Who better than midlifers have the wisdom and patience to mold young lives?
That's another thing about good mentors. They're always working themselves out of a job.
Even when they disagreed with me, my mentors were unrelenting in their support of me.
We called them Uncle John and Aunt Betty. They weren't really our aunt and uncle. Actually, Rev. John and Betty Staat were the directors of Hidden Falls Ranch youth camp, a place where I and dozens of my buddies worked during our late teens and early 20s.
Yet Uncle John and Aunt Betty--in their 40s and 50s when I served on their summer staffs--were more than just employers. They were our mentors.
Mentoring, or what psychologist Erik Eriksen called "generativity," is the act of establishing and guiding the next generation. Bosses can do it, as can teachers, coaches, scouting leaders, big brothers, big sisters, grandparents, parents and a host of others. Eriksen saw mentoring as both natural and therapeutic for midlifers. Who better than midlifers have the wisdom and patience to mold young lives? What better than mentoring can divert our attention from life's limitations to its potentialities.
A recalcitrant and rebellious 16-year-old, I wasn't showing great potentiality when I first came to Hidden Falls Ranch. Yet Uncle John and Aunt Betty did what all good mentors do best. They saw beyond who I was to whom I could become. They believed in me before I believed in myself.
How did they show it? By giving me, and the others I worked with, responsibility, lots of it. I was a wrangler, and to this day I can't believe how many specific chores--things like rounding up and feeding the herd, cleaning and repairing stalls, leading hourly trail rides in the Palo Duro--we were expected to do. And they trusted us. It was like "we know you guys and gals (Uncle John's terms) can do the job and do it well." And, much to my surprise, we did.
That's another thing about good mentors. They're always working themselves out of a job. If you're too proud or easily threatened you can't do it, but Uncle John and Aunt Betty were neither of these. They trained us to take their places, and, in my case, nearly a decade later, I did. From 1976 to 1980 I, too, directed Hidden Falls Ranch.
My relationship with the Staats wasn't perfect. I remember when an idealistic 23-year-old decided he could no longer put up with some ideological differences between him and his mentors. Now, this 50-year-old has trouble remembering what those differences were. Yet, as I look back on it, Uncle John and Aunt Betty were teaching me even in our conflicts.
What they showed me (and what I'm now trying to do with my own children and students) is that good mentors give freedom: freedom to think for oneself, freedom to leave when the time comes, freedom to fail, and freedom to learn from those failures.
In fact, now that they're gone, this is what I remember most about them. Even when they disagreed with me, my mentors were unrelenting in their support of me. In the eulogy at Aunt Betty's funeral I put it like this:
"It was during those times of failure in my life that I most noticed Aunt Betty's greatest attribute: her loyalty. When we mess up, most people distance themselves from us. Even friends do it. Not Aunt Betty. She had a fierce loyalty and a stubborn belief in me, even when I no longer believed in myself. Friends like that are rare indeed. I will miss her."
And I do; good mentors are hard to find.
My Articles about Hidden Falls Ranch (and its people)
It's Her One Time Around
Happy 30th Anniversary
Lost in the Palo Duro
Memories of Summer Camp
My Sister, My Advocate
To Uncle John and Aunt Betty: A Tribute
Hidden Falls Ranch: A 40th Anniversary Tribute
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