Picking Mentors
Choose Wisely

I have a test for each of you. It won’t take fifteen minutes, but it is essential to your trip down your yellow brick road of life. Don’t email me your exam so I can grade it. I want you to take the test. Be honest. Don’t cheat or fudge the truth. When you answer my quiz, I want you to ponder your responses. What is fascinating is that you will be seeing yourself becoming you. Therein lies your grade for only you to see.

But first, the backstory. In the early part of our lives, we start toddling around the world before going to kindergarten. We unconsciously meet people and look up to and admire them. Often, they were members of our nuclear or extended family. As we continued our journey into our teens, other people were added, which will continue for our entire lives.

Look for a moment at this picture and ponder.

Our journey

Our journey

This picture demonstrates two critical issues that we all face. Our journey in life is not a rerun of precious journeys. We haven’t had a dress rehearsal. It is up to us to navigate our lives, hopefully for many decades. Being alone is the other issue, which is often scary and frightening. Therefore, we will look up to people we admire. The famous Italian Renaissance painter depicted a grandson looking up at his grandfather, knowing he would help mentor him.

An Old Man and his Grandson by Ghirlandaio

An Old Man and his Grandson by Ghirlandaio

People will assist us at every stage of our lives, from infancy until we die. They will reach out to us and assist us in our various struggles.

A helping hand

A helping hand

We are fortunate when people are willing to help us during our journey. Sometimes, we don’t fully realize their help. Go to Mentor and Me, and you will find a list of my mentors. My first mentor was Brooks Oakford, who was my cousin. He owned a candy store called Aunt Charlotte’s in Merchantville, NJ. I could walk to Aunt Charlette’s from my home.

In early December, when I was nine years old, Brooks asked me whether I wanted to work for him at the candy store prepared for Christmas. I jumped at that opportunity. For a couple of weeks, either after school or on weekends, I was at Aunt Charlette’s. I considered Brooks giving me a job as an early Christmas gift. I didn’t think I was working; it was just a lot of fun. Brooks taught me how to work on various equipment in the store that made candy and ice cream. He believed that I could learn, and he trusted me.

However, I completely missed what he saw in me. It took me many years before I understood how much Brooks trusted me and my ability, even as a nine-year-old kid. The one job I truly loved was putting pretzels on a conveyor belt that coated them with chocolate. Several years ago, I visited Brooks, and he still had the coating machine.

Brooks Visit

The second transformative person in my life was Louie Palmer, who was the head of the art and music department at Muskingum College. In the 60s, Muskingum required all students to take an art history class called The Arts. You could take that 10-hour class in either your junior or senior year. I took it in my junior year and did reasonably well. However, I didn’t ace the class. At the end of the year, Louie called me to his office and asked me to be his teaching assistant during my senior year. I taught several subsections weekly. I also wrote and graded both the midterms and finals that year. I still love teaching, even at eighty years of age.

This is a photo of Louie teaching a subsection sixty years ago.

Louie Teaching

It was where I discovered Ghirlandaio’s An Old Man and His Grandson, along with hundreds of other paintings, sculptures, buildings, and music. Go to Critical Issues and the Articles index page. You will see Ghirlandaio’s An Old Man and His Grandson, van Gogh’s Starry Night, Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People, Mann’s Silas and Eppie, and Gerome’s Gladiator (Pollice Verso), and Picasso’s Don Quixote. There are three other pictures: a medieval pen and ink of three devils dancing with death, a low-relief of sculpture of Gilgamesh, and an oil painting of Nietzsche. It still amazes me how much I have benefited from being Louie’s teaching assistant.

So, the back story of this essay was about two of my mentors, Brooks and Louie. I have one more example of the importance of mentors. Our mentors assist each of us on our journey. What is fascinating is that you will be seeing yourself becoming you. This is my final example of the importance of mentors. Ti Ti, my granddaughter who lives in Myanmar, has been accepted at two colleges in America. She is in the process of obtaining a student visa and come to America. Ti Ti will live in my home; this is her office awaiting her arrival. Who is Ti Ti’s mentor? Look at the two photos next to each other. One was Ti Ti when we first met. She was nine at that time. The picture next to hers is Aung San Suu Kyi, her mentor.

Ti Ti and Mentor

Now, for your assignment. I want you to make a list of several people whom you view as your mentors. Merely jot down their names and write down what you admire about that person next to each name. You see what you will become. It is a snapshot of you in the coming years. That insight into your future is a tremendous creative awareness you will experience as you look at your mentors.

Oops. I just thought of another excellent example of mentors . One of Trump’s mentors is Putin. Trump saw the news about Putin and Ukraine on TV. This is what he admires about Putin. “This is genius. Putin declares a big portion of the Ukraine — of Ukraine — Putin declares it as independent. Oh, that’s wonderful . He used the word ‘independent’ and ‘we’re gonna go out and we’re gonna go in and we’re gonna help keep peace.’ You gotta say that’s pretty savvy.” Hmmm.

Be careful about who your mentors are to be. You will see yourself becoming like your mentors.