Big-hearted gentle giant was surrogate father for siblings
Student changed diapers, cooked breakfast for his siblings while their mother worked three jobs
Published: Wednesday, July 11, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, July 11, 2012 13:07
For years, TimothyLee “Tim” Sarzoza put his brother JoePatrick and sister Diamond to bed early. When his mother came in late, tired and aching from working three jobs, he massaged her feet.
He would ask her about her day, and if she didn’t need anything else, he went to bed.
He would wake up only hours later to cook breakfast for his siblings and walk them to school, sometimes at the expense of being late to his own classes.
Tim, 16, has risen from childhood to father figure in his siblings’ lives. He wears his past like a soldier wears a medal, with a confidence unseen in many young adults.
“I grew up a hard life,” Tim said. “Not harder than anyone else’s, but I’ve been taking care of people for a long time.”
Growing up, Tim’s family was among the 24 percent of families across the country with a single mother. His father left when Tim could hardly walk and his brother was a newborn.
His mother took on three jobs to support her small children. A year later, his sister was born and Tim, at 3 years old, learned to change diapers.
“I would make sure they were OK,” he said.
Anna Rose Aguirre, chief operating officer of SA Youth, said she has met a lot of children and teens in similar situations.
“We see that a lot,” she said. “That’s why we have drop-out prevention (programs). Young people quit school to support their parents. And in both older teens and in children, we see them taking care of younger siblings.”
As the three Sarzoza children reached the days of elementary school, of crayons, times tables and packed lunches, Tim took on even greater obligations to his siblings. He saw to it that they showered, did their homework, got to bed early and that Joe-Patrick stayed out of trouble.
At age 10, Tim discovered football and credits his coaches with keeping him out of trouble.
“They don’t have to be there, but they are,” Tim said of the men who acted as his mentors. “My coaches acted like a father. Taught me right and wrong.”
Chris Salazar, a former Marine who also raised himself, was Tim’s first coach. Salazar said he treated every kid exactly the same, no matter his background or past.
“I saw broken homes,” he said, “but nobody got any special treatment.”
When Tim first started football at age 10, he was heavy for his age and timid, Salazar said.
“When it came to playing football, he was not so confident,” the coach said.
Salazar said he did his best to inspire Tim and the whole team.
“I told them, ‘hey, don’t give up,’” Salazar said. “Shoot for the stars. I really coached more about life than about football.”
Tim grew close to Salazar and his family, visiting the coach’s house for family barbecues. Salazar would be among many coaches in Tim’s life who became his mentor and filled an unoccupied role in his life.
His dad wasn’t there when he should have been, Tim said, but his coaches provided support.
They provided him with free jerseys and sponsored him so he could play football.
Aguirre advocates for this type of a role in the life of any child, but especially those in San Antonio Youth’s targeted “deepest pockets of poverty.”
“It’s good for these kids to have a consistent adult,” she said.
Tim has stayed in school and will be a junior at Lanier High School in the fall, but it hasn’t been easy. As a sophomore, he worked part time at a convenience store near his house, sometimes working until midnight or 1 a.m.
The tension in his household became too much for Tim. His mother remarried a few years ago, and he felt out of place.
“Sometimes, I gave my mom a hard time,” Tim said. “I was frustrated. I felt like she was beating me up.”
He moved in with a friend from school for a few months and was supporting himself. He made phone calls home to his mom, but it was “kind of depressing” to be so displaced.
“I don’t ask for money,” Tim said. “How I grew up, I feel I don’t have to depend on her. I’d rather them be using the money on” his brother, now 14, and his sister, now 13.
Tim plays football at Lanier High School and hopes his skill on the field might translate into a scholarship, but if not, he’s interested in becoming an auto mechanic and doing body work.
He says people tell him to be a politician or a preacher, but his ideas are more homegrown.
“I want to do what I love, and then if I’ve fulfilled my dreams, I want to teach others. I want to tell them to respect their parents, and ask them: ‘How hard do you want it?’ You’ve got to keep on trying. I have sympathy for everybody and anybody. If you’re making money, your time is going to come to give to someone who needs it.”