INDIANAPOLIS | With a military commitment that keeps him away much more than home, Bob Little didn't have the chance to go to many of son Joey's football games at Portage.
"I think he's seen three, at the most, since eighth grade," Joey said. "People thought my grandfather was my dad."
Thanks to a fortunate change in his orders, the 18-year Navy Sea Bee was in the North Central High School stands Friday for what may well be Joey's last game, watching the Grange North-South All-Star Classic.
Bob didn't have to be a sports enthusiast -- and he's not -- to savor the moment.
"This meant everything," Bob said. "It's difficult with the military. Most of the time he plays, I'm gone. The next I'm back, he'll be in college. I'm very proud of him, how he finished.
"The biggest thing he learned was to finish what he started. Don't quit. Ever. Whatever he does, he does 100 percent."
Joey dealt with a bad back his last two years at Portage so it wasn't always easy to see things through. Friday's experience certainly made it all worth it. There's a slight chance he may walk on at the University of Indianapolis for football at some point.
There's a better chance the shot put state qualifier could join the Greyhounds track team down the road. More likely than either, he'll get his degree.
"It was awesome, especially this type of game, traveling here, the best against the best, doing what I do," he said. "I wouldn't say I didn't miss (my dad) being at games, but he was out doing his job as a father, working, making money to pay the bills."
Growing up so much on his own, Joey had to take on a lot of responsibility at a young age. One time, he didn't clean his room and Bob tossed everything into a garbage bag. There was no second time.
Friends might wonder when he talks about his desire to get a job and make a good living, but it's the lifestyle to which he's become accustomed.
"It makes you more independent," he said. "If something would come up, I'd have to take care of the situation. I'm 18 and I'm already grown up."
Their closest connection is through the construction work they have done together.
"He never pressured me," Joey said. "All he'd ask me was, 'Are you having fun?', which was great for me."
If this was indeed Joey's last athletic endeavor, he can walk away satisfied.
"Representing the region, being the only one representing Portage, it shows that the hard work really does pay off," he said. "Win or lose."
Bob will leave Sunday as part of his Naval Mobile Construction Battalion for nearly two months in Mount Hope, W. Va. Come December, the veteran of Desert Storm expects to be deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq.
"He manages himself more like a man every day," he said of Joey. "I don't know how he turned out so well, but he did."
This column represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.