Nation e-Edition

Football star wants to meet Bajan dad

Andrew Harris, a Canadian football star, is eager to get to know his Barbadian father. (Internet images)

By Tony Best | Sun, December 30, 2012 - 12:03 AM

Andrew Harris may not be known to Barbadian sports fans, but to millions of Canadians, he is the star running back for the BC Lions, a championship team in Canada’s (Gridiron) Football League.

Today the 25-year-old professional who grew up in Winnipeg and was raised by a single mum, who often worked two jobs to put bread on the table for her son, makes a six-figure salary, lives very well and is engaged in a sport he enjoys.

But despite his stardom, popularity and legions of adoring fans, there is a missing chapter in the story of his life: the love of his Bajan father, a man he has never met and who in turn probably doesn’t know he has a famous son.

“It’s not something I like to talk about too much,” Harris told the Vancouver Sun, a leading Canadian paper. “But I would like to meet him, if that day comes.”

The football star, who is exploring his Bajan and Canadian roots and wants to establish some bonds with a side of his family he doesn’t know, readily acknowledges the information deficit when it comes to the man he was never able to call “daddy” face-to-face.

“He was a cricket player from Barbados and a pretty good one,” said Harris. “I think he was on their national team. I don’t know anything about cricket. I don’t know anything about the rules. I don’t know if he knows I even exist. It’s tough.”

But he is convinced that his father’s genes, his athletic prowess on the field of sport, have played a part in his life.

“I guess I come from an interesting gene pool,” he said.

Harris’ mother Carlene Boivin, a social worker in Winnipeg who helps intellectually challenged youth find their place in society, comes from a family with the blood of sports running through their veins. An uncle, Don Ross, played Canadian style professional football, not soccer, in the 1950s. He was on the BC Lions team and when his playing days were over, he turned from sport to politics, eventually becoming Mayor of Surrey in British Columbia and served from 1980 to 1988.

“A cricket player on one side (of the family) and a football player on the other,” Harris mused the other day. “I guess that’s helped me get to where I am today.”

The absence of his father in his life meant that he had to turn to others to fill in the blanks when he was a teenager. For example, Hadi Abassi, owner of the Vancouver Island Raiders, a junior team for which Harris played as a 17-year-old in the British Columbia Football Conference, became his surrogate dad. The team’s coach Matthew “Snoop” Blokker played the role of an uncle, and Hamead Rashid, the general manager, was like a big brother, so to speak.

“When your child leaves home at a young age, you want to make sure he’s in good hands,” said Harris’ mother. “Those men treated him like family. It probably was the first time in his life Andrew felt he was part of a family.”

The football player agreed with his mother, saying his early playing days with the Vancouver Island Raiders gave him the first real chance to have a strong father figure in his life and it helped to guide him and nourish his playing ability on the football field.

Before the turn of the 21st century, Andrew had set his sights on a career in professional football after forsaking his first love, ice hockey, a game he took up before he was ten years old.

“I was fast. I used to win the fastest skating competitions when I got older. I could score goals and I like to stick my nose in there,” he recalled in an interview with  the Vancouver Sun. “I would lead my team in points and penalty minutes.”

His mum has fond memories of her child in the ice hockey rink, particulary in his first season when he scored 130 goals, darting after pucks, checking his opponents and hitting the corners. Looking back on it, she sees the quickness of his hockey days now reflected in football.

“Andrew always excelled at any sport he attempted,” said Boivin. “I don’t think I ever saw him lose a [face-off]. When he got older, teams from Western Hockey League and the Manitoba Junior League started to show some interest.”

How come he didn’t pursue a career in hockey? It came down to money, Andrew explained. His mother just didn’t have the funds to buy the expensive gear needed by young players.

“The fees, the equipment, the travel expenses,” he pointed out. “I don’t know how a lot of families today who can afford it.”

Had things been different, Harris’ name would be listed among those of several sons of Bajan immigrant parents who made it all the way to the National Hockey League – Kevin Weeks, Anson Carter and Peter Worrell included.

But if there is a lesson Andrew has learned from his own experience with his father, it is building a bond with his own child Hazel, who was born when he was 20 years old. To ensure that he has a role in her life, Andrew has purchased a condo in Winnipeg to be near his daughter, never mind that his relationship with the chld’s mother is a thing of the past. The four-year-old sees her father on the television screen playing for the BC Lions and  shouts “daddy” as he runs past defenders.

“Now that she’s older, there’s such a bigger bond between us,” Andrew said. “We spend a lot of time every week talking on the phone. It’s tough being away from her, but football is the life I have chosen.”

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