After a little boy’s dad was deployed, the 5-year-old showed up on his neighbors’ doorstep. As they opened the door, he asked one question they knew they couldn’t ignore. The man of the house quickly headed outside behind the young man to take care of some business.
Brian Kelly of Belleville, Illinois, was just 5 years old when his dad Dan was deployed with the United States Air Force. As is often the case, the deployment was tough on the youngster who missed his dad. He longed for all the things they did together, including riding the lawnmower while the two tackled the yard work, according to ABC News.
“He loves John Deere,” Barbara Kelly said of her young son Brian, who wants to be a “lawnmower man” when he grows up. “He gave his dad a John Deere shirt before he deployed because he loves lawn care. He told me, ‘Let Brian know I’m wearing my John Deere shirt,’ and I told him, and he just smiled. The picture of them on the lawnmower wearing the shirt was the last picture I took of Brian and my husband before he deployed.”
While missing his dad, something at the neighbor’s house caught the little boy’s attention. So, he showed up on their doorstep with one simple question for Dean Cravens. As Dean headed outside to address Brian’s request, his daughter Molly snapped some photos, which she posted on social media. “This is our little neighbor. His dad is deployed … every day he comes to the door asking to work with our dad. Appreciate today,” she wrote on Twitter.
Little Brian rang the doorbell after seeing Dean outside doing yard work, and the boy was desperate to be included. Dean knew he had to comply, and the two quickly became inseparable, heading out nearly every day to do yard work together. “He eats something, then comes over … to see if I can do yard work,” Dean said, according to BND. “He doesn’t ask if I can come out and play. He wants to know if I can do yard work.”
“When he sees me with my trimmers, he’d always come over and talk to me about it. He’s a hard worker,” Dean said of little Brian. “When his dad left, he’d have more time on his hands, and he’d come over and ring the doorbell. He’d ask if I could come out and play. Originally, he’d ask to do more yard work, and I thought, ‘Well, let’s do other things too,’ so we play catch, we’ll be shooting the ball, working on my golf swing.”
Although Brian and Dean’s friendship started to develop shortly after the family moved into their home the previous year, they bonded much more during Dan’s absence since Brian missed his dad so much. The new relationship isn’t only fun for Brian, either. Dean, who has three daughters, enjoys it too. Beyond yard work, Dean, a former athletic director at Cathedral Grade School in Belleville, is helping Brian with his batting.
“I appreciate it a lot. I love kids and being with them. When I see they’re not having fun, I’m not,” Dean said. “I like to coach and teach them because you get to see them learn. I don’t have a son. I have three daughters, and we’ve had a great time, but it’s fun to be around a boy. It’s different.”
Although communication with her husband is extremely limited while he’s overseas, Barbara had no doubt Brian’s dad would be grateful his son has had a role model and friend to make him smile while he’s gone. “Brian knows that no one is going to replace his father. The bond between a father and son, it’s just unbreakable,” she said.
“If that was me, I would be happy that my child is smiling and has someone to look up to and be there for them until I get back,” Barbara continued. “When Dan gets back, Brian’s going to cry and run to him with open arms.”
This was the first time Daniel Kelly, a captain in the Air Force, had been away from his family for a long period, according to his wife. Brian, being the youngest of three, took it the hardest. But, thanks to the compassion shown by his neighbor Dean, the distance from his father was a little less tough for Brian to endure.
“I don’t take any of this for granted,” Barbara Kelly said, sharing her appreciation. “Dean is sincere. It comes from his heart. This is nothing he felt obligated to do. Dean is definitely a blessing to our family.”
Dean Cravens and the friendship he offered Brian helped fill the gap the boy was experiencing with his father’s absence, and all it took was time together. Even just pulling weeds and trimming hedges can be meaningful. It really makes you appreciate things we often take for granted. Time together, regardless of what you might be doing, is often all we need to help heal a void.