Kids are always searching for someone to provide them direction. Someone who they believe knows more than their parents do, who is not out to perpetually embarrass them at any given moment and wears the hottest clothing. With the bevy of choices provided to all from Twitter, Facebook, TMZ, and reality television, if we aren’t careful, our kids, after their adolescence has kicked in and they have cast us to the side, are going to be searching those places for their role models. One minute they will be our sweet little angels and the next, they’ll be wearing meat suits and complaining of Bieber-Fever in between fake pot bong hits and posting semi-nude pictures of themselves all over the web.
Like most teens, I decided my parents knew nothing too. In fact, not only did they know nothing, but they were unresponsive to my demands, and completely cramped my style (I don’t know what the big deal was about a 3am curfew?). Sure I appreciated their lessons on potty training, using forks and spoons to eat, and dressing myself, but I was 13 and didn’t need or want them trying to shape me in to a decent member of society.
I was content to let MTV, entitled athletes, and badly behaved celebrities do that for me. I scoured Sports Illustrated, Entertainment Weekly, and Headbanger’s Ball in search of the right role model for me. But before I was able to find the right person from Hollywood, or a professional sports team, or an MTV production to attach my extremely impressionable adolescence to, I met Jack Bertolet (admittedly, I did find Beverly Hills 90210, or at least the Dylan Walsh hairstyle…not a good time for me).
Jack Bertolet, or as I had referred to him as, Mr. B was nothing like my parents. He was married, a parent, and he had a job (see, nothing like my working class parents who were married for 35 years). I met Mr. B just as my parents’ knowledge finally faded and my bloodstream was not infected with adolescent defiance and know-it-all attitude.
I was also in the midst of dealing with a father who was slipping further and further down the neck of a bottle of booze. My dad’s alcoholism cranked up the usual parental embarrassment to 11. I was eager for a father figure while mine worked through his demons. Mr. B became that figure and very quickly, he became someone very important in my life.
Ironically, he would spend the next years of my young adult life teaching me the same things my parents did (it just sounded different when he said things). He would be the first to congratulate and the first to tell me if I were wrong. He taught me the power of a smile and the infectiousness of a belly laugh. He taught me the absolute importance of being honest, not only with myself but with others. He listened as I lamented over girlfriends. I listened as he told me stories when he was a defiant teenager. I knew if I needed him, he was a phone call away. I knew he was standing behind me when I needed help staying up. He was the Obi Wan Kenobi to my Luke Skywalker (minus the lightsabers).
This is not to say I didn’t get caught up in the hype of the Fab Five at Michigan or celebrity trends (I mentioned the 90210 hairstyle) but his influence never let me get swept away by any of it. Twenty three years later, I still find myself at times asking, “What would Mr. B think?” “What would he do?”
Outside of my parents (When I got older, as part of my reparations to them, I signed a written statement that they were in fact vastly important in my life.), there has been no one that has helped to shape who I am more than Mr. B. I really love that man. I love him like a father, a friend, and as my mentor, even till this day.
And I’m hoping, when my kids reach the same point in their lives that I did and they shove me to the side (I envision one of them on their hands and knees behind me and the other pushing me over), it’s not for some pop star who doesn’t know the lyrics to the National Anthem or a celebrity who has more DUI’s then movies on their IMDB. After my kids have determined I don’t know anything and live under the fear that I could pull out naked baby pictures at a moment’s notice, I pray they don’t turn to Twitter, or Hollywood, or SportsCenter for their role models. More than anything, I want my kids, as they search for their role model, to be lucky enough to find themselves a Mr. B.