Jack Aron and Rob McAdam have been part of each other's lives for 35 years.
They met when Aron, then 62, joined Big Brothers. McAdam was nine, a little boy with a loving mother, a house full of siblings and no dad.
Aron went a long way to filling that role, teaching the child to bowl and golf, spending hours with him; teaching him, really, how to become an exemplary man.
The older man, a well-respected Winnipeg tailor, had no children of his own. McAdam filled a place in his heart, just as he filled a void for the young boy.
Thirty-five years after they met, their roles have reversed.
McAdam, now 45, visits Aron, 96, in the St. Boniface nursing home where the elderly man lives. Aron has Alzheimer's and a heart problem. Always a small man, he now barely fills half the hospital bed.
His room is filled with photos and albums tracing his extraordinary life. He had some notoriety in his career, made a lot of friends and travelled frequently.
His second wife, Aline, helped assemble the albums. McAdam has a special place in her heart, too. When she and Jack Aron married, 18-year-old McAdam was their best man.
"He was always so important to Jack," she says. "It was just right to have him there."
Many of the albums hold the memories of Rob McAdam's life because his Big Brother saved every scrap of paper that traced his passage from child to man.
"I never knew he was saving this stuff," says McAdam, looking at his old school pictures. "He never said anything. He just put them all away."
McAdam was overcome when he realized the albums existed.
"You just sit there and you start crying," he says, eyes misting. "I'm a big guy, I don't usually react like this but this guy, he really cared about me."
Many nights, McAdam now sits at Aron's bedside, sometimes in silence, sometimes talking to the man who cared for him and nurtured his spirit.
"It's time for the student to show the teacher what he has learned," says McAdam. "He was there when I needed him. Now it's my turn."
The Winnipeg Big Brothers organization can't find a record of any relationship that has lasted as long as Aron and McAdam's. Formally, it began in 1972 and ended in 1980 when McAdam turned 18.
Realistically, it never ended.
"We consider that it's a partnership," says McAdam, a tall, well-spoken man.
"When my mother first told me about Jack she just said 'this is a man who is going to take you out once a week, be a sort of adult friend.' I guess she realized I'd need some guidance. None of us could have imagined how this would turn out."
While the relationship began as a formal Big Brother arrangement, it quickly evolved.
"We were always good friends," says McAdam. "It turned into more of a father-son thing. Father's Day, I would always get him a card. He made such an impact on my life. He taught me that if you want something in your life you work for it. You always make time for other people. These are his values."
They'd go work out at the downtown YMHA, go bowling at Empress Lanes and golf together. Aron taught him life lessons and he also taught him good sportsmanship.
"You just look back and say, 'boy, was I fortunate.'"
Aron put the boy to work in his tailor shop. He still has the first dollar Aron paid him.
McAdam hasn't got children of his own and he's not sure he's ready to become a Big Brother.
"I'd have such big shoes to fill," he says slowly. "Maybe I can't make as big a difference in a kid's life. Could I do as good a job as Jack?"
While Aron's illness sometimes muddies his memories, he emphatically knows who McAdam is. On his birthday, the Big Brother phoned his Little Brother and sang to him.
"Something like that... " McAdam chokes up. "He just means so much to me."
And so, many nights after he finishes his shift at The Bay, Rob McAdam drives over to Taché Centre, takes the elevator to the fourth floor and visits Jack Aron. It doesn't matter, really, whether he's awake or not.
"He always watched out for me," says McAdam. "He taught me how to be man and how to care for someone."
When he's ready, when the time is right, McAdam will be a fine Big Brother.
Jack Aron taught him that -- and so much more.
story source: www.winnipegfreepress.com
author: Lindor Reynolds
photo: BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS