It’s a tough question.
Truth is, I don’t think I even knew what the term “role model” really meant until recently. I’ve always shied away from it – I don’t want to be exactly like one person. I’d rather share qualities with multiple, actually.
Role. It is another word for a function or duty (although this word makes it sound like work).
Model. “A standard for imitation or comparison,” according to dictionary.com, which knows everything.
Role model (again, according to the website that knows everything): “A person whose behavior, example, or success is or can be emulated by others, especially by younger people.”
I have known many who meet this criteria, namely a football coach, high school principal, author and set of parents. I would not want to swap or copy any of their lives altogether, for my role models have changed with the chapters of my life.
I wouldn’t mind putting together a sort of “dream team” of qualities and paths, however.
My head football coach in high school had a career path I always envied. A college graduate, teacher and parent, he was a man whose life afforded luxuries only men truly grounded can appreciate. He lives in the town in which he was born. He’s surrounded by family, and started one of his own. Last I knew, he hunted and fished with his father regularly.
Most notable to me, though, was his lust for life. (His life – not a life others thought he should lead.) Although I left town before our relationship could advance beyond teacher-student, his satisfaction with being a parent, teacher, football coach and local hero was wildly obvious. I yearn for such vindication.
Then there was my high school principal, a role model I didn’t know I had until years after I graduated. His advice – rarely less than cutting – went beyond mere polite suggestions of what to do. No way. This man included potential ramifications of making poor choices.
“Hey, 65 percent is passing,” I heard him knowingly say one time in clipped sentences. “But I don’t want to be on a plane with a pilot who only lands right 65 percent of the time.” His tone was one of “well, duh.”
He, too, was a teacher and parent (although the roles are one in the same). He was a seasoned veteran in the game of bullshitting. None of my excuses, explanations or other words beginning with “ex” ever worked. But it wasn’t a pissing contest with this educator – he had my best interest at heart.
How is he a role model? He did this with everyone I knew. Everyone. Thousands of students in his career, including those who statistically didn’t have a glimmer of a twinkle of a chance to make it in this world. While I’m sure his comfortable salary was more than welcome, leading youngsters to do what was right seemed to be his true motivation – one he dedicated his life to.
Then there’s Edward Abbey – a man known for little more than the saying “if a man can’t piss in his own front yard, he’s living too close to town.” I’ll keep it short.
Abbey lived in the wild west a few days before it went tame. While he did own up to cutting down flashy billboards and throwing empty Schlitz beer cans on the highways, Abbey’s most potent weapon in the war on the “progress” of man was his collection of words. He gave credit where credit was due – and launched vicious onslaughts against his opponents at town hall meetings, college addresses and through his writings.
People really listened; they are still listening. I wish I had Abbey’s determination.
Speaking of which, rounding out my list of role models are my mom and dad – two people who had to have been determined to see me through childhood. They probably embody the entire list of qualities that have earned folks a spot on my role model list, come to think of it.
I decided years ago I would have abandoned me before my 18th birthday had I been them. I really never did anything they asked. Instead, I oftentimes drowned in the waters I constantly tested, leaving Mom and Dad to clean up the mess. I couldn’t have handled my shenanigans.
But they were content with the life they had with my sister and me. They had our best interest at heart. And they were determined to see us through.
Their lust for life was collectively meant to include our family. Dad rarely fell for my excuses; Mom played it safe and always assumed I was scheming something evil. They kept their lives on the “straight and narrow,” hoping to lead by example, not knowing until years later if it worked or not.
It did for me.
That said, it is with pleasure and tranquility I admit I might have – just maybe, that is – narrowed my list of role models to two.