a Little Child Shall Lead
boy came into the world ... and the uncle came back to the
world at the same time.
was 12. Not his age, because he never lived that long. It was
form number. Just like the one his uncle wore when the old guy
played hockey and baseball back in Windsor, Canada.
little boy would answer the phone very proudly, because it was
one of the few things he could do without over-exerting himself.
He had an inoperable heart condition, which in those days, and
perhaps even now, dictated an early death.
he would say. This is Number 12 speaking. And if it
were the uncle who was calling, the boy would chuckle to himself.
Or if the uncle called and spoke to the boys dad, he would
ask to say hello to Number 12. And then that little voice would
say just what the uncle wanted him to say.
This is 12. Thats the same number you wore, isnt it,
And the uncle would laugh out loud, while smiling to himself,
because he was very proud to share that number with the little
boy, who meant so much to him, and was, in a big way, responsible
for the well-being of the old Number 12.
Both 12s were born on the same day back in 1977 December
16th. The boy came into the world on that day and the uncle came
back to the world at the same time. On that day, the uncle was
in an alcoholic hospital after many half-hearted attempts to sober
up or at least temporarily appease those around him. He really
had no hope of ever being like those others who had started a
recovery process because he thought he was too far gone, too unique,
too old, and more than that, he didnt even feel that he
had a problem. The problems in his life were those who didnt
understand him. For thirty years, he lived the camouflaged, phony
world of self-acclaimed grandiosity. Perhaps, he thought, this
trip into the institution might teach those others what life was
all about what he was all about.
Todd died in 1984 at the age of six,
and in [his uncles] hall of fame,
his number 12 has been retired.
phone call came on December 17th. A young boy was born the day
before. His name was Todd and he was the mans new nephew.
And he had some very serious medical problems. Both the boy and
the uncle spent Christmas in the hospital, the younger fighting
for his life, and the older wondering if it was even worth it
to fight anymore, after all his failures. Fifteen years before,
he had even failed a suicide attempt.
A month or so later, the uncle was released from the alcoholic
hospital, still not really sure what lay ahead for him. And the
boy was being shifted back and forth to and from Detroits
Childrens Hospital to undergo tests, surgeries, and new
diagnoses, while his parents spent their nights sleeping fitfully
at the Ronald MacDonald House, awaiting doctors reports.
The worst news came within a year. The little boy would not survive.
It was devastating to all except Todd. The little guy never knew
anything other than that he had a great and loving family. He
would try to walk across a room or perhaps a bit farther and then
he would raise his arms up to his mom or dad and say, Im
tired now. And they would cradle him just for a while. And
then hed try again. And again. And again.
The uncle watched these things and saw that the boy fought to
do things they said that he couldnt do, while the man was
fighting to do things that he shouldnt do.
Each December 16th, the uncle made it a point to call the boys
house and each time he did, the boy would say in the same laughing
voice, This is 12 speaking.
One year, the boy sent a card that his dad picked out and it included
this message: Uncle, my mom says I cant play baseball
yet because Im not strong enough and I cant run. But
you know what? I think that I will only wait a year or two and
then I will play ball and Ill hit only home runs, and then
I wont have to run.
The boys dad wrote a postscript to the little boys
card, and it said:
Tom, the above reminds me of both you and Todd. He is such a fighter
and so are you. I want you to know that you will always be my
#1 big brother whom Ive always looked up to and respected,
and I am very proud of you. Both of you have taught me so many
things. Thank you for that, and for being such a great uncle and
good friend to Todd and a great brother to me.
Todd died in 1984 at the age of six, and in this hall of fame,
his number 12 has been retired. In his short life, Todd was an
inspiration to many people; not only to the family, but also to
all who watched him live a life that he thought was a fine one.
He didnt know that he was incapable of doing some things.
And his uncle didnt know that he himself was capable of
doing normal things.
Number 12 changed the uncles thinking. Todd, through his
spirit and charm and overall innocent goodness was one of the
main factors in his uncles recovery.
the past 25 years, each Christmas season brings back the memory
of that December 16th in 1977, when a brand new baby started to
lead an old uncle up a new path. Todd led the way, and because
of him, the old man thinks of Number 12s birth and death
as a wonderful celebration of two lives.
Christmas to you, Number 12.
One of these days I hope to play on
the same team with you, just like
we talked about.