Mike is a youth worker in the Crisis Shelter at Covenant House Toronto. He also is the co-founder and facilitator of Fathers Supporting Fathers, a group where youth workers who are also dads mentor young fathers.
The night I met James, there was a terrible storm and it was pouring outside. It was a few years ago, shortly after I first started as a youth worker at Covenant House. It was time for the youth to head up to bed for the night. While on the boys’ floor, two other members of the staff and I were checking the halls as the youth prepared to go to sleep. I saw James hanging around. He was a new youth to Covenant House, and I had not met him yet. He was a sad looking young man, who seemed as if life had defeated him.
James approached me looking scared and confused. He asked to speak to me in private and I remember how his voice shook with every word. He was obviously not in a good space as he gathered his thoughts, and let me into his world. As a new youth worker, I had never dealt with a serious situation before. I’m not ashamed to admit I was nervous as we spoke in the staircase. James shared with me his thoughts on losing his parents in a car crash and how he felt killing himself might be a final way to deal with the pain he had felt inside for so long.
I quickly tried to remember my studies at college. We took counselling, but what really prepares a worker for that first moment when life gets “real”? James explained that with all the loss he had dealt with, he felt alone and incapable of happiness. I listened carefully to James as he talked about foster homes and abuse. I made sure to just listen. It was about an hour after my shift had ended. James and I began to walk around the boys’ floor, which is built like a giant square that you can walk around. As a worker, I know it’s always best to never use examples from your own life, but as we walked and talked, it was apparent that he and I had some similarities in our upbringing.
James and I talked about everything two new friends could talk about, from life to relationships. We spoke about the future and even the possibility of fatherhood one day. We shared some of our experiences with one another and I was even able to make James laugh a few times. At the end of our conversation, I shared the fact that I love being a father and it changed my life. I also shared with him that I felt the best moment of my life was when I held my son for the first time. He began to cry and he said “thank you”. I asked him for what and he told me that he hadn’t cried in a long time. It was the first time in a long while that he felt something. As I left work that night, I realized that I had been walking and talking to him for three memorable hours.
The next morning, James left Covenant House and never came back. I would often think about whether he was OK. One of the hardest parts of being a youth worker is that we don’t always get to see if we’ve made an impact on many of the young people’s lives we work with. We hope they’re alright, and we have faith that they’ve moved on to brighter days.
Last month, I was walking to work, coffee in hand, ready for another day. I heard someone call my name and turned around to see James standing there with a huge grin on his face pushing a stroller. James was a few years older and that look of sadness was gone. He looked incredibly happy as he told me he was a new father. He then reached into the stroller and pulled out a beautiful baby boy. He had such a proud look as he held his son. I’m not the most emotional person in the world, but I must admit that when James asked me to hold his son, I was overcome with this happy feeling. I felt like it was moments just like this that make my job so amazing.
Before we left, James shook my hand and thanked me for walking with him that night. He also thanked me for taking the time to care for a complete stranger. I told him I was glad to have met him and to come find me if he ever needed anything for his baby. Before he walked away, he told me that holding his son was also the greatest moment of his life.