All Joshua Rivers wanted was validation from a male elder. What he got was that and whole lot more.
For a 21-year old young black boy—who craved his father like an infant craves the milk from its mother’s breast—all I wanted was a male elder who would validate my achievements. I had a success story, one that included award-winning plays, athlete of the year, top male of his high school class and practically a full academic scholarship to a four year university—but in hindsight all I’ve ever really wanted was validation from a male elder.
I had my mother, who undoubtedly was extremely proud of me simply for graduating high school; but in my eyes it wasn’t enough. My sisters and brothers were all proud of me, too. They saw the awards, plaques, ceremonies, and all labeled me: “nerd-kid,” a title I proudly wear like 2 Chains and his shiny necklaces—even still, I craved that elder male validation.
Well, I finally got it. Upon graduating, I was “recruited” by a mentor; I’ll call him “Fred.” Fred asked me to serve as his “mentee.”He gave me a series produced by a church on mentoring. From the series—which was given to me almost six years ago—I remembered one striking statement: YOUR MENTOR IS INITIALLY YOUR TORMENTOR.
I got the point, in theory; essentially, your mentor is to push you outside of your comfort zone—to places you would’ve never seen yourself. And I must admit, indeed, I was placed in situations I would have never seen for myself. For one, I re-discovered my zeal for reading. I began to sharpen my writing skills. I became the “go-to” mentee for PowerPoint presentations, business acumen, and speaking points—all of which I would’ve never seen of myself prior to Fred drafting me. I did this consistently, for years, being the “good ol’ boy.”
Being pushed outside of my comfort zone wasn’t the tormenting part—my life in and of itself was a consistent thrusting into the unknown—however, the tormenting was coming and it almost cost me my relationship with God.
There comes a time when every son challenges his father. Usually it happens really young, at age seven; the father barks a command to which the child tests its validity. Almost always the father—being the stronger more capable male of the two —wins this battle outright (either through physical or economic intimidation) and thus the boundaries between father and son relationships are established—very loosely, but you get my point.
But what do you do for a young man who has literally never had a father? What do you say to a son who has navigated his way through manhood—on his own? How do you intimidate a boy who has stared abandonment, starvation, and isolation in its face and made a game out of it? Furthermore, what do you do when that boy grows into a man, becomes your mentee, and begins to challenge the barking of your commands? Surely you cannot physically intimidate him: he’s nothing smaller of 6’3, 185 pounds with less than 10% body fat! You cannot economically scare him: he makes enough to feed his family and still live well! How do you, as the father/mentor, assert your authority?
The answer is simple: you attack the very weakness you noticed in him when you first met him, which was dire need for elder male validation. But you twist it. You spread propaganda to get the very community that loved him to turn their back on him; tactics of an Old Soviet Union Communist, you act like he doesn’t exist.
The torment was unbearable—maybe not for a strong leader like some of you reading—but for someone like me, it sent me down a winding road of depression for almost a whole year. For a year I refused to eat; I doubted my gift to the world; I doubted God’s existence. In a year, I grew a hate that surpassed my father’s absence of 25 years. For once in my life, my body was literally paralyzed by hate—I couldn’t move. I hated that this person—Fred—knew my life’s greatest disappointments—and in a cowardly act of panic—decided to PUSH THE RED BUTTON!
I hated myself for being so vulnerable; the mental anguish of it all was almost unbearable. The only flicker of hope I had in God shined in a little small woman named Shayna Yvonne Rudd, now Rudd-Rivers—you get the point. Had it not been for the God in her and her Herculean efforts, you may not be reading this today.
Why does any of this matter? Because as this is national mentoring month, we can’t forget the power we possess as mentors. Maybe to some young professionals, mentoring is something small, something we do to make us feel good about ourselves every now and again. However, to the mentee, the relationship is an emotional investment that may reach back on to heal a severely damaged wound.
In times of mentor-mentee confrontation we should NEVER PRESS THE RED BUTTON and resort to exploiting our mentee’s weakness in order to exert control over them. That is not mentoring, that’s TORMENTING.
Out of that painful mentoring experience, I learned some very valuable lessons. For example, once a mentee asked me a question on religion; I responded by telling them to do research and to pray that God directs your path (Soooo not the answer for extremely religious mentors).
Another mentee asked me about sex; we ended up laughing about that topic later on because he thought I would give him a super-religious answer. Instead, I kept it practical while explaining the spiritual effects of it. In fact, I don’t even refer to my mentee’s as such; I call them my little brothers (subconsciously to disassociate myself from my own experience, and to constantly remind myself that I’M NOT THEIR FATHER).
Mentoring for me is exactly what it sounds like: men “touring” around life open to suggestions. There’s so much more to my definition, but I’ll leave it at that.
There are times where my little brothers and I may not agree, but I preface all controversial topics with something like: “This is your choice, but in my experience.”
There will come a time where confrontation may arise and as an older brother-mentor, but whether I agree with what they choose or not, I still support and love them. For those who are Christians, the best example of this is the “Parable of the Prodigal Son.” In essence, the King allowed the son to experience life, and when he came back, out of shame, poverty and sheer embarrassment, the King loved Him more! For us mentors, we must ask ourselves the honest question: “Do I value the love or the control of a mentoring relationship?”
In hindsight, I guess you can say that my mentor was initially my tormentor. If I had not been through that form of hell, I wouldn’t do what I do now. I wouldn’t be who I currently am to my little brothers. I wouldn’t have gone to theology school to discover the truth about what I believed. My faith wouldn’t be as strong as it is now. I wouldn’t have been able to publish a book on that experience that touched lives around the world.
I’m sorry if you thought you’d read about a great mentor … I’m just great at surviving. Aren’t we all …?
Joshua J. Rivers is an award-winning author, writer and speaker. He has published Birthed to be a King (2011) and Rumble Young Man Rumble (2014). Visit www.jayrivers.net for more information.
**Editors note: Christopher “Flood The Drummer” Norris has curated all of these stories from the mentors in his community for a special a series on mentoring. after the series is complete all of the essays will be made into a book by TechbookOnline.
Source: TBO Inc®
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Photo: C. Norris
Read more from the series on mentoring: