November 12, 2010

Who Was That Man, For You?

When I speak to groups of men about becoming man-makers for younger guys, I often hear excuses which if you probe deeper, are really thinly veiled fears about their feelings of inadequacy. In various ways men suggest they don't have what it takes, they won't measure up to the task in some way, or the sad notion they might even cause some harm to a young male.

In those sessions, when I encounter that fear, I like to invite them to remember their man-makers, the men that were present for them early on their journey to manhood. As those discussions unfold, beautiful stories of important connections are told. Sometimes as short as a few hours or brief conversations. Often we'll hear histories of long term involvements with a relative, neighbor, coach, or just "this guy" who was there for me. Sometimes men get teary remembering the impact an older man had in his life.

I like to remind men that their man-makers were not specially gifted, trained for mentoring, or unique in any way. They were just seeing something attractive or maybe a need in a young male, and responding . . . naturally. I love hearing these stories and have started collecting them. You can read a few in the "Men's Stories" section of the Man-Making website.

The story below is one of those tales of a good man showing up for a younger male in need sent in by Dave K., a blog subscriber. If you have a story like this, send it to me for the story archive or put it in the comment section of this post so we can all read it. These memories warm the heart and maybe, just maybe, they might encourage you to show up as a man-maker for a young guy in your life . . . naturally.

A few weeks ago I began a car trip to northern part of the state. I had spent most of the summer driving, I was tired of being on the road, and I was happy this would finally be my last big drive of the summer. It was worth the effort though. My old friend, mentor, and work colleague Frank, had called and invited me up to his summer home for a visit. Frank is 80 and suffers from Parkinson's. I knew he had always been an active man so I asked if he would be up for a round of golf. "You bet" was his spirited reply.

Forty years prior, when I first joined the orchestra, I pretty much thought of myself as the hottest french horn player on the planet. Frank was there before me and had established himself in our workplace and in the community. He was a father of three, but for me Frank was the big brother I had never had. When I screwed up at work and my shame was overwhelming, he somehow knew and would always show up with sound advice and a comforting arm on my shoulder. To say that he was a mentor to me understates his value in my life. I always knew he cared about me and he was a constant example of the man I wanted to become.

As I teed up the ball for my first drive of the round with Frank, I just wanted to hit the ball into the fairway and not screw up too bad in front of him. Of course I swung too hard and the ball dribbled out 15 yards in front of me. Frank had been a great golfer and won many tournaments in the past. On this day however, he had to have his wife tee up the ball because his Parkinson's had robbed him of a steady hand. He stood for a long time in front of the ball with his body a little shaky, and then smoked it out about 100 yards. "I used to hit it a little longer than that" was his only comment. When we hit the 18th hole he remarked that he was tired. I said that I was glad that we were finally evenly matched. He laughed.

On that visit, I had been thinking about all the years that Frank had been such a positive force my life. So before I left I thanked him for his friendship and all the guidance he'd given me over the years. I said that whenever I don't know what to do I ask myself, "what would Frank do?," and I have the answer." He smiled and then looked at the ground, a little embarrassed. I'm glad I found the courage, in that too brief and awkward moment, to tell him how important he was to me.

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1 comment:

  1. Hey Earl, this week's message sound's familiar. However, my response remains the same . . . men in urban areas do well to seriously consider their 'fears' of connecting with a boy 'naturally' without some training/guidance in order to 'do no harm'.

    What my agency has begun this year is to work/train with staff of community centers (B&Gs clubs, YMCAs etc.)that 'naturally' interface with boys who live in communities that they, the staff, are knowledgeable about and had been dealing with the 'cultures of cruelty' (Michael Thompson-Raising Cain)half a generation ago.

    These staff were grateful for the opportunity to gain knowledge about the 'me in mentor', the 'mentality of the mentee', and 'signs and symptoms of trauma', as each year the practices of depravity (of groups/gangs) on the streets, and stress-related trauma-involved experiences in/from families are sometimes even shocking to these staff.

    So, it's understandable the men in urban, or even 'tough' sides of most towns, do well to keep their involvement minimal with 'natural acts of kindness'. For those who find a relationship developing and not wanting to let a boy down with another rejection, then studying this Man-Making site, reading books, and connecting with formal mentoring organizations' workshops seems a responsible plan of action.

    Sadly, the urban boys of our cities are in desperate need of men who know 'a little more' about what are boys are carrying, and where our boys are going, if not for their 'expert' intervention through relationships.

    For Bostonians, here is a shameless plug, or invitation for the sake of our boys. Family Service of Greater Boston-moving forward with 'Men in the Making' initiative;


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