Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools has started an initiative called the Male Empowerment Network. The goal is to assure that every student in CMS will have access to a mentor who could help them fulfill their purpose. Most of us know the invaluable benefit of having had a mentor. As Maya Angelo might say, our mission is to help the students “not merely survive, but to thrive, and do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor and some style.”
Making a Friend
Years ago, when I graduated from law school, my new bride and I moved to Oklahoma for a very good job opportunity. A thousand miles from family and friends, our first time in that state, the next five years would prove to be an adventure for us as well as a period of learning for me. Even after marriage and graduate school, in Be There Dad terms, there were still lessons that could go in my back pack.
Coincidentally, one of my wife’s best friends from high school had also moved to Oklahoma. As you might expect, when we arrived, the two ladies rekindled their relationship quickly and as two couples we began socializing together. Jim, the husband was about ten years older than me, and he already had three children. As I got to know him, I began to absorb lessons about how he related to his spouse and how he acted as a father to his three boys.
An Unintentional Mentor
Having grown up on a farm, it seemed Jim could do anything he set his mind to. He was good with his hands, with animals and vehicles. He was tough as nails when he needed to be; but more often he was a soft spoken, humorous, gentle person. Because of our relationship as couples, almost by default, he and I started our own friendship, too. Little did I know the impact that friendship would have on me.
The Right Man, The Right Time
My own father and my high school coach were my mentors early in my life. But having just married and anticipating fatherhood, Jim came into my life at just the right time. As a role model and mentor, he showed me a way to be a father. He showed me how to be strong, but caring. How to be tough, but sensitive. How to put my family first. Jim never tried to be my mentor, nor did I ever ask for his guidance; but simply spending time together and watching him, I learned more than I might imagine. As the years have gone by, I have realized that he has been one of the most influential men in my life.
We lived near Jim for about five years. We left the state and moved away when my eldest child was born. But I carried the lessons of those few years with me; and I tried to apply them as I raised my own kids. I tried to act like him in my marriage as well. More broadly, I think I have used his example as I have coached soccer, taught Sunday school and led dads over thirty years. That said, Jim has had an influence on all the kids and dads that I have tried to coach, teach and mentor.
One Stepping Stone
Jim was a stepping stone for me on my journey towards fatherhood. During our time together, he helped me learn lessons I needed at the time in my life when I needed that guidance. Having added those experiences to my backpack, I moved on to the next stepping steps – where I continued to gather more lessons about being a dad. But without his presence on those initial steps, I may never have gotten to those next ones.
Recently, I visited with Jim and his wife in Oklahoma. I took the opportunity to share with him how much his presence had meant to me at a formative time in my life. He was taken aback. He hadn’t realized that he was acting as a mentor to me all those years before.
Sometimes we can have an impact on others without knowing it. In Be There Dad terms, sometimes all we do is show up. We live our lives. We act like ourselves. But, we may not see those who are watching. We may not see those who are learning from us. We may not see those who are seeking to “be like us”. We may mentor someone simply by the becoming their friend.
As my former players and former students have become parents themselves, I feel confident that they are applying some of the lessons I imparted when I acted as a stepping stone during a time in their lives. But I did not do it alone. That legacy of mentoring has been passed to them from my dad, my coach, and my friend Jim through me.
It Could Be You
As we look forward to engaging as mentors with the Male Empowerment Network of CMS, I want to remember the lessons that have been taught to me: that often the most important thing we can do is to be there; that often we are stepping stones for children to use as they find their way down a portion of the journey we call life; that the value of our mentoring may not be realized until years later when our mentees have traveled much further down the road; that our actions are more powerful than our words; and that often by helping one child, our acts will influence the lives of many.
Most of us have had mentors. I encourage you to think about my friend Jim. I encourage you to think about the someone in your life who was a mentor to you. Think about that someone who was a stepping stone in your life. Someone who helped you find your way through a period in your life so you could move on to the next. Then, I encourage you to consider how you could use those mentoring experiences and become such a person to a young student today. I encourage you to believe that your presence can make a difference. I encourage you to become a mentor within the Male Empowerment Network. There are backpacks yet to be filled with lessons of passion, compassion, humor and style so that children may thrive, not just survive. The time is now. The person adding those lessons could be you.