Sitting around arm and arm with my siblings, aunts and mother eight years ago as my dad struggled for each breath is a moment in my life I will never forget. He was dying from mesothelioma and had withered down to a skin suit of a man that I barely recognized as he lay there. Feb. 20, 2007 was the day my dad left this life and left his family with a lifetime of memories and emotions to seemingly forever contemplate. I know I have moments of replays in my mind of growing up with dad and have flashes of moments where his tutelage in how to become a man's man was met with adversity and confusion by me since I didn't aspire to carpentry or anything that involved a tool box or wiring diagrams.
As for me, I chose words. Words on paper or words spoken as my life skill. Other than some noticeable physical traits and, perhaps, mannerisms that my siblings have called me on, I really didn't have a lot in common with my dad. I can definitely see my face becoming more like him as the grey hair invades my scalp and face and age lines trickle around my eyes and mouth. So in that sense, I'm definitely like him.
As my own 18 year old son nears his nest-departing-flight, I find myself grappling with what final fleeting words of wisdom I can bestow upon him on how to kick life in the rear and take names. I dig deep in the well of my life experiences and try to assemble a beautifully made puzzle picture for Spencer to see so that he can use it as a roadmap to navigate the treacherous journey he's about to take. But, like myself at his age, he wants a clean slate or canvas for which he can paint his own masterpiece.
I respect that and completely understand.
It's odd to finally understand that the mentors I've had in my life were not necessarily set up with that moniker or title in my mind. It's both refreshing and confounding to see how the men in my life became father figures to me even though their DNA didn't flow in my veins.
In my spiritual journey and professional career, I've had so many fathers that have taken their life torch and touched mine to ensure they could impart some semblance of wisdom. In some cases, the wisdom was ridiculous to me, but even then, it was still applied knowledge they wanted to share.
Early on in my ministry journey of becoming a pastor, I was mentored by a man the same age as my own father. He was from my dad's generation but completely different than him. Yet, in many ways, identical. When he spoke to me, I heard his words and advice from a completely different perspective than I would my own father. He seemed to understand me in a way that my own didn't. I'm not sure if it was because he was a white-collar executive like me, or if it was simply God's plan to present me with a man that could help mold and shape me into who I am today. A piece of advice he gave has always stuck with me. When being an associate pastor at a few churches, I observed several negative situations occurring in the leadership. It troubled me to see humanity corrupting what I built up as the holy church. This pastor mentor simply told me to take what I'm seeing and bank it as what NOT to do in my own ministry versus judging or condemning the ones I witnessed failing to uphold my hefty standards of perfection.
In other words, he was encouraging me to just not repeat their mistakes. Simple enough.
They were wise words not easy to fulfill. I made mistakes of my own, and basically gave another observer the same opportunity to learn. I'm sure Spencer has a notebook full of what not to do just by observing me.
Through my years of corporate America ladder climbing, I of course had several bosses. However, not so many that I lost count. I had exactly five bosses before starting my own business in 1999. I distinctly remember each one and now find myself reflecting about them after awakening from a dream they starred in or from and unplanned flashback. They helped mold who I am as a man. It's a bittersweet enlightenment because at the time, I felt they were opposed to me and just being an overlord. Whether their intent was that way or not, I am fortunate to know now that they mentored me nonetheless.
Only two of the five bosses are still alive today. Three met an untimely death due to cancer. Oddly enough, the same reason my own father died. I still hear their voices in my head as they laid out their big picture puzzles for me to understand business. I observed their conversations with staff and customers. I mimicked their strategies when on my own in a client office half way around the world. I even exercised their tactics early on in my marriage with my own wife to which she abruptly and frequently reminded me that she was neither a client or an employee I was managing. I was molded into aping their very essence. Good or bad, it's what happened to me.
I watch Spencer observe me while managing his music career. I watch him both ignore and tolerate me at the same time. But I also witness yielded fruit in unpredictable moments that reveal he has been listening and understood the painstaking teaching moments I've tried to impart with him. At times, I am astounded with his wisdom at such a young age. Often, we speak the same words and have the exact same thoughts about a circumstance we're in the midst of. It's creepy, to be honest. So I know that my influence in his life has definitely been environmentally a torch passing mentoring of him. He doesn't yet understand that he'll have many fathers in his life to shape his thinking and manhood, annoying or not. He will.
We are at the point in his music career that I'm about to figuratively and literally pass the torch of management to a professional organization in Nashville. He has been tutored and instructed by some music industry veterans these past four years, but not without my fingers intermingling to ensure the moral and ethical picture was in line with our faith system and my professional business insight.
So while I anticipate the inevitable season approaching when Spencer takes his wide eyed wonderment and enters a full time career in the music industry, I am also trying to prepare him in opportune moments to be on watch for and recognize the men God will place around him to hold him accountable and help him along the way. In those moments he nods his head in acknowledgement. I believe he's listening despite his expressionless and numbing stare off into space.
A valuable principle I learned in my Christian ministerial studies was a mentoring metaphor that has never left me. It was idly called the Paul Principle.
Paul was the apostle that came after Jesus had already ascended into heaven. Paul was the adopted step-child of the disciples. He was mentored by Barnabas, was in jail with a peer named Silas, and wrote letters of teaching to a student called Timothy.
The principle was this...
Every man in life should always have a Barnabas, Silas and Timothy if he is to be a complete man.
Always identify your Barnabas, the one who is mentoring and teaching you.
Discover your Silas. The peer who is in the trenches with you and learning life at the same time.
And never forget to pass the torch to a Timothy in your life. The wise saying goes "If you can't teach it, you really don't understand it."
We all have many Barnabas' along our journey. We all have many Silas' too. But to avoid complete selfishness, we need to take the wisdom we've acquired and impart it to ones like our children, their peers, and anyone else God allows us to come to know in our lifetime.
I still hear my father's thunderous voice in my head. When his temper flared, there was no mistaking it. I remember his soft spot for cuddling with us kids in front of a box fan on a cool summer night while watching TV. I remember the calloused hands that gripped tight on mine in public places as we walked. But I remember most the work ethic he espoused for providing for his family. I will forever be measured against that standard in my own family life. It's not a bad standard, but one that glares in contrast of all that I thought I didn't have in common with him. He was my mentor. I miss him and wish he could see my son becoming a man and working hard to build his life at such a young age. In that sense, my dad's mentoring flame has co-mingled with my son's life torch.
Sometimes it takes a while to understand the mentors around us.
In those quiet moments of the early morning when silence reigns supreme, when epiphany's permeate my thoughts while my brain drearily awakens to reboot for another day of life, the sitar strings of Jim Croce's song Cats and the Cradle echo in my memory and create a melodic tapestry of truth that fathers and sons have lived since the beginning of time.
My boy is just like me. My boy is just like me.