Photo Courtesy of WWMT (pictured: Mason and “Fake Bob” aka “Replacement Bob”
Until now, I’ve never known what it was like to be “trending” on Facebook. Until Tuesday, January 16, 2018, I haven’t ever been interviewed by journalists with a camera in my home and a bright light shining in my face.
And it was all because of a little horse named “Bob” and the three year old who captured the hearts of over a thousand people on Facebook.
In my English classes, I have talked about the power of the word and (with the help of social media) my wife and I have seen that firsthand.
I am getting ahead of myself. Let me take you back to early January…
My wife, sons (Mason and Miles), and I traveled to Grand Blanc, Michigan, to visit my mom in a hospital. She had gotten ill and was admitted to the hospital for an ongoing illness. She was there for awhile and it the new year had seen some hardships, so I wanted to be there for my mother.
As we disembarked from the van, Mason (3 years old) wanted to take his best friend, “Bob”, a well loved (in other words “worn” and “beaten”) toy horse into the hospital. My wife, Jennifer, warned him that Bob was his responsibility. He had to make certain that Bob was able to go in, see Grandma, and get out without getting lost. Mason, ever the dutiful boy, nodded his head and gave a solemn oath of keeping tabs on Bob.
Needless to say, Bob was lost.
Somewhere between the parking lot and riding the elevator up to see his grandmother, Little Bob was nowhere to be seen.
We visited with my mother for about two hours so it was already dark by the time we were ready to go. On the ride down the elevator, Jennifer asked me “Do you have Bob?” Of course, I replied in the negative. Both of us, looking crestfallen, asked the same question of Mason, to which we already knew the answer, but felt obligated to ask anyway.
When Mason replied in the way that no parent would like to hear, we panicked. We scoured the parking lot, the entryway, and the fourth floor (the floor of my mom’s room).
Since we had our infant in the car seat and I was holding the heavy seat, Jennifer took responsibility for the loss and felt horrible. I told her that it was Mason’s responsibility, as well, but that didn’t stop the mutual pain that we felt for losing the treasured horse.
A little background on Bob:
Bob was the first toy that Mason picked out for himself. At a local Barnes and Noble, the family took a then year and a half Mason to the bookstore and told him he could pick out any toy he wanted. His eyes immediately fell on a little tan and brown horse made out of fabric that felt like shag carpeting.
Those two were inseparable. Bob was with Mason during bedtime. Bob was with Mason during dinner time. I won’t even go into the debacle that occurred during bath times.
Roughly a year later, on a girl’s trip that Jennifer took with her mother, Mason approached me and showed the toy horse to me. He said, “This is Bob.”
“Bob?” I replied.
“Yeah.” He smiled proudly, as if he just came up with that name before anyone else ever did.
That afternoon I informed Jennifer of the horse’s new name.
So, at three years of age, Bob was Mason’s best friend.
Photo Courtesy of Circa News
As such, to look down from the fourth floor as my wife held our son while he looked at the floor in the entryway to the hospital was one of the worst moments of my life. I continued to ask any person I saw: custodial crew members, doctors, nurses, security, and the volunteer staff that worked the front desk.
All to no avail.
Bob was gone and we had gone over every square inch of that hospital (or at least the two floors that we were on).
It was after ten pm and my wife, Mason, and I were tired. Miles, trooper that he was, stayed in his car seat sleeping (oblivious to the entire ordeal). We went to Culver’s a nearby burger joint, where Mason threw a fit of epic proportions, and after that, it was a two hour drive through a wintry mess back to the Grand Rapids area.
My wife, distraught by the event, typed a post on Facebook, and tagged every friend who lived in the mid-Michigan area. This post was heart-wrenching and included pictures of Mason holding his best friend. She told me she was doing it and even had me read through the post. Little did we know that the post would be shared over a thousand times (well over 500 shares in two days).
Each day since, for roughly a week, someone would post (and re-post) our thread. Concerns about Bob were growing. Each day, Mason would ask about Bob and then stop himself. “Oh, I forgot. Bob is gone”.
Word was spreading, and with each passing day, Jennifer and I were cautiously optimistic. We talked each day about how people were expressing their concerns about Mason and Bob. Across the state of Michigan, we would receive invitations from people to send us a “replacement Bob”. We were inundated with advice as to how to “stress” the toy to make it look like “real Bob.” About a half a year ago, we bought a toy horse that was identical to Bob, when Mason lost him the first time. We gave him the toy and Mason replied with a sneer. “That’s not Bob.”
My amazing wife had told Mason several times that since we were at the hospital, Bob was able to find a sick child who may have needed him more than Mason did. Mason took this story and held onto it. So, when he remembers Bob is missing, he is quick to comfort himself that another child has his best friend. And with that, Bob is not just a toy, but an ideal.
Nevertheless, the search continued. The good people at the hospital were diligent about the search for Bob, but they could not find him. The people at the Security station, the doctors, nurses, public relations department were very helpful and we got reports from people daily.
A television station in Kalamazoo, Michigan (WWMT) wanted to do a story on us. At first, it started with an online article. After that, it turned into an interview. My wife and I are quite camera shy, but Mason inevitably blossomed. He spoke from the heart and told of his hope for Bob’s return. “I posted it on Facebook and texted it on the website.” He spoke of his interest in working out and proceeded to do pushups, burpees, and hand stands while the camera captured everything. The interview was aired in Flint, Saginaw, Bay City, Kalamazoo, Alpena, and several other places across the state. Then, it was shown in San Antonio, Texas, Little Rock, Arkansas, and other places. A generous person even sent Mason a toy zebra, which made all of our day. This zebra sits where Bob used to sit, waiting for the lost horse to return.
Finally, on a cold Friday, I went to the front desk and was met by security. They told me that the search was still going on. Soon after my meeting with them, my wife got a call from a marketing representative for the hospital. A good Samaritan found Bob and returned him to the front desk. While the volunteer was on the phone taking a call, someone claimed Bob within seconds of being dropped off. Jennifer and I were heartbroken. We had to tell Mason.
Perhaps it was his age and the fact that kids bounce back very quickly. Perhaps he has an indomitable spirit. Perhaps he is a realist and knows (somehow) that he needs to move on. Mason took the horrible news with good stride. However, in the dead of night when he is struck by nightmares, he still calls out for Bob.
Once again, I am struck with just how amazing my son is. Of course, as a father I am very biased by this, but many people were struck by Mason’s plight. The outpouring of support that we have received via social media and email has been humbling (to say the least). My wife and I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has reached out to us, Genesys (and its staff) for their tireless efforts, and friends, family, and Mason’s “fans” out there who have been so gracious with their time to give us their love and sympathy.
And to Bob, if you are reading this, we know if you are gone, then you are helping to enrich the life of some other child in the same way that you did with Mason.