Noah Doyle was 2 when his parents divorced and his father moved to Michigan.
For a while, he kept in touch through infrequent visits and phone calls. Five years ago, the communication stopped altogether.
"No phone calls, no nothing," said Noah's mother, Beth Doyle. "It was very sporadic in the beginning, and it's just tapered off to nothing."
Noah's older brothers Nathan, 10, and Zachary, 12, have vague memories of their father, but Noah has none.
"The only thing that he knows of a father is what he sees that his friends have," said Ms. Doyle, who worried about the absence of a male role model in her sons' lives.
"He was very clingy to any adult male that showed any attention to him, especially his coaches at school," Ms. Doyle said. "He would be the kid that was walking in line and holding the coach's hand .
. and (who would) run up and hug the guy's legs."
Then, in April, Noah found a friend through the Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Hernando County.
The non-profit organization pairs children ages 5 to 13 with men and women who can give them friendship, support and guidance.
The chosen one: Mike Maurer, a sergeant in charge of community policing at the Hernando County Sheriff's Office. In 1982, Maurer was a big brother while working for the Coast Guard in Key West.
"He is terrific. He makes Noah feel like a million bucks," Ms. Doyle said.
Noah couldn't be happier, either.
"I like (Maurer). He spoils me a lot. He brings me places every week," said Noah, now 8. "We work, we go play games. Last time we went to Stop & Play, Putt N' Sputt, and we went bowling . . . and to the beach."
Ms. Doyle said Noah's confidence has increased since he was assigned a big brother. He is no longer shy, and his masculine side is evolving.
Big Brothers/Big Sisters district director Pat Cameron paired Maurer and Noah because of their similarities.
Maurer likes baseball; Noah likes baseball.
Maurer prefers the outdoors; so does Noah.
Maurer is quiet by nature; Noah is, too. And both have a lively sense of humor.
"For a match to really work, the personalities have to be pretty much the same. We wouldn't match a bookworm with somebody who only likes to Rollerblade or go swimming," Cameron said.
On Saturdays, Noah usually visits Maurer at the 44-acre farm in Spring Lake where he lives and works part time as a ranch hand. Together, they cut grass, ride tractors, repair fences and _ Noah's favorite _ hang out.
In between chores, they make frequent trips to Home Depot, which they have dubbed "the man's mall."
Recently, the pair went shopping for bathing suits at Gulf View Square Mall in Port Richey with Maurer's girlfriend, Vickie.
"We got in trouble in the swimsuits because we were cutting up. We were teasing each other about which suits we'd look good in," Maurer said. "I get a kick out of it. He doesn't realize it, (but) he's really funny."
Little things mean a lot to Noah. Like the time Maurer was wearing his uniform and dropped by unexpectedly while a Cub Scout meeting was going on.
"(Noah) lit up, and he said, "Hey everybody, that's my big brother,' " Maurer said. "And they all said, "Oh wow.' "
Then, there were the go-cart rides. Maurer operated the pedals. Noah steered.
"It was my first time, and I almost ran this guy off the track and he almost flipped," Noah said, snickering. "I'm like, "You ain't going to get in my way.' (Maurer) was just making us go faster and faster."
It may sound like fun and games, but Maurer said being a big brother is a huge responsibility.
"I was worried about, do I really want to get involved in this, the magnitude of the commitment and obligation," Maurer said. "It's not something that you want to take lightly, understanding the impact that you're going to have on a kid and his future."
Noah's brothers, Nathan and Zachary, also signed up for big brothers but have not yet been matched. For now, they attend Little Pals parties once a month at the Spring Hill YMCA, where other unmatched children gather to play and swim.
"It's just to let the kids know that they haven't been forgotten, that we are still working to get them a partner," Doyle said.
When a match is made, Doyle said, "the kids feel so wonderful from it. I could see (Maurer) being Noah's friend for life."
Maurer agreed, emphatically.
"He's important to me, and I'm important to him," Maurer said. "It's been a blast. I must admit, (Noah's) a fun kid."