Sometimes we learn life lessons from parents, sometimes from teachers or mentors. Sometimes what really opens our mind is an experience or a loss. Today, Leon Scott Baxter is sharing a guest post with us on how the passing of one of his mentors reminded him of something he already knew- family is what really matters and how the experience shed new light on just what that means. Leon is the author of the newly released parenting book, (amazon affiliate link) Secrets of Safety-Net Parenting: Raising Happy and Successful Children – The Common Denominator, and the founder of the website SafetyNetters.com. I think in sharing his experience, he offers us the gift of perspective and a reminder to appreciate and cherish our family time and those we love.
Gift In Passing
By Leon Scott Baxter
Am I just fortunate, or do we all come into contact with mentors in our lives, people who guide us, who we look up to, and who make us better for having known them?
I met my first of three mentors when I was in college. Paul Lazarus was a UC professor at the college I attended. I was a Film Studies major, and the class I took of his was Beginning Screenwriting. Paul taught me the art of the written word and encouraged me to hone my craft. He was there for me even after I finished his course, guiding me throughout the screenwriting process and eventually in the nineties connecting me with one of Hollywood’s elite directors and helping me land a job one of his.
I met my second mentor around the same time I knew Paul, Art Flores. He was the general manager of the hotel I worked at to make ends meet during my college years. Art showed me how to make guests feel at home. I learned from him how to diffuse uncomfortable situations and finding what exactly a person needs in order to feel comfortable and balanced. He even taught me how to tie a necktie. He’s an incredible man, and I am dear friends with him to this day.
It was about eight years ago when I met my third mentor, Larry Crandell, Mr. Santa Barbara, who recently passed away. He was a phenomenal individual who could make anyone feel as though they were Larry’s best friend within thirty seconds of meeting him. He was witty, self-deprecating while boosting his own ego (amazing how he could do both), and helped raised millions upon millions of dollars for the non-profits in our community for over fifty years.
Recently I attended Larry’s celebration of life memorial, with about five-hundred others of his closest friends and family. It was a beautiful ceremony. Speakers recounted stories that most of us had all heard many times before; yet we laughed again as if it was the first time we’d heard them. Most men in attendance wore colorful bowties, Larry’s kind of flare. There were video clips of interviews of Larry over the years.
Everyone who spoke told about the amazing man Larry had been and how he made so many feel so comfortable, how he could get those with the deepest pockets, reach in and help local charities, that he treated everyone with incredible respect and he strove to lift the spirit and confidence and esteem of those he knew, as well as those he’d just met.
It got me thinking of my mentors: Paul, who taught me to write, Art, who taught me how to interact, and Larry, who taught me how to help others.
Then, something happened at the end of the service. One of Larry’s sons was wrapping up the ceremony, and I realized that our community had borrowed this man for over half a century. We borrowed him to lift us up, to make us laugh and to better our community. It was what Larry called “psychic income.”
Larry’s family, about twenty, took to the stage as we all sang a song written especially for him, sung to the tune of “Daisy Bell,” and renamed “Larry”, and as the final verse was sung, the family spontaneously paired up and began ballroom dancing to our voices.
Family Is What Really Matters
And, then it hit me. I realized not with the words I’d heard spoken that morning or even said over the years, but really understood maybe better than I ever had before that family is what really matters. It’s not work or social media or even then number in one’s bank account. Watching Larry’s family on stage I came to the realization that when it was my time to go, I wanted my daughters to feel for me the way Larry’s children felt for him: appreciation of what he did for his fellow man, for the times they shared with him and for the love he showered them with.
My daughters are twelve and seventeen. I’ve been married to my wife for twenty-four years. Lately, it feels as though my wife and I have been fighting our daughters to be responsible, to put away their laundry, to take care of the dishes, to get their noses out of their phones and to communicate with us like people of our generation.
And, with all that friction, I think we’ve started to lose the positive some of the connections we have had. Maybe we’ve lost sight to some degree as to what our roles as parents are. So, Larry’s last gift to me was to show me through his passing that what matters most is family and the happiness that can, and should, come from it.
Recently I have started appreciating my kids more and nagging them less. I want them to enjoy the times we have. Yes, teaching responsibility is crucial, but so is sharing their lives and their love.
Today, my youngest, Grace, mentioned she wanted to make a pie. So, my wife and I acted on it. She took Grace to the store to buy the ingredients, and I hopped into the kitchen with her as her assistant.
My oldest, Riley, wants to start an exercise program, so recently I sat down with her gave her some tips and nutrition information.
And, I also found myself putting away some shoes that weren’t mine, clearing dishes that I’m sure were used by the girls, and bringing items to their rooms that they had left in the living room…instead of nagging the girls about them.
Keep your eyes on your mentors. You never know when they’ll surprise you. Thank you, Larry. And, thanks to Larry’s family for letting us borrow him. I am a better father because of him.