As our young talents drift through a much more quantified lockout purgatory than we, the value of mentoring should be in our forethought. Often, a stranger who cares turns out to be the most influential person in our lives. An honest voice who does not tell you what to do, just listens and accepts, and directly conveys their life experience to the end of making you feel qualified so you can move past your self-doubt and find your own way.
Coaches often find themselves in the struggle between a young person’s home life and that same youngster’s untempered will, for better or worse. The frog and the scorpion, as mentioned by Blings recently, led me down an enlightening path over this last week.
Funny how when we hear stories at different times in our lives we take different things from them, huh? I just rolled somewhere over thirty, and this parable struck me as very pertinent to both the Cowboys and our planet’s state. I came across this link while surfing around and after getting over the depression wrought by the reminder that the world is full of scorpions, I started thanking God for the people who offer help selflessly.
I mentioned this week that I had been kicked out of my house for smoking the ganja when I was young. The year before that, though, I had lost my mom to cancer. I was fourteen, she was thirty-seven. I got expelled from school after that and spent months grounded to my room, until finally my dad was smart enough to cut me fee by kicking me out.
The first thing I did was fly off the chain, I’ll leave it at that. I ended up leaving PHX and went to this little town in NE AZ. I got myself straight, worked summers in JTPA and ended up graduating from an alternative education high school where I was on a first name basis with my teachers, who saw potential in this scraggly-haired, goofy-lanky kid and dedicated their extra time.
So, I turned eighteen. Again, I flew off the chain. Bad; like ChiaCrack bad. K, not that bad (Dude I’m effing sorry, I couldn’t help myself), but I was really self-destructive. I made one truly negative, polarizing decision, and found myself at the mercy of a man who had killed men for less than what I had done. He saw that same potential in me and knew I was just a kid; he let me go to find my way.
My way was broke and without a real home. So I went to the people I knew I could be honest with and be accepted without having to sit through a bunch of judgmental crap. I went to my teachers, who had also been my bosses in the JTPA program, and coaches in softball, volleyball and basketball (no football or baseball, we were too poor to afford insurance). They heard me out.
I am sorry to say that my generation is the last to see business done by handshake. We only saw it in our grandpas, but we got to witness it. If a teacher were to offer even a graduated student a place to stay nowadays, I’m sure havoc would break out. That is what my old teacher/boss/coach did for me. He and his family owned eighty acres and needed help building a house and homesteading.
It was a totally symbiotic relationship between a young punk and a man who was a gifted artist, singer, inventor, athlete and much more. He and his wife never told me what to do, they only asked that I help them out in what was basically my spare time. They had a couple of kids who immediately looked at me as their big brother. I had plenty of space and eventually I came back to just being me.
Through everything I did that I knew better, and the constantly condemning voice in my head, I always knew I would be okay. My relationship with this family started as simply a man giving another man a place to be okay and grew into me keeping in better touch with them than my actual family and my becoming their sons’ godfather.
I’m not going to bash my dad. He worked four jobs sometimes, he made time when he could and he taught me a GRIP! But my mentor, William “Mark” Westfall, is the coolest person I have ever known. He did all of that while being easy to hang out with; quite frankly, I was scared of my dad.
Mark died in a car crash making the sixty mile trip home from the school he taught at on a Navajo reservation. His wife told him to stay at a friend’s, but he wanted to kiss his sons goodnight. It is the most bittersweet knowledge in my life that if Mark had not groomed me, I never could have been there for his family in the waiting room or in the years following his death.
Before teaching on the res, Mark had taught and coached football in what were small, predominantly Mormon towns in Northern AZ. Mark could never be a member of the church because he drank beers and, when justified, cussed. The genuine outpouring of love from the community to an outsider was enlightening and moving.
You know, I can walk out front and punt a football fifty yards because this guy showed me how. I can sing because he told me we each have our own voice and we have to find it. I know my heart, and this man taught me confidence without cockiness.
He was neither scorpion nor frog. Predator nor prey. Because of sports, this man knew what it meant to be human. I will still think of him and his accidental wisdom in times of need. Of course, in my own way I pay forward what he taught me.
Our players have avoided negative headlines very well over the last several years. That is why Dez is so polarizing. We remember what it is like to have a team who makes headlines for prostitutes and coke, and we don’t want to see a return. Where would he be if someone had been able to get through to him not to borrow a year’s salary before he signed a contract? Our 2011 rookies appear to be on point, and in their interviews they are all about their coaches.
Not often does the chance to influence someone in a positive manner come along, and it takes work; you must be tenacious. Those who take that step will always be remembered. I know there are a lot of coaches and teachers on this board. And I want to say thanks. Dependable mentors keep the world going.
***Edit***I made it sound like Mark and I never argued. But we were doing construction together and argued pretty regularly. We respected one anothers' viewpoints and realized it made for better work. Yet another lesson I learned from this man.
I'm still working on the roster depth post prob a Sunday post...