Ties that Bind

A blogger, a man I’ve never met but who seems in many respects to share some of the emotional framework that keeps the flesh on my bones, wrote today about losing a friend and mentor. His mentor was a teacher, several years his senior, who recognized my friend’s need for a resource, a counselor ready to offer support and advice. As I read of his experience, I felt both pain at his loss and envy that my friend had the good fortune of having such a mentor. I’ve always wondered what my life would have been like if I’d had an older and wiser counselor; not to direct me, but to offer guidance and opportunities for input.

My father was fifty years old when I was born, so by the time I was fifteen and ready for advice and counsel, he was a sixty-five-year-old man ready to retire. I was the sixth of this children to need and want something in the way of advice, but by that time he was tired, I think. I don’t remember any substantive “father to son” advice from him. And I don’t recall any male teachers or other father figures who might have offered that father-to-son advice that I’ve always felt I missed growing up. I don’t know the details of the  youth of my friend whose mentor just died, but I suspect the presence of his mentor was a substitute for a father who wasn’t there in the way that we traditionally think fathers should be “there” for their children.

I do not fault my father in any form for failing to be my mentor. I don’t know how a sixty-five-year-old man could relate to a teenager who was just beginning to bud. I’m nearly sixty-five years old now. I would advise a fifteen year old kid to find someone else with whom he could relate; I’m neither interested in nor willing to invest my energy in a child at this stage of my life. That sounds cruel and selfish. My father was neither. But he had invested his time and talent in five other kids by that time; he was tired. Even if another adult had been available and willing to be available to serve as my counselor and guide, I doubt that I would have accepted the help. I was an angry kid. I still am in many ways. But I guess today the anger is directed at myself for having been unwilling to open myself up to people who were willing to help. I know they must have been there, but I was an angry kid, unwilling to accept help.

At any rate, I feel for my friend for his loss. He feels guilt, I think, that he did not take the time to go see his mentor recently, before the man died, to tell him how much the man meant to him. I understand his sense of guilt, though I think it’s misplaced. I am sure, based on what I’ve read about their interactions, that his mentor was well aware of how much his mentorship was valued and how strong the bonds of friendship had grown. Regardless, loss is hard. It’s brutal. That is true of life itself. I’ve known that for years and that’s why I’ve sometimes pondered ending it. But I won’t. Because there’s too much to learn, too much to appreciate, that outweighs the pain.

Yep. I’m wandering and making little sense. I do that sometimes. Like whenever I write and let my fingers be guided by my brain.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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