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"Don't forget your prayers, Joba."
"Don't forget your prayers, Dad."
Don't panic! Don't worry about the delayed growth spurt. Not a word about the kid growing more sideways than upward. Chortle when his pals call him Jabba the Hutt, the bloated alien Star Wars gangster. Laugh with everyone else when his summer teammate on the Lincoln Rebels, Matt Coatman, triples him home from first, and 14-year-old Joba bends over and gasps after crossing the plate, "Don't you ever do that to me again, Matt!"
Don't lose patience when boys whom he was better than, back when he was a Little League All-Star at 12, pass him by at 15 and he doesn't even make his high school jayvee team as a sophomore. Stare the kid down when he vows not to accept that reserve-team jersey and say, "This is an opportunity to be a leader for those younger kids. You either take the jersey or we quit altogether. We play no more."
Of course, not making your jayvee team two years in a row is a sure sign that it's time for a kid to audition for the school musical. So ... have him audition for the school musical. Whoop it up when he's a Shark in West Side Story, when he dances and sings in Fiddler on the Roof, Grease and Footloose. Kid's a ham! Let a side of him unfold that most jocks never discover. Deck him out in moccasins, feathers and Native American clothes and teach him the steps to Round Dance, the one the Winnebagos do that symbolizes the circle of life.
Don't let him get severed from his heritage, the way Dad was as a foster child. Cut adrift from a tribe cut adrift from itself, one that was long ago fragmented and flushed—from Wisconsin to Iowa to Minnesota to South Dakota to Nebraska—by enemy tribes and white men and starvation. A tribe afflicted with a name given to it by another tribe, the Fox, who called it Ouinipegouek, "the people of the Stinking Water," because of the smell of a nearby lake and river.
Take the boy to the Winnebago reservation north of Lincoln, where the father only lived a few years of his childhood—in a two-room shack alongside six siblings and his parents, all sleeping in one room with tin-can lids nailed over the holes to keep out the mice and a Spiegel catalog in the outhouse for toilet paper—before he became a ward of the state.
Take the kid to powwows. Steep him in the tribe's values of giving and gratitude that his father began learning as a 19-year-old when he returned to visit the reservation in search of himself. Spend weekends there with aunts, uncles and cousins in a place where every door's open and everyone's family. Make sure he maintains a connection with his mother—whose privacy father and son fiercely protect to this day. Take the boy by her place, let him run to her door for a visit, even if it's just to say hello.