Bonding time

DAN TOTH -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 12:34 PM ET

Calgary Stampeders receiver Nik Lewis, a man with trustworthy hands, is doing more than just latching onto footballs these days.

He's catching up on precious lost time with father Lee Ray, a man he never really knew during his formative years.

Lewis took his mom's last name and was essentially raised by her parents in Jacks-

boro, Tex., while his father lived in nearby Fort Worth.

Although the years squandered during Lewis's childhood can never be fully recovered -- his dad was essentially out of his life and Father's Day was just another blank square on the calendar -- they are now doing their best to make amends.

Ray, 43, was just 20 and playing basketball at Texas Tech in 1982 when his son was born.

Although Lewis made his way through the first

16 years of life without bonding with his father, the two couldn't be closer now.

And Lewis is confident, as another Father's Day arrives, the two men are succeeding. While the relationship continues growing, he holds no resentment about the missing years.

"Him and my mother were never really together," recalls Lewis, 23.

"I pretty much lived with my grandparents from six months old. It was strange as a kid because I grew up with my grandparents. My mom would move out of town and come back, move and come back and

I stayed with my grandparents.

"When my dad would come to get me, sometimes, I never wanted to go because my comfortable place was with my grandparents. It was hard on me and I can only imagine how hard I made it on him.

"When he picked me up to take me to Fort Worth, I didn't want to go. My dad was in and out of my life. He bought me clothes and other things for me but I didn't really go anywhere with my dad when I was younger.

I wanted to be with my grandparents."

Last season's CFL rookie of the year made the first move toward bonding with his dad, who now sells real estate in Fort Worth.

"When I was old enough to have a car,

I started going to my dad's house and that's when I started feeling comfortable with him again," Lewis says.

"It was always there and he never neglected me. He always wanted me to be around, so basically it was my fault, the times I didn't get to spend with my dad.

"I appreciate he's still there for me now."

Lewis says his relationship with his dad is now more like best friends or close brothers than father-son, sharing time together like old pals shooting hoops or just hanging out.

The two are even planning a trip together to Las Vegas when time permits.

"He's always been there for me. I can call him and talk about anything," says Lewis, a lock to line up again this season as a starting import receiver.

"There's been tough times around here lately with all the cuts and everything going on and I called him and talked to him and that's a real help. He's always supported me and he still comes around a lot. He came to my high school games, college he was always there."

Ray flew up from Texas for five CFL games last season, witnessing first-hand his son's spectacular rookie campaign when he led the Stampeders in receiving yards.

"He likes to come up here and watch me play," Lewis says.

"He likes the city and enjoys coming here to hang out with me. We always hang out together, go out together, almost like a best friends kind of thing.

"A lot of people think we're brothers. He can hang out with me and my friends and it's like he's not even my dad. We hang out, go out to eat, hang around and watch TV."

The 'hanging out' often migrates onto the basketball court where dad still dominates.

As in most father-son athletic battles, Lewis and his father are very competitive with Dad still enjoying an advantage in one-on-one hoops contests.

"He can shoot the lights out," says Lewis, whose father enjoys a height advantage of a couple of inches while wielding a deadly accurate shot groomed during a solid college basketball career.

"I've only beaten him one time with a lucky shot but I think I could beat him again. I get on him but he reminds me he could beat me 10-0 the next game."

That competitiveness helped drive Lewis into high school and college football where he obviously excelled, his dad now solidly behind him. Lewis says he still owes his father a debt of gratitude for helping him achieve his football goals but never pressuring too hard.

"My dad never pushed me into anything but he just let me know that if I was going to do it, it was 100 percent or don't do it at all," Lewis says. "He always just told me to work hard and don't take anything for granted. It can always be taken away from you."

Some things, maybe, but not their relationship.


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