I was six when I first met Tom.
Before Tom, the only man I was around was my little league baseball coach. Coach Castle drove an old beater Jeep Cherokee. It had wood paneling and smelled like stale pipe smoke. Sometimes after practice, Coach Castle drove us to Terri’s Hot Dog Stand and bought us fried cherry pies. Coach didn’t talk much. So I just watched him. Squinting. Like I was looking at a lunar eclipse. Men were an anomaly. They rarely came around. Men were elusive creatures, like Snuffleupagus from Sesame Street.
Tom came to our door with a crooked smile and a bushy mustache, back when they were cool. I wasn’t sure what to think of him. But the first time we hung out, Tom took me to Baskin Robins and bought me a double scoop of chocolate. I remember it dripping down my fingers onto the table. But it didn’t matter – I had a new friend.
Later, I finally got the courage to ask Tom why he was so hairy. (I was never around men, so I didn’t see hairy arms.) Tom got dead serious, and I thought I’d offended him. Maybe he had some freakish hair disease. Like lycanthropy. Tom pulled his truck over to the side of the road and took a deep breath. Then, with a grave tone offered,
“My mother is a monkey.”
There it was. I didn’t really believe him. Not really. But when a guy opens his heart to you about his mom, you can’t make fun of him. My six-year old mind wondered, what if she really was a monkey? It would hurt Tom’s feelings if I laughed, and he might not be my friend anymore. He eventually fessed up. From that day on, when I had a birthday or holiday, Tom sent a card with a monkey on the front. Signed, “from Tom and Mom.”
Now, looking back, I realize the people who mean the most to me are the people who showed up in my life. And I think that is true for all of us. Around The Mentoring Project, we often say, “mentors win by showing up.” When you show up faithfully in someone’s life, you say without words,
“I am with you. You matter.”
We all need people to show up in our lives. People who value us. People who believe in us. People who laugh with us and listen to us. People like Tom. Tom and I didn’t have a lot of deep talks. But he made himself available and offered his time. Being with him helped me appreciate humor and fueled my imagination. Laughing together brought me a sense of belonging. We had shared experiences, like catching my first bass on Lake Conway. Because of Tom, I learned being a man was not as scary or weird as I made it out to be. I no longer needed to be afraid of men, or afraid of becoming one myself.
• • •
Who showed up in your life? Who are you showing up for?