Today is Father’s Day. All across America, dads are waking up to hugs from their babies, maybe a nice breakfast, and some presents. Lots of dads will be receiving t-shirts or hats with “Worlds Greatest Dad”, “#1 Dad”, or something else proclaiming how their dad is the absolute greatest.
The men wearing those shirts are frauds.
They have zero claim to the title of World’s Greatest Dad.
They do not have any idea of what it takes to truly earn that title. The sacrifice, the dedication, the long hours. Truly doing whatever it takes for your family.
What? You think I’m talking about me?
Yes, I like to think that I’m a pretty respectable parent. I don’t shy away from dirty diapers, puking kids, or wearing a pink princess crown if that is what my kids need. Truth be told, I’d like to think that I’m an above average dad. But this is so not about me.
I’m talking about a dad who inspires me.
I’m talking about Andy Hoffman.
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Most folks have no idea who Andy Hoffman is. But you may recognize his son. Here is a pretty good video of Andy’s son, Jack. (Jack is the one with the ball):
That’s pretty awesome, huh? Or as Jack described it “Super duper awesome”.
Maybe you’ve heard Jack’s story by now. If not, here is a quick recap, from a dad’s perspective:
Jack is your normal, everyday small town America kid. One day at breakfast, he’s noticeably not himself so you take him to the hospital. A short time later, the tumor in his brain causes him to have a massive seizure, which almost kills him. You realize your son may die. Today. Soon.
Brain surgery is performed on your young child, but they cannot remove all of the tumor. You hear a doctor tell you three words no parent should ever have to hear “inoperable brain tumor”. That tumor is now triggering multiple seizures a day – even with a cocktail of drugs which are supposed to help. After a visit with a specialist, a second brain surgery is scheduled.
The second brain surgery helps to end the seizures, but not all of the tumor is removed. When the tumor starts growing again, your son has to undergo a chemotherapy regime that takes sixty weeks* to complete.
*No, that is not a typo. Sixty weeks. Six-zero weeks. That is a horribly long time, especially when you haven’t been alive more than eight years. And that is not even the worst part: the course of treatment Jack Hoffman is undergoing is the exact same treatment that would have been prescribed for a tumor like Jack’s back in the 1980s. Let me repeat that: no advances have been made in the treatment of these pediatric cancers in almost 30 years.
I know – its downright heartbreaking to think that kids and their families are going through this. So let’s shift gears and talk about some good stuff. Besides, you may not know about how little Jack got to score that touchdown.
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Prior to that second brain surgery, Andy Hoffman wanted to do something for his son. He reached out to the University of Nebraska football team, and asked if Jack could meet with Rex Burkhead, Jack’s favorite player on his favorite team. I assume Andy Hoffman did this to try to boost Jack’s spirits. I also have a hunch that Andy Hoffman did this because he wasn’t sure how much time his son had left.
The NU athletic department is gracious enough to set up the meeting, and Rex kindly gives his time to meet Jack and his family. By all accounts, it was supposed to be a fairly short visit with Rex, but it ends up lasting several hours. But that’s not all. Rex and Jack hit it off, and a genuine friendship begins to grow between the little boy and his football hero. That friendship spreads to other members of the Nebraska football team who essentially adopt Jack as an honorary member over the next two seasons. Prior to one of the biggest games of the season, Jack and Rex helped lead the team out of the locker room for Nebraska’s storied Tunnel Walk.
Thanks in large part to Burkhead, Nebraska, and the press corps around the team, Jack Hoffman becomes a minor celebrity in Nebraska. Andy sees that they now have a platform to do something good – to hopefully make a positive out of the gigantic negative they face. And thus, Team Jack is formed.
At its core, Team Jack is all about raising money. But not for Jack’s treatments (which simply cannot be cheap). Andy Hoffman knows that it is not right for kids to have to under go 60 weeks of chemo. And he hates that his son has to undergo a course of treatment that was the exact same 20 years before his son was born. Andy Hoffman knows that must change. Medical science has made so many advances in the last 30 years that surely something can be done to improve the treatments or quality of life for kids with pediatric brain cancer. But those advancements or changes cannot come without research. And research is not cheap. So Team Jack is all about raising money for research.
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The thing that inspires me the most about Andy Hoffman is his attitude. You never hear him say “why me?” or bemoaned the horrible toll cancer is taking on his family. I cannot imagine the stress, the uncertainty, the expense, the heartache, and the fear caused by that tumor. My guess is that it would be paralyzing for most of us, myself included. I pray that I never have to find out.
Instead, Andy Hoffman and his family have stood up and fought back. Hard.
Team Jack is a full-on force of nature. They have a huge social media presence (Facebook and Twitter) and foundation’s website has a bunch of t-shirts plus hats and rubber bracelets for sale. I believe I have read that the family is doing most of the work for posting pictures and shipping orders, which I’m guessing is a full-time job.
More so, Andy Hoffman is tireless in his efforts to draw attention to the fact that treatments for pediatric brain cancer have not changed since Ronald Reagan was President and calls for more funding and more research. I love the story (linked here) about how Andy and Jack saw Senator Joe Lieberman in an airport. Andy respectfully approached the senator, shared his son’s story, and discussed the need for more research. After Jack scored his touchdown in the Nebraska Spring Game, the family was deluged with media requests. Every time that Andy Hoffman shares his family’s story, he is sure to point out the need for more research and funding for pediatric brain cancer.
I respect the hell out of that. Let’s face it, even if Team Jack is successful and research leads to new treatments or even a cure, Jack Hoffman likely will not benefit from that research. But Andy Hoffman is busting his ass to make sure that no other father has to go through the hell he has endured. And he’s doing it with a determined smile on his face.
Will Team Jack succeed? The odds are stacked against them, but bet against the Hoffmans at your own risk. A few months ago, the Hoffman family made a trip to Washington D.C. to meet President Obama (a visit arranged by another Senator that Andy has talked to, Senator Deb Fischer of Nebraska). You can be sure that Andy was in there tirelessly fighting for his son, and for all of the other sons and daughters who face pediatric brain cancer.
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My wife asked me earlier this week what I wanted for Father’s Day. To be honest, I have everything I need. My children are safe, healthy, and happy. I’m spending this weekend watching them laugh and play on a mini-vacation. Our family has been blessed, and I am thankful for that.
So really, there is only one thing that I could possibly ask for this year: A Team Jack “Believe” t-shirt. Because I believe that if a seven-year old can score a touchdown for Nebraska, then anything is possible.