I became a mentor after bonding with a young man that I had tutored. We hit it off very well, and neither of us wanted our relationship to end when the tutoring did. I wanted Paul* to know that I cared about him, and not just because I wanted him to do well in school, but because we had started to build a relationship that I really enjoyed. As a foster child, Paul’s circumstances had been in flux much of the time that I had tutored him, and I wanted to provide him some stability—someone in his life who knew him throughout this turbulent time and was committed to staying connected with him. I wanted to be a kind of “Big Brother” that he never had; someone he could talk about life with in a natural way. I remember thinking at the time that this type of relationship is what my mentee wanted and needed.
It turns out that Paul did want me as a mentor, and our relationship gave me a lot of opportunities to support him and model for him how to handle various life situations. He frequently asked questions and watched my reactions to everything, so I always tried to model good choices for him. Knowing a bit about his past, I knew that he missed out on having a consistent role model when he was growing up, and that he needed to have someone encourage and confirm his growing sense of manhood on a deeper level.
It also turns out that I wanted and needed a relationship like this as well. I needed someone to be my “Little Brother,” and to get out there to experience “young people” things. I saw how set in my ways I had become and how much fun you can still have if you are willing to see things from a young kid’s eyes. And as a man with three daughters, getting to spend time with a young man has been a lot of fun, and has given me a glimpse of what having a son might have been like. Being with Paul is definitely different than hanging with girls, and it has been a blast to experience how the brain of a teenage boy works!
Thankfully, Paul and I are still enjoying our relationship. Paul attempts to keep me up to date on music, technology, lingo and fun. And despite our age difference, Paul has become a very good friend of mine. I have learned that there are benefits to our relationship that I didn’t expect. While I knew that Paul needed a little guidance and to be cared about, I had no idea how valuable it would be for me get more in touch with the younger generation and to see what bonding with a young man would involve. All in all, it’s hard to say which one of us has actually made the bigger difference in the other’s life. And that’s the great thing about a mentor /mentee relationship—it makes a difference in both of our lives!