The mentoring relationship between Ken Solin and Armand Castro changed Ken’s life more than he ever could have imagined.
When I first met Armand Castro, more than 20 years ago, I was a wild and wooly, out of control, angry guy who had no close friends and a serial dating addiction. I was in my early 40s, and he was in his 60s. He must have seen something in me that made him want to mentor me. His involvement changed the course of my life forever.
Mountain biking was the first activity we shared. Armand went to the bicycle shop with me to help pick out my first bike. He taught me how to work through the 22 gears and navigate the nearby mountain. I was out of shape, and he was as strong as a gorilla, but in time, I rode alongside him.
After work, I visited Armand at his home, nearly every afternoon, and we would share some wine and talk about being men. I often stayed for dinner, and while I was a good cook, he taught me to be a better one. There was a constant string of men flowing in and out of Armand’s home, sharing their most recent stories with him. I think we all wanted his approval for how we were living our lives, and we knew we could always depend on him for frankness. That was, in fact, his trademark.
Perhaps the single most valuable lesson I learned from Armand, over the years, was that it is safe to trust other men. My father had been a violent brute, and there was no trust between us. Armand was the first man I ever trusted, and it felt good, in my soul, to finally know the feeling that comes from caring about another man.
Armand frequently became impatient and annoyed with me, but that was his manner, and we joked about it often. On his birthday years ago, I gave him a plaque that read: Armand Castro, the founder of judgmental Buddhism. He had the ability to laugh at himself, and even be self-deprecating at times. He never took himself completely seriously. That was his charm.
It didn’t take long before I realized I loved this older man who had volunteered to put me on a better path. We always hugged and kissed on the cheek when we met and when we parted. I always felt the love behind those hugs. With the exception of my sons, no one was more important to me than Armand.
In time, as often happens, the student rebelled against the teacher. When I did, I felt I needed some space to spread my wings and fly solo. When I moved a short distance away, I brought the lessons I had learned from Armand with me. I hadn’t seen Armand for quite a while before a mutual friend called recently to tell me he was ill. My immediate reaction was to break down and cry. I cried because I was so sad to hear he was ill, but also because I was so grateful to have spent so much time with him.
I visited with my old teacher the other day, and we sat across from each other holding hands. We cried tears of joy and stared into each other’s eyes. The love that had grown in my heart for my teacher all those years ago was still there, and as powerful as ever. He was sweet with me and shared his feelings about the old and new me. He spoke in a low whisper and told me his only complaint about me had been that I didn’t listen very well. He was right, of course, but I assured him I had become a better listener.
I wish that every young man could have a mentor in his life. The lessons that fathers used to pass down to their sons ended at the start of the Industrial Revolution. Boys were left to fend for themselves and become men. As the father/son relationship has diminished over the years, the need for mentors has grown.
If you’re an older man and you don’t think you still have value in the world, think again. The lessons you can teach a young man will help ensure that his life will move in a better direction. He will never forget those lessons, or the man who took the time to teach them.
Thank you, Armand.