By definition, a mentor is a loyal advisor and coach who guides another person toward a specific goal or goals. Oddly, the word “mentee” cannot be found in a collegiate dictionary, but it should be. With all due respect, I challenge Mr. Webster to explain how a mentor can “ment”–which, his dictionary defines as a “noun used as a suffix meaning a result or a product”–absent the presence of a mentee. But be that as it may, all professional writers have been granted a Divine Right to create new words.
To be sure, individuals have different levels of natural talent and physical coordination, but no one has ever been born knowing hot to cast a dry fly or lure a wary gobbler within shotgun range. The surest way to achieving either or both of those goals is to have a mentor. But where does a would-be fisherman or hunter go to find one?
My mother recently showed me a column from the “Hutchinson (Kansas) News,” in which the author opined that the “good old days” were a myth. I beg to differ. Having experienced it personally, I’m convinced that the 1950’s were the best ten years in human history to be a child in. Our country was governed by men and women whose first thought was finding a way to work together, and it was led by a man who kept the country out of Mid Eastern wars, instead of plunging it into them. Two-parent families, only one of whom worked, were the norm. True, we watched films at school in which a turtle wearing a soldier’s helmet taught us how to “duck and cover” beside our desks, but the threat of nuclear war scared our parents a lot more than it did us.
Given that backdrop, it’s not surprising that most of my pals and I had multiple outdoor mentors. Mine were led by my maternal grandfather, one of his older brothers and one of his cousins, but my mother and father made time to take me fishing and hunting on occasion, even though neither sport was anywhere near the top of their personal priority lists.
Thanks to a timely career shift that changed me from a never-home father to an always-home one, I was able to serve as both father and mentor–they’re two different things–to my son and daughter. Neither of them became so passionate about the outdoors that they made careers out of it like I did. In fact, my son only hunts and fishes when he comes home for visits, but he often retells stories of the outings we made when he was young. My daughter’s fishing and hunting genes are reawakening, and, best of all, she’s determined that I mentor my grandson as I did her.
I’ve devoted so much space to outdoor mentoring’s past, because it was so rich. Nowadays, being either a mentor or a mentee is far more problematic. More two-parent households still exist than some entities would have us believe, but it’s almost certain that both parents work outside the home. If either or both of them enjoy fishing and/or hunting, it’s very tempting for them to treat the time spent on those activities as personal recreation rather than as an opportunity to mentor their children. Then too, a seemingly ever-increasing number of households are headed by a single, extremely overworked parent, usually a woman. That these women are part of the demographic that leads all others in the number of newcomers to the shooting and hunting sports is a testimony to their determination.
Organizations including but by no means limited to the Missouri Department of Conservation and the National Rifle Association have stepped by offering seminars, hands-on training and special hunts that do a good job of lighting a spark of interest in the outdoor sports, but only a long term one-on-one relationship with a mentor can fan that spark into a lifelong flame.
Wise attorneys warn never to ask a question you don’t already know the answer to. I’m going to ignore that sound advice and ask this question: How do mentors and mentees find each other outside of traditional sources like family members?
I must confess I don’t know. I’ve spent years trying to get groups loaded with mentors and groups rife with mentees to develop programs to reach out to one another with zero results. So I’m going to step way outside the box. I would love link up with one person who’s serious about forming a long term mentor/mentee relationship. Gender is not a factor, but I would want my mentee to be at least 16 years old.
Gerald Scott can be reached at [email protected]