The words were too painful for Dale Robinson to speak, and too painful to hear for Wandell Robinson, the 6-year-old on the other side of the prison glass barrier.
“I had to tell Wan’Dale I was going for 10 years,” Dale Robinson began.
“He understood that his father wouldn’t be able to take him to train more or no more Chuck E. Cheese.”
Wan’Dale Robinson is a novice in the Giants now, running into broad daylight as his father rebuilds his life and escapes the darkness of prison towards a father-son relationship that they both have missed.
“We were always together, he would always take me to my soccer practice, take me to the mall, take me to Chuck E. Cheese, and really take me wherever I wanted to go that day, whatever,” Wan’Dale told the newspaper. “Then I see him and then he just tells me that such things cannot happen, and that he cannot do these things anymore. … I remember I just cried … I didn’t really understand why this happened.”
His father was a reserve quarterback in western Kentucky, until he refused to take a urine test after smoking cannabis and left school during his sophomore year, when Wandell was six months old. Dale Robinson ended up in correctional facilities, first in Lexington, Kentucky, 32 miles from his home in Frankfurt, then in Morgantown, Virginia, for four years distributing cocaine, and eventually in a pair of correctional facilities in New Jersey: Fort Dix and Fairton .
Wandell had never been able to see his father in Morgantown. It took nearly five years before he saw him next time, at Verton.
“It was the best feeling in the world,” Dale Robinson said. “I should hug him, and love him. But when it was time to go and the visit was over, tears were in his eyes—I really wanted to go with him and know he wanted me to go with him, but I couldn’t.”
“He looked really different, he had a lot of muscle and a lot of fear,” Wan Dill said. “I was just happy to see him. It felt like it was like old times.”
Victoria Davis, Wandell’s mother, made sure that father and son talked at least weekly.
“I used my lecture very wisely,” said Dale. He urged his son to make the right decisions.
“I explain to him what I did wrong that he didn’t have to do it,” said Dale. “It’s not just about him, some people around you can make wrong decisions that make you stumble too.”
Dale Robinson was 39 years old when he returned to freedom on July 15, 2015.
“His mom carried me so I could see him for an hour, and then I had to go home halfway,” Dale said. “Maybe it’s one of the best days of my life. They say you only remember two days – the day you go and get held, and the day you get out. That day…that’s priceless. I don’t ever want to relive it.”
“I got out of soccer training, came home and then everyone was waiting for my dad. He got out of the car and I just remember we hugged and we cried,” Wan Dill said. “I knew things were going to be different with the way he lived life, and I knew he didn’t have to worry about him coming back to that life.”
They were closer now than ever, and Wandel’s anger and confusion toward his father.
“The more I really understood what happened, the more upset I got,” Wan Dill said.
It didn’t take long for the son to forgive his father.
“We all make mistakes at the end of the day,” Wan Dale said. “It wasn’t anything where I hated him or anything like that.”
Dell started a gym called Guru Fitness in Frankfurt. A second restaurant will open in Lexington next month. He created the Wanda Joyce Robinson Foundation, named after his mother, to support children of their incarcerated parents. He’s sure New York will fall in love with his son, a versatile electrician who is 5 feet 8, 178 pounds.
“People have always questioned him because of his size,” Dale said. “It’s been like that ever since he started playing football. But then they come in and find out he’s the youngest guy but he’s got the biggest punch.”
He is credited with forming the mindset of Wan’Dale.
“He’s the best player on the field, no matter who’s playing on the field,” said Dale. “I’ve been involved in him since he was 5 years old.”
After so many years lost, Wandel can’t wait for the day his dad is in the stands watching him fulfill his dream.
“It’s going to be crazy… He put me to bed, and I’m going to sleep watching the NFL network…. Just to see it all unfold, and I’m playing in the NFL now and he’s going to be in the stands watching it, it’s going to be really surreal.”
Better late than never.