In our elementary schools and team sports for younger kids there seems to be this foolish desire to make everyone a winner. But there are winners and losers. They had assemblies at my kids’ elementary schools, several times a year, in which eventually every kid won an achievement award. When I coached my young son’s coach-pitch baseball league, I was told at the end of the season to get trophies for everyone, including myself. Instead of enhancing self-esteem, the truth is this just diminishes any one child’s actual accomplishments.
(Please note that this is revised version of an older column, but one that holds a lot of value, in my opinion. I am still “matched” with both my “little brother” and mentor the young man with the genetic illness. I can say it’s not easy, either of these relationships, but I know it’s making a difference in their lives. It also costs me some money, but it’s my way of giving charity rather than writing a check to an organization)
One of the clichés about volunteerism is that “you get more than you give.” In my case, it was true in ways and means I least expected. I’ve just become a Big Brother and mentor, again, to a 7-year-old boy and a mentor to a 23-year-old young man. As these relationships are new, I don’t yet know what lessons I will learn. But I know well the lessons I learned the first time around.
I became a Big Brother long before I was married or a parent. My life, at that time, was pretty heady. In my early 30s, I had a successful showbiz career in which I was paid way too much for having so much fun. I lived in a lovely home in a chic part of town, had two cars, and no one to worry about other than myself.
Much to my surprise and pleasure, I totally loved Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs when I saw it yesterday with my “little brother” (I’m a Big Brother and he is 7). We saw it in 3D and while those effects were good, it wasn’t a movie that screamed a need for 3D. It was that rare animated movie that was truly clever, without trying too hard. I was totally amused, laughing, and appreciative of the extraordinary quality of its graphics and very clever script.
I think the hardest lesson for me in becoming a parent was learning to let go of my expectations for my sons. Okay, I’ll be completely honest; I’ve only been able to partially let go of them. I think it’s impossible not to have some wishes for our kids, but the focus here is really on how we have specific things we hope they’ll like or do that often mirror our own interests or fantasies.
When I was a member of the Big Brother organization it had the unexpected effect of turning out to be a parenting prep course. The “Little” (the term for the kid you are matched with) I had was a young eight-year-old girl who totally didn’t like doing anything physical. This was before I was married, let alone before I became a parent.
In those days, they matched girls with Big Brothers, something that is all too rare today, due to fears enhanced by the media and the exaggeration of sexual harassment. Another topic for another column, for sure, as the little girls without fathers need the “Bigs” just as much as the little boys do, so this is a terrible loss for them.
One of the clichés about volunteerism is the fact that you often get more than you give. In my case, it was in ways and means I least expected. I’ve just become a Big Brother, again, to a 7-year-old boy and a Mentor to a 22-year-old young man. As these relationships are new, I don’t yet know what lessons I will learn. But, I know well the lessons I learned the first time around.
I became a Big Brother, long before I was married or a parent. My life, at that time, was pretty heady. In my early 30’s, I had a successful showbiz career in which I was paid way too much for having so much fun, I lived in a lovely home in a chic part of town, had two cars, and no one to worry about other than myself.