The words were so painful for Dale Robinson to speak, and so painful for Wan’Dale Robinson, the 6-year-old on the other side of the prison’s glass partition, to hear.
“I had to tell Wan’Dale that I was gonna be gone for 10 years,” Dale Robinson began.
“He understood that his dad wasn’t gonna be able to take him to practice no more or Chuck E. Cheese no more.”
Wan’Dale Robinson is a Giants rookie now, running to daylight at a time when his father is rebuilding his life and running from the darkness of incarceration toward the father-son relationship they both dearly missed.
“We were always together, he was always taking me to my football practices, taking me to the mall, taking me to Chuck E. Cheese, taking me just really wherever I wanted to go that day, whatever it was,” Wan’Dale told The Post. “Then I see him and then he’s just telling me like these things can’t happen, that he can’t do those things for anymore. … I remember just crying … not really understanding why it had to happen.”
His father had been a backup option quarterback at Western Kentucky, until he refused to take a urine test after smoking weed and left school during his sophomore year, when Wan’Dale was six months old. Dale Robinson ended up in correction facilities, first in Lexington, Ky., 32 miles from his Frankfort home, then in Morgantown, W.Va., for four years for distributing cocaine, and ultimately in a pair of New Jersey correctional facilities: Fort Dix and Fairton.
Wan’Dale never got to see his father in Morgantown. It would be approximately five years before he saw him the next time, in Fairton.
“It was the best feeling in the world,” Dale Robinson said. “I got to hug him, to love on him. But when it was time for me to go and the visit was over, tears were welling up in his eyes — I really wanted to go with him and I know he wanted me to go with him, but I couldn’t.”
“He looked really different, a lot more muscle and dreads,” Wan’Dale said. “I was just happy to see him. It just kinda felt like it was like old times.”
Wan’Dale’s mother, Victoria Davis, made sure father and son spoke weekly at least.
“I used my minutes very wisely,” Dale said. And urged his son to make good decisions.
“Me explaining to him what I did wrong that he don’t have to do that,” Dale said. “It’s not just about him, some people that you’re around can make bad decisions that gets you messed up too.”
Dale Robinson was 39 when he walked back into freedom on July 15, 2015.
“His mom picked me up, so I got to see him for maybe like an hour, then I had to go to the halfway house,” Dale said. “Probably one of the best days of my life. They say you only remember two days — the day you go and get locked up, and the day you get out. That day … that’s priceless. I don’t ever want to relive it again, though.”
Neither does Wan’Dale.
“I got out of football practice, I got home and then everybody was waiting on my dad. He got out of the car and I just remember we just hugged and cried,” Wan’Dale said. “I knew that things were gonna be different with the way that he was living life and I knew that I really didn’t have to worry about him getting back into that life.”
They are closer than ever now, the anger that a confused Wan’Dale had harbored towards his father gone.
“Whenever I really understood what happened, I was upset,” Wan’Dale 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 just hated him or anything like that.”
Dale started a gym, called G.U.R.U. Fitness, in Frankfort. A second one will open in Lexington next month. He started the Wanda Joyce Robinson Foundation, named after his mother, to support kids with incarcerated parents. He is certain that New York will fall in love with his son, an electric, versatile 5-foot-8, 178-pound jitterbug.
“People always been doubting him because of his size,” Dale said. “It’s been like that since he started playing football. But then they come and find out he’s the littlest guy but he carries the biggest punch.”
He takes credit for molding Wan’Dale’s mentality.
“He’s the best player on the field, no matter who’s on that field,” Dale said. “That I embedded in him since he was 5-years-old.”
Too many lost years later, Wan’Dale can’t wait for the day when his father is in the stands watching him realize his dream.
“It’ll be crazy … he put me to bed, I’m going to sleep watching NFL Network. … Just to see it all unfold and now I’m playing in the NFL and he’ll be in the stands watching, it’s just gonna be real surreal.”
Better late than never.