The word and concept “mentor” is very ancient, going all the way back to Homer’s Odyssey, thought to have been written in the 9th century BCE. The hero of the story, Odysseus had an older, vastly experienced friend named Mentor who advised him and ran his affairs at home while Odysseus was off fighting in the Trojan War. Over time, Mentor’s name became synonymous with long-standing advisors and friends.
Ironically, everything I learned above, about what a mentor is, or where the word came from, was from my mentor. Today a mentor is a friend and advisor, usually older, who is experienced and capable, close to the younger individual and sometimes looking after his or her physical as well as spiritual, cultural, emotional, social and political needs and education.
We have all had mentors throughout our lives, but unfortunately many of us might have been too young to understand that we were actually being mentored. The importance of having a mentor and value they can bring to an individuals life is arguably one of the greatest tools a person can have when going through life’s trials and victories. I also feel that unfortunately your time to utilize the tremendous value of a mentor are somewhat shorter than one would like. There comes a time in ones life when the mentored becomes the mentor. Not that your mentor ever stops giving advice, offering support, or teaching you. Only that a mentor not often outlives the one he or she is mentoring. Furthermore, like a mother bird nudging her offspring out of a nest, there comes a time where the student needs to face their fears, and fly.
I have had a few mentors in my life but was too young to truly appreciate the value of their advice or lessons they were trying to teach. I would like to say that my father is still a mentor in my life, but he is my parent, which is different from a mentor, though he performed many of the same functions. I value his role in my life and am to this day profoundly grateful for his abounding love and understanding. I also have a few uncles and aunts whom I have looked up to over the years, and who have reinforced valuable virtues I live by today. However, the individual that continues to impact me today and pushes me to continuously grow was a man I met over twenty years ago.
One of the greatest gifts I was given in life came when I took one of my greatest risks. In the summer of 1996 when I was 19 years old I moved to Montreal so I could study theater that fall. I remember that year as being one of the most pivotal years of my life, and most difficult. I had moved with very little, and truthfully, against the will of my parents. As much as I hate to do things against my parents wishes, it has never been enough to stop me from doing what I feel necessary. Once I landed in Montreal I found myself a little studio apartment with a mini-fridge and stove. I chose Montreal largely because there was a Kung-Fu teacher there who I wanted to learn from. I had no phone or television, so I would spend my time reading and practicing martial arts. I wandered the city alone exploring new sights and areas, and then turned to wander the school that I would attend a few weeks later. It was there that I met John. Now here is the thing about finding yourself a mentor. A mentor will choose you as much as you choose them. Remember this if ever you find a child, student or peer modeling you. Mentoring is very much like volunteer work; you must take responsibility for something that you do not necessarily have to. At 19 years old I modeled my Sifu in Kung-Fu more than I modeled John, who became my professor that fall. However, it was John who saw this young man with a big heart missing his family and the closeness he had with them. John took it upon himself to see that he was available anytime I needed support, help, or a shoulder to lean on. This began our relationship that quickly evolved from teacher – student, to friends. I am so incredibly fortunate to have had a professor who quickly became my favorite teacher, then a friend, a father figure, and finally – mentor. 23 years later, John is still all of the above for me and continues to guide and offer support whenever he feels its needed.
“God lives in the details.”
-John T. Lucas-
Once John and I had become friends, we began sharing stories exposing the true colors that painted our pasts. It was then that I began to look up to and model him, for I had never met a person with such a remarkable history. I thought to myself, if I could learn or accomplish even a quarter of what this man has in his life, I would have succeeded greatly. I remember telling him that I wanted to make him proud. He responded saying, “Richard, even if you worked at Mcdonalds serving fries, but were doing it to your fullest and were happy, you will have made me proud.” It was around this time that I began to absorb everything John was willing to bestow upon me. I asked him thousands of questions and we discussed concepts, philosophies, dreams and events. The more I began to understand, the more he would challenge me. I grew tremendously through this period in my life and will forever be grateful to him for that.
This year I had the extreme pleasure of taking my wife out to see my friend and mentor in Victoria. She had never met him in person before. After many years of talking about him, I was excited to watch her interact with him and experience what I have had the opportunity to experience all these years. Because my parents were along with us, they too were able to join in the fun, and John was kind enough to host a luncheon party for them. The afternoon was filled with fantastic food, great stories and company, capped with a performance of John singing, accompanied by our loving friend and pianist Max. We shared many laughs and stories, but I mostly sat quiet observing. I could not help but take pleasure in watching my parents and wife enjoy hearing stories I had the privilege of hearing many years ago. It was an absolute delight.
The afternoon could not have went any better. My father had a couple glasses of wine which he has not had in over 40 years. John prepared a classic french dish complimented with a spirit from the Netherlands. This was followed by a desert now popular among the residents of Broadmead, thanks to a recipe John shared with the local baker. He does not take credit for the desert though; it was his mother’s recipe who was an outstanding chef in France the years following the war. He shared many stories of his family, his upbringing, and some of the things he has experienced over the years. I almost fell out of my chair when he allowed Chessie to help him in the kitchen, something I have never seen him do. John loves to cook and especially loves cooking for others. In all the years I have known him, there has been one thing for certain. He gets very irritated sharing his kitchen with another and becomes quite annoyed if you try to take over preparing a meal. When he asked Chess for her help I knew how much he adored her. The thought of this act still melts my heart.
I could write about all of John’s accolades and accomplishments, but this was never the intention of this blog. I wanted to emphasize the importance and beauty of having a mentor. There is an incredible amount of joy to be experienced by allowing yourself to be challenged, and an equal amount of joy when you can contribute back in a way that you once received. We all have mentors and should embrace them, learn from them, and one day choose to reciprocate all you learned back to another open mind and heart. These are the things that are important in ones life, and I can assure you will find much happiness in doing so.