. And yes, I cried again three seconds after she was gone.
The next thing I knew, I was staring at my namesake through the nursery window, and I realized I really do get to do it all over again.