Michael Van Osch remembers the incomparable power of the influence of a strong mentor.
Once in a while, a man comes along that so personifies real, positive manhood that he simply can’t be ignored. His mere existence can inspire legions of boys and men to be better, to accomplish big things and to be the rocks our society needs. He may or may not be famous outside of his own circle, but the impact he has is great.
If, like me, you’ve had a man such as this in your life, you count yourself blessed and lucky as you strive to live up to the higher standard set by his influence. My mentor, Donald “Moe” Targosz, was one of those special men. Moe was many things: an ex-pro football player, English teacher, winning football coach, businessman, husband and father, not to mention an avid ice-fisherman. But above all, when you met him, you knew immediately that this was a real man. You knew because he lived every day by his principles—principles backed by beliefs that simply couldn’t be shaken by the winds of folly, fad, and social pressure.
I can proudly say that this bear of a man with a bald head and a crooked chin was my mentor from my late teens until last year, when he succumbed to cancer. And when you get to have as many conversations over almost 30 years as I did with a man like Moe, you wish somehow that you had a recording of every one of them to which you could refer back in times of discouragement and despair.
After losing such an important figure in my life, I find myself looking back to the lessons I’ve learned and the struggles I’ve overcome in my life, thanks in part to Moe’s help and advice. Equally adept in making his point by using a quote from Shakespeare or by making a football analogy, Moe opened the minds of many students over his 30-plus-year teaching career at St. Jerome’s High School in Kitchener, Ontario. He opened our minds to a bigger world—a world where, if you could dream it, you could do it.
Without a doubt, the biggest lesson this man ever taught me can be summed up in a quote that is uniquely Moe:
“I’ve never met a happy wimp.”
Though you may laugh, as I did, upon hearing it for the first time, let it sink in and take root, and you may realize that this one simple statement actually says it all. It may not sound like Shakespeare, but like a single line from the Bard, it conveys a wealth of knowledge.
What at first may seem to be mere bravado, upon inspection becomes the most succinct way of saying that if you want to be happy in your life, then it is up to you. It is up to you to:
- Stand up for that in which you believe
- Go after what you want out of life
- Refuse to settle
- Respect yourself and others
- Keep your word
- Refuse to compromise your principles and values for anything
- Overcome fear and be open to new people and ideas
- Dream big and take risks as a part of your life
- Continuously move out of your comfort zone to find and live your calling.
Let’s test-drive Moe’s quote, shall we? Think about men you know in your own life. Who are the happy, successful men? The ones who continually compromise themselves, the small thinkers, and those operating out of fear? How about the ones who have given up on their dreams or those who don’t do what they say they’ll do—are they the ones you admire?
How about putting yourself to the test? We know that happiness doesn’t come from the “outside,” so when you’re not “feeling it,” simply ask yourself if you’re acting like the man you want to be. Are you living to the best of your ability at work, with your family and friends, and with yourself? Are you making the hard choices, or are you taking the easy way out? Probably not.
We live in an age when it can be very easy to forget that becoming the man you want to be actually takes action; yes, even work. Unfortunately, it’s not simply a question of entering a Google search for “man” and hitting return. No, it’s a lifelong process that requires intentional effort, learning, and sometimes re-learning timeless lessons from men who have gone before us.
It is not always easy or popular to do what you believe is right. Moe was often in opposition against school officials and other teachers for doing what he knew was right—for what he knew was best for the young men he was teaching. And that’s where his strength showed, because, despite threats and many roadblocks along the way, he did what he thought was best for his students. Near the end of his teaching career, his refusal to compromise his beliefs got him fired—he wouldn’t acquiesce; he wouldn’t lower his standards. So he picked up and went on to be a very successful businessman until he passed away. How many of us are willing to stand by our principles when faced with the possibility of losing our livelihood?
But that’s the whole point, isn’t it? Moe would have been “an unhappy wimp” going against his own code. Being a wimp has nothing to do with physical size and stature, how much you can bench-press, or how suave you are with the ladies. A wimp, in its real definition, is someone who goes against his own principles, who doesn’t fight for his beliefs but caves under pressure and looks only for battles he knows he can win.
At the end of the day, all we have as men (and women) are the choices that we make. And it’s those choices that determine the legacies that we leave. It may feel that our current world, one of offices and sterile conference rooms, is so far from the days of old, where knights showed bravery and honor on blood-soaked battlefields, that Moe’s quote and underlying call to action is simply ideological rather than practical. But make no mistake that today, this conference room, office and cubicle, this is our modern battleground. This is the place where we decide how we live and what legacies we leave. This, just as Moe would echo, is our equivalent of the moment in Hamlet when Shakespeare gives us his everlasting call to action, “This above all: to thine own self be true.”
In other words, “I’ve never met a happy wimp.” Thanks, Moe.
—Photo The Wandering Angel/Flickr