"Thank you, Tim Tebow!"
-- Gabe Shanoff, age 4.
My son's eyes were wide, disbelieving.
His 4th birthday was yesterday. It was an exhausting day, including a party for his 30 day-care classmates. It was 8:30 last night, and we had just finished sorting through the party clean-up and had just finished opening the last of his endless mound of gifts. I told him I had a surprise. Like any 4-year-old, he was intrigued.
He sat on the couch in between my wife and me, and I flipped on my computer. I opened a video file. My son saw the screengrab. Do you know who that is?, I asked. "Tim Tebow," he giggled.
Then I pushed "play" on the video.
Hi, Gabe. This is Tim Tebow, quarterback for the University of Florida...
I wasn't watching the screen. I was watching my son's face. His eyes went wide and he got this grin -- one of shock mixed with genuine delight -- on his face.
On-screen, Tebow continued on for another 10 seconds or so, wishing Gabe a happy birthday, along with some other extraordinarily pleasant messages: Have a great day, hope to meet you someday, your dad rules*, go Gators...
When it was over, Gabe spontaneously spoke directly to the computer, as if Tebow was on a Skype webcam actually talking to him live: "Thank you, Tim Tebow!"
As much as Tebow's message might have meant to Gabe, it was a priceless moment for me and my wife as parents, to see Gabe's reaction.
It is precisely why, in a moment of self-indulgence, I asked Tebow to record it for Gabe three weeks ago when I met him (and why I was grateful to Tebow for so enthusiastically agreeing to do it).
As any parent knows -- especially any relatively new parent -- the urge to do almost anything for your kid is overwhelming. It is more powerful than any drug, that moment when you see your kid happy, particularly from something you helped to do.
I could easily resist the temptation to ask Tebow, say, to sign something for me, because that was for me. But I simply couldn't resist asking him to do something for my kids. And I want to believe that my pure parental motivation was part of Tebow's enthusiastic participation in the video, although I know he is that generous with his greetings in almost every situation. We have all seen or heard about these more-frequent-than-you'd-expect moments where Tebow does something nice for a fan. It was fascinating to see it not just up close, but involving me. (In that way, I can almost justify asking as part of understanding the Tebow experience.)
Was it entirely pure? Again, as most parents can testify, many of the things you do for your kids are projections of your own interests -- especially when it comes to sports fandom, which is why you buy team stuff for kids too young to know any better. For example, I'm not asking Nick Saban to record a birthday video for my kid. But Gabe and his brother have about a dozen Gator T-shirts and jerseys.
We are a Gator family. And Gabe is a Gator kid. (One of his first T-shirts was one reading "Gator Gabe," custom-ordered by his aunt and uncle.) Born in the spring of 2006, one of Gabe's first words was "Tebow," but likely only because I kept yelling it out at the TV and tackling him every time Tebow scored a touchdown. (In the fall of 2007, that was quite a few tackles.)
But a few years later, Gabe has started to develop his own mind about these things -- his Gator/Tebow fandom is partly a nudge from his parents/grandparents, but on another level, entirely "his." So "Hi Gabe, this is Tim Tebow..." was fun for his parents, but it was his, too.
For my kid, the video was an incredible, barely believable treat -- for me, the treat was watching him watch the video.
So that would be a "Thank you, Tim Tebow" from both of us.
* - Not really, but kinda!