A Woman of Heart and Mind (thank you, Joni)

My father really wanted me to be a lawyer. Actually, he wanted me to be a lawyer and a politician. It had been something he dreamt for himself. But the 1940’s and 50’s were a time of working hard for his family. He was lucky to graduate high school. Then, it was on to the Korean War.

After being wounded, he came home with his Purple Heart and went to work to help out at home. Deciding to go to police academy and pursue law enforcement would be the closest thing he’d get to studying law. By then he’d married my mother, and the dream was gone for good. So, when I came along, the first child, he put his dream on me.

Can you decide another’s future?

Daddy was hell bent on the idea of me going into law and politics. So, from time to time, when he’d have to go downtown for a court case, he thought it a good idea to take me with him. I guess he figured if he exposed me to the criminal justice system, I would get the same “bug” he had for the law. How could he know? The die was already cast.

This was the mid 1960’s. And, every now and then I found myself sitting in a huge courtroom in downtown Chicago.

There I’d be, in a scene out of an old black and white movie. And, like in the movies, the judge had an ashtray on the bench and was smoking cigarettes or cigars. So were the attorneys. I can still smell the stale smoke and old wood of that huge, ancient building.

Bone thin, hollow eyed women sat on benches that looked like church pews. They were all waiting their turn to be called to the front by the public defender. They looked small and dried up. It was like the fluid had all drained from their bodies. Daddy would lean over and whisper to me saying, “Those are junkies and prostitutes. 

My young heart felt so heavy, so sad looking at these women. I didn’t know it then, but I had my father’s sensitive heart. Through the years it would give me a run for my money. His heart did the same for him too – many times.

That pesky heart stuff

My father was always a defender for those who got dealt a crappy hand. I heard his voice break retelling a child neglect story to my mother. He’d be talking low and soft but we would eavesdrop. And then, for no reason we understood, we’d have new toys. His delight was watching us laugh and jump up and down. His mission was to make us happy. Our laughter was his joy.

When I got off a grueling shift, the first thing I did was hug and sweet talk my babies. At three or four in the morning you might find me throwing toys to amuse them – and me. I needed a balm for my heart. Daddy did too.

What he didn’t know is that his big beautiful heart, my heart, would be one of the reasons for my career in veterinary medicine. By exposing his vulnerable side, he showed me what true empathy looked like.

A trusted advisor

We moved from the city to a small rural town. And, every now and then, a young teenage boy would show up at our door looking for daddy on his off day. Out on the porch, he would sit and talk with them. Most came from broken homes.  What these youngbloods needed was an ear and a steady hand.

Daddy never shamed or disgraced. He told them he was proud of them when they owned up to an error in judgement. He helped them grow. He said everyone needed a second chance. They must have felt he was someone safe. He was allowed to bear witness to the parts of their life that lived in the shadows. They also knew, without a doubt, he was a no bullshit kind of guy. He could smell a lie.

I speak a lot about teachers in my life.  I’ve had great mentors too. In its simplest definition, a mentor is “an experienced and trusted advisor”. Daddy was a MENTOR. I miss him every day.

A horse of a different color

My PaPa, my grandfather, was wired in another way. He was a real honest to goodness facts, figures and history genius. If you brought up any world topic, your pick, he could recite a year in history that something similar happened. That would be the backdrop for an exquisite discussion.

PaPa could take a controversial issue, bite off bits of it and chew it up. Then we’d kick it around. The thing is he could weave a story along with it to keep me in the game. He’d put on his “thinking cap” and we could talk about my viewpoint. It was usually on the other side of his. He always gave my opinion great consideration, though. And, in that way we often found common ground. Papa had debate and deliberation down to an art form.

Planting a seed

What a gift he gave me. He planted a seed that had me question everything. He engaged me in controversial and current events. He watered and fed and nurtured that seed.  And, he always sent the message to stay open to all points of view.

PaPa showed me what civil discourse looked like. He showed me how to hold an idea up in the air and look at it from all angles. Even when some of my views were pretty off the wall he never made me feel foolish. Gracious but analytical, studious and logical, PaPa would listen with intent to every half-cocked idea I had. He was “an experienced and trusted advisor”. PaPa was a MENTOR. I miss him every day.

If not now, then when?

Why don’t we have mentors and organized mentorship programs in veterinary medicine? Why don’t we have organized preceptorship programs in place for new veterinary technicians/nurses? Why do those newly emerged butterflies have to look for solid ground, mostly on their own, to land on? Hands down, they would benefit.

They already get the facts and figures. They already get the clinical information. And, once in the work field they hone their clinical skills. But we’re in a different time now and the needs of young professionals have evolved.

Inspiring mentorship can help raise wavering self-esteem. Honestly, don’t we all feel great when we accomplish something easier and quicker than we thought we could? And, isn’t it less scary to dive into the deep water when we know someone is watching? It doesn’t have to be sink or swim. Do you remember when you first started out?

We have chosen a formidable lifestyle. And careers, along with life’s entanglements, have us running and jumping pretty fast. Comprehensive mentorship programs are a way to fill in the gap we’re experiencing.

We need them. We need these young professionals to thrive. The industry is crying for them. I believe there are untapped ways to offer them a well-rounded path. This time of recreating, redesigning is a good time to start discussing and planning.

Kitchen table discussions

In the seventies, I remember staff meetings held around the kitchen table at someone’s house. In those days, our biggest problem was trying to get the doctors to do what we needed them to do. There’d be a few other issues to discuss that included all of us and that would be about it. After that, we’d sit around the table and talk. Sometimes we’d talk about one of the girls’ boyfriend. He was in a Mexican prison and she was trying to finagle conjugal visits with him. Imagine….staff meetings around a kitchen table!

Maybe it’s all written in the stars

I didn’t become a lawyer or politician. And, while he never said anything, I think at first my father was disappointed. But, once I was out and working, he delighted in my stories night after night. He asked questions and we’d both laugh at some of the antics that would take place with me being such a newbie. (No, you can’t put an ear tag in a LaMancha goat!)

An experienced and trusted advisor, a mentor, can provide solid footing for a young professional. Many movements have blossomed from grassroots efforts. Why don’t we gather around kitchen tables? We can start the discussions and unfold the future. If not now, when?