Having a good mentor while growing up is necessary. One who mentors by being a role model as well as a teacher.
Benefitting from that kind of mentoring model is in many ways better than a formal education or participating in an apprenticeship.
Because it can imprint our personality.
Mentoring goes beyond mere thinking. It influences our way of living and being. Sometimes it becomes inherent to a culture. Certain ways of being have been imbued in some cultures so much they become stereotypical.
Politeness. Hard working. Clean. Open.
That kind of personality-molding takes time and is sometimes uneven. Role models are human, so they can make mistakes in the mentoring process. But they work at staying consistent so those looking to them for guidance are not dispirited.
From a young age we are inclined to be like adults we admire. Often our parents. But not always. Or not in every dimension of learning and becoming.
As they move through adolescence, teens often question adult mentoring. Questioning authority is their way of asserting independence. Of learning how their own talents and interests align with the society into which they are slowly becoming members.
But they continue to seek role models they admire. They want those role models to mentor them in some way. The mentor they select, and what they choose to emulate, is of critical importance to the society they will enter when adults.
In the “how-to-live-a-responsible-life” category, my wife and I had good role models in our parents. Worthy mentors. And we loved them for guiding us in a good direction.
Marriage. Raising children. Living within our means. Working together for the benefit of the family, both immediate and extended.
Our parents taught us how to pursue happiness in the context of living responsibly every day. Their guidance, and our acceptance of it, turned out well.
But is living responsibly the sole purpose of our lives?
According to Jo Ann Jenkins in Disrupt Aging, it is not. She cites Thomas Jefferson’s definition: “The best life includes contributing to the well-being of others.”
In other words, we should be mentored to live responsibly ourselves AND help other people. The mentored one must in turn mentor others.
The modern term for that behavior is “pay it forward,” a phrase created by Lily Hardy Hammond in her 1916 book, In the Garden of Delight.
To my wife and me the practices of living responsibly and paying it forward were intertwined. One practice was not possible without the other. Responsible living was the foundation for serving the other. For mentoring or paying it forward.
Hypocrisy, or talking one way while behaving another, has unfortunately become too common in American society. Mentoring is worthless when the person providing service, or “paying it forward,” performs conversely. When the mentor is a poor role model.
Purposeful ways of living, no matter how well intentioned, can collapse when there is a disconnect between lifestyles and mentoring efforts. And it is not just politicians or others with famous names.
All of us are susceptible. Mentors and the mentored, no matter what status in life, can experience the lines of communication being severed. Often irreparably.
The problem is that mentors can overreach. Some do it intentionally for personal aggrandizement.
Making money. Getting elected. Becoming popular. Being loved.
Others do it for altruistic reasons but make a mistake.
Was I mentored to be a husband responsible for taking care of a wife with Alzheimer’s?
No, at least not in the specifics. But I was taught how to avoid being a victim. The mentoring I received included the recognition of contingencies. I was also taught how to be resourceful.
Jenkins’ term for being “resourceful” is to always ask ourselves, “What’s next?” And then to define and seek the “good life.”
For over 50 years the job of answering the question, “What’s next” was something my wife and I did together. Goals emerged from that discussion. Strategies were developed. And the whole thing was done within our vision of what the “good life” should be.
That is no longer part of her destiny. But it continues to be part of mine.
The knack of being resourceful on my own has diminished. I do okay but dread the day I get “the call.” That my wife has died or entered the end-of-life scenario for Alzheimer’s patients. No longer eating because she cannot swallow.
It is inevitable. And it will change my life.
The caregiving responsibility has covered many years. And I hope I have done a good job. I know what to do when the phone call comes. All those contingencies are planned and paid for. Our sons know what to do. So does our church and others who support us.
But I have come to dislike the word “widower.” How does a man married 58 years plan for that? Where is my mentor? My role-model? How does a widower have a “good life?”
Associated with the search for mentoring is my need to find where I belong. I am a retiree who, according to popular priorities, belongs with groups who enjoy their golden years in places where everything is done for them. Smelling the roses. Singing old favorites. Enjoying casual conversation. Playing golf.
When the time comes, my job will be to figure things out. Writing this blog is meant to be an exercise in mentoring and belonging. It is something I hope to continue. I will do the best I can to continue being a role model for men, and perhaps women of ALL ages.
Continue to seek ways to take care of yourself.
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