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PETALUMA - The text sent to U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo, the day before America was to play Japan for the Women's World Cup championship, contained encouragement and affection from her half-brother, David, CEO and president of the Marin and Southern Sonoma Counties' Boys and Girls Clubs. His last sentence was particularly memorable.

"I will be a better brother," David wrote.

David Solo said he never expected a reply. In less than 24 hours, Hope would be in goal for the biggest match of her life. She wouldn't have time. Plus, there hadn't been any real urgency in their relationship. The last time Hope and David were together was a chance meeting on Labor Day, 2009. They would speak on the phone, on the average, every three to six months.

Sunday, David received a reply. It came less than five hours before Hope would play. It was two sentences he will never forget.

"And I will be a better sister. I love you."

Although 6-foot-1 and a solid 260 pounds, David appeared to be much smaller when he repeated his sister's response. He had stopped carrying a huge load that had weighed him down. It was his father, their father, the one who was gone from David by the time he was 9, the one who remarried, had Hope 12 years after David, then left again. He went by John, Jerry or, usually, Jeff. He said he went to Vietnam, but David isn't sure. He did live in the woods around the Seattle area. This much David was certain: His dad was 69 when he died June 15, 2007.

"He had trouble holding a steady job," said David, 42, "so he wasn't able to support his family. He had trouble with stability in relationships. He went to prison for a short time on an embezzlement charge."

In November, 1991, David stopped speaking to his father.

"I cut him off," he said. "I had enough."

For 17 years David stayed away. For 17 years, by and large, he stayed away from Hope, as well. It was a distance he created between the two of them. Now it was a distance he was trying to close.

"I just realized today," David texted Hope after the U.S. lost to Japan on Sunday, "that you were just 10 years old when I stopped speaking to him. I missed a lot of your life, including high school, University of Washington. I did not realize how the decision to stop speaking to our father impacted our relationship. I am sorry for that."

David now understands he was in pain for those 17 years, pain that fueled anger, resentment. He saw other boys with their dads, coached by their dads, hanging with their dads. He took it out on the football field, where he was an All-Conference nose tackle at Chico State in 1990 and 1991. He was Chico's captain his senior year and a pre-season DivisionIII All-American.

"I was alone," David said in that text late Sunday night, "and I always had the attitude that I would show them who was better. I was always in attack mode."

David graduated with a degree in history from Chico in 1993. His first job out of college was in San Diego, at a Boys and Girls club. He wasn't sure why until he met a 12-year kid named Terrell four years later.

"Terrell was a troubled kid," David Solo said. "He was a discipline problem. We couldn't get through to him. Then one day I was alone with Terrell and he broke down. He said his dad had left him. That's when it hit me."

He had to work with troubled kids. He knew their pain. They were him, all of them carrying the same baggage. At the time, David never accepted or understood why his sister didn't carry his anger.

"Hope always was much more compassionate and understanding than me," he said. "She was never judgmental."

So they locked horns when they did talk.

In 2007, David reached out. He had sent his dad a video about Mickey Mantle. In it Mantle said he apologized to his wife and his sons for not being a good father, for drinking too much, staying away too much. David called his dad to ask him if that video triggered anything inside him.

"I wanted him to apologize," David said. "Least that's what I hoped for. He didn't. Three days later he died."

David didn't go to the funeral and, as he realizes now, he still was distancing himself from his sister.

Then he experienced a moment of clarity. It began with, of all things, the start of the 2011 Women's World Cup soccer tournament. David saw an ESPN interview with Hope. He watched another Hope interview on YouTube. He read newspaper articles about his sister.

"I didn't realize we had so much in common," David said. "We both love the outdoors. We both love camping. She is passionate about what she does, like me. I love the fact she is an intense competitor. So was I. She is strong-willed, stubborn, just like me."

The walls began coming down for David. He stopped resenting that Hope never had an ax to grind about their father. She even bristled when someone would call him homeless.

"I feel I have come to an understanding these last two weeks," David wrote in his post-match text. "You and I have different experiences with our father. Neither was right or wrong. I believe you have taught me about compassion and understanding. I can learn from you. And that if the roles were reversed you may have felt the same way I did. I didn't realize until this week how alike we are."

In the course of his sharing his story Sunday night at the Beyond The Glory restaurant, about a dozen 11-year-old girls from a soccer team found out who David is. They came over and asked for his autograph. They gave him cards to give to his sister. They asked him if he knows Abby Wambach.

"I didn't realize what a role model Hope is," David said.

David leaned back in his chair to catch his breath. Everything was happening very fast for him. He's still in the middle of it, he admitted, realizing he has much work to do, not only with Hope but with Terry, his sister, and Marcus, his half-brother. He would like to start, right now, not wait. He missed so much in 17 years. He doesn't want to waste a moment now. He asked Hope to get together Labor Day weekend.

"I love you very much," David texted, "and I would like to see you soon. It would be great to sit in front of a campfire and discuss the old man and some of his various opinions."

With that David smiled, the kind of smile that could start that Labor Day campfire with Hope.

For more North Bay sports go to Bob Padecky's blog at padecky.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist at 521-5223 or bob.padecky@pressdemocrat.com.

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