DETROIT — There is love and then there is love that knows no boundaries. The Chamberlains live the latter.
Harlan begot Joba, who begot Karter. And their bond is as strong as a steel chain, while being as touching as a Hallmark card.
Joba, a Detroit Tigers relief pitcher, doesn’t have full custody of his son. In order to see him daily during the offseason, Joba buys food from one of their favorite restaurants in Lincoln, Neb., and takes it to Adams Elementary school. Then father and son eat lunch together at a cafeteria table.
"It’s important for me to see Karter every day, and some days that is my only chance to see him," Joba said. "It’s important for me to influence him every day.
"Doing it via texts just isn’t enough. I enjoy playing baseball and take pride in what I’ve done. But I take more pride in being a great father to Karter.
Karter Chamberlain wears his No. 44 Tigers jersey when he’s visiting and follows his father, Joba, around the field and clubhouse.
"I take something from Subway, Chipotle or maybe his favorite restaurant, Runza, which makes home style food. I’ve gotten to know his friends better at lunch, too. I ask Karter what’s been special in his day, and that’s what’s special for me."
On May 1, with the Tigers spending an day off in Kansas City, the father had a real surprise for the son.
"I took him lunch that day," said Joba, smiling and nodding, making it clear that the 400-mile round-trip was well worth it.
Some day when Karter, 8, grows up, he will begin to fully grasp what his dad has done for him by always being there. Joba now cherishes all his father has done and sacrificed for him.
He recalls his father, though paralyzed on his left side, playing catch with him while seated in a chair.
"Dad caught the ball in his right hand, and then he took off the glove and threw it back to me with his right hand," Joba said. "There was nothing like playing catch with my dad. But he’d say, ‘If you over throw it, you have to get it!’"
When the son won a World Series with the New York Yankees in 2009, pitching in the clinching victory, he looked for Harlan while running across the infield toward the victory celebration platform in the Yankee Stadium outfield. Fellow pitcher A.J. Burnett spotted Harlan and motioned Joba over to where his father was "screaming" for joy.
Joba bent over, looked his father in the eye and said, "We did it!"
Harlan looked his son in the eye and echoed, "We did it!"
Joba exchanged the championship ring with his father for a while. Then one day, he said, "Dad, this is yours."
"I could see it in his eyes," Joba said, remembering the moment he handed over the ring. "It was all I ever worked for, winning that. But he was the one who instilled my work ethic, was my No. 1 fan, never missed a game and taught me how to be a man and a father.
"I hope I win another one. But if I don’t, Dad deserves that one. And he wears it every day."
Harlan was being raised on a Winnebago Indian reservation when it was discovered that he had polio as a 9-month-old.
"Dad spent six years, 11 months and 21 days in a children’s hospital and was in and out of foster homes," Joba said. "Yet, I never heard him ask, ‘Why me?’
"And when it came to raising us, he found a way to do everything. My father’s paralyzed and can only use his right hand. But he changed out diapers with that right hand."
Harlan gets around in a motorized scooter, is deaf in one ear and has only half of an operational body. Still, he raised Joba and his sister, Tasha, 32, while working full-time at a prison.
"Dad managed the living units in maximum, medium and minimum security," Joba said. "We were on my recruiting visit to the University of Nebraska when a guy on a scaffold at the football stadium saw us and shouted to my dad. He came down to talk to us and said, ‘I’m clean; I’m sober. Thank you for all you did for me.’
"My dad just treats everyone the way he wanted to be treated, and he taught me the same Golden Rule that I am teaching Karter.
"My dad’s my hero. If I can be half the man he is, I’ll call it a win. My dad is my best friend, and I owe everything to him."
The day will come when Karter tests Joba, just like Joba tested Harlan. Teenage rebellion is part of growing up. Joba will then tell his son what Harlan told him while disciplining: "I’m going to get glad in the same skin I got mad in."
Ever since Joba can remember, his father has said the same thing to him when they depart: "I love you. Mind your manners."
They are the same six words Joba leaves Karter with every time.
"He left today," Chamberlain said one day earlier this month. "It breaks my heart to see him crying as he leaves.
"But I’m seeing Karter mature. Our relationship just grows and grows. But what’s that they say about distance. It makes the heart grow fonder. The distance makes you treasure each other even more."
Karter wears his No. 44 Tigers jersey during batting practice when he’s visiting, and follows his father around the field and clubhouse. Someone complimented Joba about Karter when he last visited.
"When someone tells you your son is polite … there is no greater compliment for a father," Joba said. "There is no better feeling."
"I take great pleasure in pitching for the Tigers, but my true pleasure comes in raising a son. His name is Chamberlain, just like mine. And it will always be."
Two years ago, Joba’s career was nearly ended by a grotesque ankle injury that occurred when he was jumping on a trampoline with Karter during spring training at an amusement center in Tampa, Fla. Bone pierced his leg, causing him to bleed so profusely that there was a chance he would lose the leg.
"I was just being a dad, playing with my son," said Joba, who also was recovering from Tommy John surgery at the same time. "My son was there that day and for my rehab. He was there the day I came back and made my first appearance for the Yankees.
"The lesson is that no matter what happens, you can overcome things in life. That’s what my father did."
A resilient spirit and a son’s love can get fathers through just about anything. The Chamberlains are proof of that.