I learned to shave from Youtube.
I’m not a teenager. Technically I’ve been shaving since long before Youtube existed. Sensitive skin and bad technique meant that ever since I was a teenager shaving has been a bloody massacre for me. I was just 14 when I needed to start shaving. My mom handed me a razor and shaving cream with a kind warning to not cut myself. It was her job because my dad had died in an accident three years before.
My mom was amazing. She gave my sister and me so much. But for all her sacrifices, she found herself with one impossible task. She could not give me first-person experience about becoming a man.
When my dad died, I joined a rapidly growing club. Recent U.S. Census statistics suggests that nearly one in three U.S. children live in a home without a father. All the moms out there do incredible, unquestionably important work. But guys like me are often left to piece together a sense of what it means to be a man.
That’s how I ended up on Youtube as an adult learning how to shave without looking like I’d been murdered. What I needed, even more than a helpful video tutorial, was men. Other men, older men, who would share their journey with me.
What I needed, and what so many men need today, were mentors. I needed the influence of smart, experienced men.
Growing up as a teenager without a dad, a variety of men influenced me. A youth pastor encouraged my sense of value and identity. An English teacher challenged me to write. A summer camp director saw leadership abilities in me, trusting me with responsibility. College professors shaped my mind. One boss influenced my thoughts about leading people. Another boss softened me up relationally.
These men were all vital in helping shape my sense of self, but this process was often haphazard and unintentional. I didn’t seek out mentors. I’ve since discovered the power of being mentored in my life. After years of stubborn hard-headedness, certain in my abilities and judgment, I finally started letting mentors speak into my life. Looking back, I regret not doing this earlier.
The 4 Mentors Every Man Needs
We can learn a lot from our mothers. We can learn a lot from books. We can learn a lot from our experience. But it’s when we are willing to accept guidance from mentors that our personal, emotional and spiritual growth takes off. Learning to be a man requires input about so many things. If I could go back and do it all again, I’d seek out mentors in four specific areas.
1. A Relational Mentor
Life is all about relationships. This is one of those areas we’re just supposed to pick up, but I often didn’t. I needed someone other than my peers talking to me about dating and sex. As I got older, I needed someone to share the real scoop on marriage. I came into my marriage with wildly unrealistic expectations. Those expectations ended up doing grave damage. Then I needed someone to talk to me about being a father.
If I were starting again, I’d look for a stable, mature guy about 20 years older than me with a rock-solid marriage and strong, confident kids. I’d try to hang around him and his family when I could, and take him to coffee to talk about what life had taught him about relationships.
2. A Financial Mentor
We didn’t talk much about money when I was a kid. We didn’t have much, and it was clear that it wasn’t my business. I had graduated from college with fifty grand in debt and a leased car before anyone had a serious heart-to-heart with me about money. It finally took a lot of hard working, following the Dave Ramsey baby steps before I got my financial plans in order.
If I were starting over, I’d find a smart businessman who was just retiring, someone who had clearly made wise and ethical decisions over the long haul. I’d ask him to meet with me twice a year to talk about my financial plans.
3. An Emotional Health Mentor
It took a trainwreck in my life, a bout with depression, and nearly losing my marriage to discover that at 40 years old I was emotionally illiterate. The only emotion I knew for sure was anger. The trauma of losing my dad and being wired up to be a perfectionist (Adopted, first-child, preacher’s kid, melancholy artist…) had me boxing up my emotions. It was on a retreat for pastors experiencing burnout that I had the experience of being told what my feelings mean. I started crying when I realized no one had ever had that conversation with me. I started counseling shortly after that.
If I had a do-over, I’d look for a man who had been through the wringer, someone who had faced loss and grief, and come out the other side with compassionate strength. I’d plan to have breakfast once a month with him to talk about what it looks like to face life’s difficulties with courage and wisdom.
4. A Spiritual Mentor
I grew up around pastors. My dad was one. I know pastor-speak. I’m not talking about that. I spent a lot of years being a Christian do-er, proving my worth through my good behavior. That never made a difference for my heart, and I had very little sense of connection with God.
I began listening to the open, vulnerable honesty of people with decades-long spiritual commitment. These were people who didn’t pray glib prayers and who weren’t invested in “being right.” This is when I really started finding my own centering relationship with God.
If I were 20 again, I’d look for a man, much older than I am, with a profound understanding of grace, and a complete lack of need to prove something about himself. I’d choose someone with the strength to skip past superficial answers. This is someone I’d love to have on speed dial.
I’m sad that I missed getting these things from my dad. But the truth is, even for guys who had great parents, there’s always more to learn. Our culture worships the self-made person. I worked hard to be just that for almost 40 years before learning that it’s all a myth. No one is self-made.
The people who I’ve come to respect most—and the people I’m interested in becoming like—are all people who get this. They make it a point to have mentors. Nowadays, when I get the chance to talk with young men, this is the first question I ask, “Who do you have speaking into your life?”
Photo: Flickr/ Ed Yourdon