The Paea Family In The Land of Dreams
Brian Brooks, Beavers OSR
CORVALLIS, OR - It’s been a long time since Ben Paea has been home. And he’s not complaining. There are two wonderful, exciting reasons for his open-ended sabbatical from the life he knows in American Samoa:
1) His son, Stephen Paea, is getting an education and playing football at the sport’s highest level.
2) Ben Paea loves his kid.
Since Stephen came to the United States with his mother and siblings midway through high school, he has come to excel in the sport of football much like he had done in rugby back home. And for the last several weeks, his father has been able to come along for the ride – putting his life back home on hold, at least temporarily.
Ben is fairly easy to spot even amongst the 40,000+ crowd at Reser. You’ll see him in the lower rows of Section 14, wearing his orange handwritten Stephen Paea #54 t-shirt. You’ll also see him proudly holding up his big #54 fan sign, adorned in both Beaver Orange and patriotic red, white and blue. It is a sign crafted and laminated with such care that he now counts the staff at Kinko’s among his new American friends.
He says Stephen is very appreciative of the opportunity Oregon State has given him to get an education and showcase his skills to NFL teams, calling it a blessing from heaven. “He knows he has to earn his scholarship by being the best he can be – in football and the classroom. But that’s one thing I didn’t really have to teach him.”
“He was so unhappy, crying,” said Ben. Number two in his class, and the young boy was inconsolable. Stephen felt he had earned the top spot. Ben did his best to make things better – telling Stephen how proud he was, and giving him two cans of orange soda and a package of biscuits to ease the pain.
“I told him, when you’re out there, you must do two things,” said Ben. “Keep your eyes wide open – real big, like fifty-cent pieces – and run like hell.”
Ben tells me Stephen was skinny – and fast – as a young boy. A skinny Stephen Paea may be a surprise, but the part about being fast isn’t. For all of his recently-added bulk, Stephen is still quick on his feet and can build up quite a head of steam when he gets going in the open field.
The other advice he imparted to his son was more philosophical and, literally, from the heart – like a parable or a passage from Confucius:
“I would tell Stephen how you need to pump up your heart. It’s like when you’re sleeping, your heart isn’t beating as hard – it’s resting, too. But when you work, and work hard, your heart needs to get larger, to pump faster.” It was obvious the subtext of his message had nothing to do with physiology.
Ben seems to have taken to an understanding of American football as quickly as Stephen has taken to playing the game in less than four years. But now, as he relishes his remaining time with his son in Oregon, he finds himself refraining from giving what he feels may be too much advice.
“I need to be careful,” he said. “Stephen needs to listen to his coaches now, and I can’t get in the way of that.”
Stopping a father from giving advice, however, is like stopping a runaway freight train with fishing line. Ben knew enough about football to know the Beavers weren’t yet playing like a team in Happy Valley. He didn’t think they were losing like one, either. “I saw guys sitting there, heads down, not talking to each other. You can’t win like that.”
After the Penn State game, Ben picked his spot and took the opportunity of a dark moment to share words his son will likely remember long after the father returns home:
“This is just like rugby, Stephen. I know you lost. But now is when you need to bring your team together. Encourage them.”
It’s a big thing to ask a sophomore and team newcomer to assume a leadership role. But Ben knew his advice was taken to heart one week later, after the opening possession of the Hawaii contest when the Warriors marched straight downfield and scored a touchdown.
When asked specifically about the idea of Stephen playing in the NFL, Ben replies, “Of course, that would just be an incredible dream come true for the whole family. But this is already a dream, and we are already so blessed.”
Our conversation ended along with that day’s practice. As the players left the field Ben stretched out his arm, turned the video camera around, and captured a few seconds of the two of us sitting in the mostly empty stadium. I considered it quite an honor, and didn’t feel at all worthy of inclusion in his chronicle of the family dream.
Eyes as big as fifty-cent pieces. Runnin’ like hell.