Rarely a week goes by on www.scottdrotar.com where I do not post an article about my family and how great they are. I have written about my sister protecting me like a tigress watching over her cubs, the incredible sacrifices that my mom has made over the years to give me the opportunity to have the life I have always dreamed of, the unbreakable, indescribable bond between my brother and I, and the way my father refused to let my physical limitations prevent me from sharing his passion for sports. These posts, and countless others, have shown you how important my family is to me. While these four individuals who I am most closely linked to genetically will always have a special connection with me that no other relationship could ever come close to matching, that does not mean that there have not been other people in my life over the years that I would consider “family.” “Family,” and I mean family in a broader sense of the word, is so much more than biology and being genetically more similar to certain people than others. It is about sharing your day-to-day life with people, caring about their safety and happiness more than you do your own, and loving them in an unconditional, unquestioning way that is beyond words, yet you know it when you feel it. Relationships like this may not happen often outside of your actual family unit, but when they do, they can have an enormous impact on your life.
Whenever I think about my “family,” the first person that comes to mind is a close friend of my father’s, Ed. Ed initially entered into my world before I was even born as a lineman on one of my dad’s high school football teams many, many moons ago. After graduating and going off to college (ironically, to the same college as my father), Ed came back into my life (I was just a baby at this point) when he was hired as an assistant football coach under my dad, and eventually as a coworker of both my parents as a high school, English teacher. Even though my father and Ed were quite a bit different in age, their personalities and backgrounds were similar enough that they quickly became very good friends. For the entirety of my childhood growing up, Ed was always a big part of my life. We celebrated holidays together, he would babysit my siblings and I, and he even learned a lot of my care related to my disability. One year he even went with us on a road trip to Disneyworld for a “family” vacation, and if spending 22 hours in a car with three kids that are not your own does not make you “family,” I do not know what does.
Ed was like an “uncle” or “big brother” to me throughout my childhood, and during this time he taught me so many things about life and happiness that I still carry with me today. By living his life with a fun-loving attitude and smile on his face, he showed me that, even as an adult, it is alright to be a “big kid” sometimes. He also taught me that it is alright to like things that people think are uncool, childish, or geeky, through his love for things like “Speed Racer” and the television series, “Highlander” (he even had a replica of Duncan’s katana). Ed was a rather large man (he was often referred to as “Big Ed”), and while he was not unattractive by any means, he was definitely not a Calvin Klein model either. By getting to see him date women over the years, I learned that even though I am in a wheelchair, have a trache, and look different from what is generally considered physically “attractive,” that does not mean I cannot date beautiful women. He even taught me about how to approach and speak to women (or as he would always say “pick up hot babes”) with confidence and charm, because I have a lot to offer and the worst that can happen is they politely say no. Much to my mother’s dismay, Ed also told me that it was important to be a little rebellious sometimes, by taking me to see movies that my parents would not allow and sneaking me CDs of music with lyrics they would not approve of (he gave me a Kid Rock album in a Bon Jovi CD case for Christmas one year). And of course, the most important thing he imparted upon me was the delicate art of creating the perfect, chocolate milkshake (even John Travolta would agree that it is worth at least $5).
By far the most valuable thing that Ed brought to my life though was his role as a constant in my life, a “safety net,” that I knew was always there for me. I knew without a doubt that I could go to him with any problem I was having that I could not go to my parents with, and he would give me whatever help and guidance I needed. I felt this way because, just like the four members of my immediate family, we had been together for so long that we had forged a strong, unwavering connection. We had seen each other at our best, like when he won a trip to Vegas at a golf competition or when I gave my valedictorian’s speech to my high school class. We had also seen each other at our worst, like when I nearly died and got my trache or when he had some medical issues and found out he was diabetic. We had spent hours in a car together, gotten each other out of trouble, and probably more often, gotten each other into trouble, but throughout it all we always knew we had each other’s back, no matter what. Just like a toddler wants to know that their parent is sitting nearby before exploring their environment, Ed being a constant source of comfort in my life helped me expand my horizons. Having the knowledge that, if I needed it, someone was there to catch me if I fell, gave me the confidence to break some rules, take some risks, and live a full, exciting life.
Ed, or “Falcon Eddie” as I would call him, is definitely someone that is as much a part of my “family” as anyone else. While my parents, siblings, and I will always have a special connection with each other that is more powerful than any other, it is not because of blood or genetics. This unbreakable, familial bond is so special because of the time we have spent together, the memories we have created, and the unconditional love that we share. Since my immediate family has been a part of everything in my life, we share the strongest connection, but other “family” members, like Ed, who have been constants in my life are not far behind. Who in your own life would you consider “family?” Take the time to think about these people, and how much they have meant to you. Make sure that these individuals, who have had such a huge impact on your life, are aware of how you feel about them, because it is important to tell your “family” how much you love them. This is so important, since in the blink of an eye it could be too late, and you do not want to miss your chance to share your feelings with these major influences on your success. Telling them how you feel will not just bring happiness to their life, but it will also remind you of all of the happiness that they have brought to yours, which is what family is all about.