When you’ve lived a full life, you think back on those who helped shape you into who you are. Parents and spouses immediately come to mind for most folks, but people you meet along the way also make their mark on you.
When we’re young, our families shape us, and when we get older it’s the people we live with or marry who influence us the most. I’m sure I’m not alone in saying my mother and father raised me with the values that have remained with me throughout my life. And, even though we split up years ago, my wife of 20-plus years left a deep impression on me—mostly for the better.
I fault no one but myself for my weaknesses. But for my better side, my stronger side, I credit many.
Some special teachers helped shape my thinking in meaningful ways. Mrs. Boatwright, my high school history teacher, tried so hard to direct my mind in productive ways, but I didn’t listen.
Later, after I developed my own passion for history and its life lessons, I would think back with an appreciation for her efforts, even if they didn’t stick at the time.
Then there was Mr. Johnson, my senior English teacher. Far beyond the language arts, he opened my mind to a world of possibilities; he made me want to get out there and see the world from a different perspective.
Again, I didn’t fully appreciate his efforts at the time, but now I realize he was telling me to “dream on.” I did, and I saw the world in a different light as a result.
Later, in college, Dr. Leroy T. Williams set my mind on fire with his lectures in every history class I took under him. I’ll always appreciate his forbearance of me as I often tagged along with him after class, trying to tap into his insights just a little deeper. He was perhaps the most engaging, real-world intellectual I’ve ever encountered.
Before Dr. Williams, however, there was Dean Lufkin, a short, wide-bodied maintenance man with a broad smile and overwhelming personality. He was one of the toughest men I’ve ever known.
As a boss, he could be brutal, and yet as a man, when he held a baby in his arms he turned to mush. He was his own kind of man, and he helped make me a man too.
Later, when I was discovering newspaper journalism, no one had a greater influence on me than Bill Rutherford, my mentor in many ways. He was my first journalism instructor, but he was also the page-one editor for the Arkansas Gazette at the time and helped get me get my first off-campus journalism job there.
More importantly, Rutherford taught me the ethics of journalism: how to treat people fairly and be uncompromisingly dedicated to accuracy, and how to maintain my journalistic independence.
Unfortunately, he died too young, which I’ve always regretted. I think he would have been proud of the way I turned out.
As I moved into my middle-age years, my children became front and center in my life, and had a tremendous influence on me. My shoulders grew wider as I accepted the responsibilities that come with parenthood, and my heart grew larger as I absorbed all the love that came with having them in my life.
And because I had two daughters, I became far more sensitized to the way the world treats girls and women. That’s influenced not only my thinking, but my relationships as well. I suppose I’m not the pig I used to be.
These are just a few of the many, many people who have influenced me through the years, either as family, a mentor or simply as someone I crossed paths with. I could go on and on, and I’m sure if you thought about it you could make your own long list.
Now that I’m older, I find myself wanting to be that mentor, that man who influences younger people in a positive way. I seek to pass on the lessons of my life—the mistakes I’ve made as well as what I did right—to someone who values my experiences. I guess that’s a natural part of aging.
My father, my greatest influence, used to speak of “the immortality of influence” and how what we do matters long after we’re gone. I know that’s true, because there are so many people who live on in me. In my memories, and in who I am.
Tom McDonald is editor of the New Mexico Community News Exchange and owns The Guadalupe County Communicator in Santa Rosa. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.