Privacy is a privilege in the city.
With how close we are to others, it isn’t unusual to know the nasty details of our neighbors. Sure, we pretend like we don’t hear their fights and don’t know their flaws, but we do, and it’s why we are so susceptible to the game of gossip here on Roosevelt’s little rock.
But if we dig a bit deeper, open up our homes a bit more often, and bump back against an individualistic society that says “that person’s” story is none of my business, we may actually get beyond the negative and instead discover another man, woman, or kid fighting to live a life of meaning.
For example, let me introduce you to the Russian referee.
I wasn’t looking for some way to spin the story, but I got one within the first 5 minutes of asking questions. As Ali Islam, the well-known waiter of Trellis brought us our breakfast, I asked Andrey Ganeev the simple question,
“Tell me about your father. Is he around?”
Andrey quickly added "No, and if he was, I would have some words for him".
As a child, Andreys dad left his mom early on. He never knew him, but after years of trying to survive the chaotic cultural waters of high school he found himself embraced, accepted, and even respected by a group of men working for the YMCA.
Without hesitation Andrey was able to list them off to me.
There was Warren J. Danbridge, Alex Linton, and on and on and on the list went.
These men….They stepped in.
When there was no male role model, when there was no father, at a fork in the road moment a few men stepped in.
They stepped in to affirm dignity.
The stepped in to replace loneliness with community.
They stepped in to redeem something they knew they didn’t want to see go to waste.
They stepped in during a pivotal season with a belief in the capacity of a young Russian kid being raised by a tenacious UN mother.
Speaking of stepping in, Andrey’s mother like many single mom’s on the island stepped in, carrying the additional responsibilities you must carry as a single parent. And she carried them well.
Again, and again, and again, Andrey spoke of adults like his mother and a slew of men, coaches, mentors, teachers, and neighbors who stepped in.
Let’s face it, we live in a time and place where on a day to day basis the majority step around instead of stepping in.
Kids are often viewed as baggage, barriers, and even a nuisance when navigating the ambitious landscape of NYC. High School students are looked down upon and pushed aside.
But not these adults. They stepped in.
And as a response…now Andrey does as well.
I don’t know if you know Andrey, but I’m guessing you’ve run into him here on Roosevelt Island.
He’s the wiry Russian, setting up bases at 8AM for little league.
He’s the one guy moving goals after everyone else has gone home.
He’s the coach, the ref, the after school counselor, the tutor, the teacher, the man behind the scenes when one is needed, and the guy up front when parents have complaints.
And the guy loves his sports, but I’m starting to wonder how much more he loves the next generation that he has stepped in for.
On an island where many fathers are not around, (whether seasonally or permanently), Andrey is one of the few that has stepped in. And he is no savior, but I’m guessing he has the same ability to change the trajectory of kid's lives in the same way a few helped changed the trajectory of his.
It’s a redemptive story. It's a story of learner; A learner who is fiercely paving a different path for his future and the future of others.
And so here is to the Russian Referee who has stepped in for kids in sports and at school for the past 3 years.
May we show the same resilience as his single mother, the same timeliness as his male mentors, and the same ability to learn from the pain of the past, to pave a legacy leaving future for ourselves and the next generation.