(MCT) — FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Some of the Farleys still were being home-schooled and some had moved on, but all were pulled out for a science project of a kind. Falinda Farley had an ultrasound scheduled. Her seven children came along, as did some friends who weren’t able to have kids of their own and never had seen a baby in the womb.
Kenan, the middle son, took an informal poll among his siblings to see if a third girl or sixth boy was forthcoming. Falinda had seen a bunch of ultrasounds, naturally, and she was excited too. She watched eagerly as the same doctor who delivered her son Silas three years earlier performed the scan.
She also knew the dark spots she saw shouldn’t be dark.
A few minutes later, Falinda left the room with bloodshot eyes. Her children asked what was wrong.
The baby’s in trouble, she told them.
Later the Farleys learned from a specialist that the baby had a block in its urethral bowels. Waste couldn’t escape its body. In the mid-1990s, there was no certain medical fix for the problem, so there was nothing to hide. The Farley children were told the baby might not live. When asked, they each said they wanted to hold it anyway.
Titus Farley came into the world on Sept. 19, 1996. In a family tradition, the newborn child was passed from sibling to sibling, in birth order, this time from Timon down to 5-year-old Matthias and 3-year-old Silas. By the time Timon retrieved his infant brother, Titus felt different. He died 30 minutes after he was born. He never really opened his eyes.
A family friend took pictures that day. He returned that night with the photos in an album because he couldn’t bear the thought of the Farleys leaving the hospital without their son. In the pictures, Matthias is as you would expect: broken-hearted and wondering, sad beyond his understanding.
“To see how it affected my mom and the rest of my siblings had a huge impact on me,” Matthias says, leaving a hotel for Notre Dame football practice Thursday. “It’s obviously something you never want to go through, or have your mom go through. So to do whatever I can to help her in any way I could, I would do.”
So, yes, Matthias Farley knows something about a sense of family required to do great things.
‘A healthy pressure’
“It’s completely off the charts,” Jason Estep says, appraising the Farley clan. “It is all over the daggone map, to think that they’re that successful in what they do.”
Estep is the football coach at Charlotte Christian School, where the Farley siblings matriculated. Timon earned a basketball scholarship to Charleston Southern. Nathan played football at Coastal Carolina. Then came Charis, the oldest sister, followed by Kenan and Joy, a volleyball star who later did some modeling.
After them came Matthias, who wanted nothing to do with football yet will start at safety for Notre Dame in the BCS championship game Monday. Then there is Silas, who was accepted to Harvard and asked to defer because he won an apprenticeship to the New York City Ballet.
“I remember thinking my big brothers are superheroes, my big sisters are superheroes, and I used to think Silas was a superhero because I was like, you make no sense,” Matthias says. “You’re 6 years old and you read the dictionary for fun.”
There is no explaining the Farleys partly because they insist there is no one explanation. They attribute successes to their faith and the people who helped them. They endured plenty of what Falinda calls “give-us-this-day-our-daily-bread kind of days,” sacrificing to find $80 to pay for an advanced placement test or taking $25 out of grocery money to pay for Silas’ first ballet lessons.
The Farley children knew to commit to whatever they did, to work to be the best, and that they better do this because when they turned 18, there was no room or patience in the house for them to linger aimlessly.
“That was definitely a healthy pressure,” Nathan says. “They didn’t tell us that on our 17th birthday. You knew that from the beginning.”
As Matthias saw his oldest brothers dominate athletically, even though he was in elementary school, he sensed acutely that his family members were extremely driven to do what they loved.
“It sets the bar pretty high, whether it’s said or unsaid, of giving 110 percent in whatever you have to do,” Matthias says. “Not necessarily all the time because you want to, but because you see your siblings doing so well, and you see how happy you are to see your siblings do well.
“And it’s fun because if you have success, or one of my siblings has success, then it’s really exciting to watch. There’s no pressure. I’ve never felt pressure from my parents or brothers and sisters to perform super well or do anything awesome. But when it happens, it’s really fun to be a part of.”
Matthias and Silas, in particular, formed a bond over late-night, bunk-bed chats. Silas boasts of being “hip by association” when he hung out with Matthias. Matthias remains generally amazed by Silas, as he was during a satire class at Notre Dame this fall.
Silas arrived for a visit on Sunday, voluntarily read 50 pages of “Scoop” by Evelyn Waugh by Tuesday and finished it by the time his brother’s class met on Thursday. With Matthias’ blessing, Silas pounced to fuel a discussion of the sociopolitical issues the book raised and the historical context of sensationalist journalism and foreign correspondence in the 1930s.
“And I just sat there like, I had no idea any of this was going on in this time period,” Matthias says. “So he basically shut my class down. My professor thanked him.”
‘I just want to be me’
Everyone loved Matthias. Charis did a project at Appalachian State that assigned colors to personalities, and she later deemed her brother orange: the one who stirs things up, the one who is endless fun, the one with the independent streak.
By now, everyone knows Matthias played soccer at first, simply not to be another Farley who played football. Charlotte Christian dress code required a collar, so Matthias wore Hawaiian shirts. He worked out in tie-dyed socks that Estep begged him to shelve when college coaches visited.
“He did not care if coach (Brian) Kelly was coming in or whoever it was,” Estep says. “Matthias was Matthias.”
Nathan contends that if you put a gun to his brother’s head and asked if football is the most important thing to him, Matthias would say no. In reality, there’s no need for the gun.
“I just want to be me, and I don’t want to be defined by anything other than just being Matthias Farley,” he says. “At some point, I’m not going to be able to play football anymore. No matter how long you do it, someday it’s going to end. I just keep that in mind and try to develop myself wholly and not just Matthias Farley the football player.”
This is the curiosity or contradiction: The kid who lives by a rabid autonomy chooses a college not renowned for freewheeling behavior and plays a game in which he must dissolve into the whole for the greater good.
So to reconcile Matthias Farley, begin with friends taking him to Del Frisco’s over holiday break in Charlotte. He stared at the menu’s $65 steak and later told his mother all he could think of was another family friend in need and what she could do with that money.
Days later, a different set of friends whose company had a successful year handed out checks during a dinner. The checks featured a dollar amount but no names. Each person would decide whom they could bless. When Matthias presented his to the woman he thought of at Del Frisco’s, she welled up and opened her freezer, which had nothing inside.
There is no contradiction. Being himself includes being generous beyond reason, Falinda says. The only rationalization for it, she believes, is that day in a hospital room, swelled by grief over a brother who left Matthias’ and Silas’ hands and moments after was gone forever.
“They have a tenderheartedness toward people that is extraordinary,” Falinda says.
After a game this season, Matthias left Notre Dame Stadium and cut through autograph hounds because he saw a teenager in a wheelchair stuck hopelessly in the back. Matthias came to him instead, struck up a conversation, and the boy looked up and beamed.
“You never know how much a simple thing can have an impact on somebody,” Matthias says, “no matter how silly you think it is.”
‘Just absolutely ridiculous’
“He’s not afraid of anything,” Irish coach Brian Kelly says of Farley, who was still a backup in mid-September. “If you tell him he’s got to take Portuguese, he’ll learn Portuguese. There’s nothing that he looks at and says, ‘I can’t do this.’”
A Farley family credo: Make it work. In his junior year of high school, Farley received a scholarship offer to Notre Dame. Everyone told him he had to visit. He also had to have the money for the visit, which he didn’t.
One day, Farley walked into Estep’s office, smiling. His siblings had pooled their resources to pay for his trip to South Bend.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Farley says. “I didn’t try to get my hopes up. They were like, ‘Matthias, we’re paying for your flight, your whole trip,’ and I was like, ‘Y’all are ridiculous. Just absolutely ridiculous.’ My family all loves each other, and that’s a testament to that.”
Farley’s parents will attend the BCS title game Monday. Silas will, too, after getting permission to miss mandatory ballet company class the next day. Many family friends will populate Sun Life Stadium. They are living expressions of the truth that what happens against Alabama won’t define Matthias Farley, either way.
But for at least a few hours, he has nothing more important going on.
“So,” Falinda says, “you can believe — please believe — that the Farleys all over the land are going nuts with this game coming up.”