A 40-something Oregon man writes about his yearslong experience with the Big Brothers Big Sisters program in this debut.
Douglas was living on a houseboat in a fairly posh part of metropolitan Portland in 2005 when he decided that he wanted to make a difference by helping at-risk youth. He’d seen a booth for the Big Brothers Big Sisters program at the Portland Pride Festival, was intrigued, and signed up. He was matched with Rico, a 12-year-old whose mother was an immigrant from Guatemala. At the time, the quiet, reserved Rico was living in foster care and had no objection to the match. Thus began the six-year-long story of their relationship, with early Frisbee games and movies evolving into Douglas playing a much greater role in Rico’s life, including attempting to steer him clear of gangs and drugs and to ensure that he graduated from high school. Although a Big Brother’s role is mainly to listen and be a friend, Douglas’ micromanaging approach was sometimes baffling to Rico, the author writes, as were his emotional demands. Douglas intersperses flashbacks to the 1970s throughout the Big Brother narrative and relates chilling tales of growing up gay in a strict, religious home. He also relates the story of Russell, his childhood friend and de facto bodyguard in school—a heroic figure who unfortunately descended into a life of crime. Douglas’ book does a beautiful job of connecting the past to the present, particularly in the sections that depict his blossoming relationship with his parents as they aged. His memories of being a gay teenager in the ’70s are also full of engaging personalities, sometimes monstrous and sometimes beautiful, which make the story hard to walk away from. As Rico grew up and Douglas’ involvement increased, the author broke a few Big Brother rules, particularly when he helped Rico out financially. Even so, Douglas’ compelling story moves toward a conclusion that’s a genuine testament to his tireless dedication to his Little Brother.
A moving memoir about struggling to form personal relationships in turbulent environments.