Role models. We used to have them. They seem harder to find every day. Young actresses and athletes have more stories about their rehab efforts or failures than reports on accomplishments in their chosen fields. What is success?
When asked to report on their hero, my older son’s fourth grade report was on Cal Ripken. Good! The man showed up to work every day, did what he was supposed to do and had a healthy family life. What more could you ask for?
But where else do we look for role models? Politics? Jimmy Carter is the closest thing we’ve got in that department. Yes, there are religious leaders like the Dalai Lama whom I personally look up to. But the average American kid doesn’t understand what someone wearing robes with a funny accent could possibly have in common with them.
Parents should be the ultimate role model in a child’s life. They usually are. Some are lucky enough, worthy of being put high up on that pedestal. We do our best. Often as not, it takes a good year or more of the kid moving out for them to realize what exactly you did do for them.
Zachary suggested the topic for this column because of a talk we had earlier today. I was very pleased to hear him consider the subject and for having had someone consider him good for a special job.
One of the high school teachers was hanging out in the weight room with the boys, giving them pointers and helping them and basically (I think) making a good connection with them (not that she hasn’t already done so!).
She suggested to Zachary that some of his fellow teammates and other athletes might go to the middle school and try to make some contact there, encourage the boys and girls to take up a sport or continue it if they are already in one, guide them.
He told me how when he was a freshman he’d always looked up to a couple of the players on the team. One he’d known for a long time and so was comfortable with and felt he could trust. Both these guys had something he looked to
them for, and they gave freely— respect, talent, personality, senses of humor. Why couldn’t he, himself share those qualities with others? Encourage them as he had been by these fellows?
Our schools have long had a “reading buddy” system, wherein older students hook up with “little kids” and read stories, help them learn to read and be a “trusted guide” for the youngster. Everyone wins: the little ones get help, the opportunity to develop a life-long love of learning and a companion and older kids get respected, the chance to feel needed and the pleasure of serving others.
Student readers and coaches, both are wonderful ways of preparing and presenting role models from an early age. “Real” people, real contact…solid life lessons. No cameras, no hype. But, maybe they deserve some!