40-year match celebrated by Big Brothers Big Sisters

Big Brother Andy Pawlyk, left, and Little Brother Chris Sellathamby, right, are joined by Big Brothers Big Sisters of Lacombe and District Executive Director Crystal Zens for a picture during the BBBS Great Big Christmas Dinner and Awards at the Lacombe Memorial Centre Monday evening. Pawlyk and Sellathamby were recognized for being matched for 40 years. Ashli Barrett / Lacombe Globe

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For 40 years, the running joke about Big Brother Andy Pawlyk and Little Brother Chris Sellathamby is figuring out which one is truly the little brother.

After four decades, naturally, it’s a little harder to tell, but aside from getting older, the expansion of their families, and even the drastic changes in technology, Sellathamby says he’s still the little brother.

On Monday the two were recognized for their long-standing matchup during the annual Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) Big Christmas Dinner and Awards. While they both appreciated the recognition, they said the real reward was the bond they’ve been able to forge and maintain decades later.

“What has this relationship done for me? It’s really hard to answer because it’s done a lot. He’s always been there for me – I talk to him more than I talk to most of my relatives who live in the same town, even though I now live 1,500 kilometres away,” said Sallathamby. “It’s very hard to find someone who is genuinely happy for you when you succeed and sad for you when you fail and not the other way around – that’s the way it’s been with Andy.”

The two were matched on Oct. 18, 1978 – Pawlyk’s birthday – by the Red Deer branch of BBBS, as the Lacombe branch did not exist at the time. Sellathamby, whose dad died when he was just two years old, was in his early teens, and while originally he was reluctant to have a big brother, the idea of being able to do things he couldn’t with his mom eventually persuaded him and he was paired up with Pawlyk.

He joked he’d expected a Marlborough man type figure, someone macho with girls flirting with him all the time – someone who’d teach him how to be a man. As it turns out, Pawlyk ended up being none of those things – he was better.

He became not just a mentor, but a partner-in-crime, a friend, and a family member.

“We decided to give it a try 40 years ago. Little did I know this would turn out to be one of the longest-lasting relationships of my lift…This family has not become just a second family, but part of my immediate family,” he said.

“We just hit it off.”

The two spent years learning about various things together such as photography, Sri Lankan and Ukrainian cultures, and teaming up against Pawlyk’s wife and Sellathamby’s mom to pull practical jokes. Other times, they covered for Pawlyk when he was ‘cheating’ on diets.

“His wife said ‘oh, Andy’s on a grapefruit diet and he’s doing really good,’ but he was over at our place eating chicken curry every night,” he said. “We just kept our mouths shut.”

Special permission was given by the Catholic Church for Sellathamby to become godfather to Pawlyk’s daughter, which helped to keep them bonded.

Even when Sellathamby went to university in Edmonton, and moved to Victoria, they still kept in touch, whether it was visiting in person, or over the phone. In fact, in 40 years, they had yet to text or email each other once until Monday, when Pawlyk had to sent him a picture.

“You can text each other 50 times in a day, but one phone call, just to hear the voice, the tone, the feeling – that does a lot,” he said. “It’s all about communication – you have to talk to each other to maintain a relationship.”

Sellathamby encouraged all single parents to  enrol their children in BBBS and give them a chance to form lasting relationships that can be so hard to find in a modern world.

One of the biggest things he’s learned over the years just by being in the program, is that true success and happiness doesn’t come from material goods.

“A lot of the little brothers may not understand this right now, but they will – when you’re young, your ideas of happiness and success tend to materialistic. You dream of Ferraris and jet planes…but when I look back, the most important things that bring you happiness are not what you surround yourself with, but whom.”

Pawlyk, who lives in Lacombe, said getting involved with BBBS was about becoming someone the younger generation could trust and share their inner thoughts with – a way to keep them off the streets and out of trouble.

However, one of the things he said he’s learned from being paired with Sellathamby is just the natural goodness in a world that can often seem like a negative place.

“There is kindness and trust in people. There is goodness in people,” he said.

“BBBS is a great organization and they’ll be a part of me forever.”

Other award winners on the night are as follows:

Teen in-school Mentor of the Year
Skylar and Nash

In-school Big Brother of the Year
Cary and Koden

In-school Big Sister of the Year
Kirstin and Peyton

Traditional Big Brother of the Year
Travis and Adyn

Teen in-school Mentor of the Year
Emily and Ty

Traditional Big Sister of the Year
Sheila and April

Business of the Year
Eastside Eatery

Organization of the year
Lacombe Oilmens Association

BBBS Executive Director Crystal Zens was also recognized for being with BBBS for 10 years.