For better and for worse, I am an immoderate person, with an appetite for life that is at once passionate and gluttonous. Once I commit to something, I’m “all-in” and have little use for moderation.
In some areas of my life this has served me well — for example, the nose-to-the-grindstone focus with which I pursued my graduate degree. But in other areas of my life my immoderation brought out the worst in me. For many years, especially during the time when I was on the U.S. High Diving Team, I drank way too much. Passion and gluttony, the bedfellows of immoderation, brought out the little devil in me.
The lifestyle I led as an extreme athlete was conveniently conducive to my immoderate ways. For over 7 years I would hurl myself off a small platform over 100-feet in the air. I loved and lived for those potent self-generating drugs adrenaline and dopamine. Few high divers actually like doing the high dives, but every high diver loves the high that it produces. We seek it out…everywhere we can.
By day, during those raucous years, I was an All-American high diver. But at night I was a low-down barfly. In the towns where my teammates and I performed, everyone seemed to want to buy us drinks. And we graciously drank what they poured. Over time, though, the balance between goodie-two-shoes athlete and falling-down drunk tilted off the barstool. I needed help.
Men, I think, need male mentors. Mine came in the form of a person named O.K. Even today I can’t tell you what O.K.’s initials stood for, but that’s okay with me. What matters more is what O.K. himself stood for; rigorous honesty, personal fidelity, and perpetual gratitude. He role-modeled all of these characteristics, and in the process, I like to think, helped bring them out in me.
I met O.K. about 9 months after I entered a program to stop drinking. I liked the way he made me feel welcomed in a room full of strangers. He’d ask me how I was doing, and seemed genuinely interested in my well-being. So, I asked him to be my sponsor in the program. That was a wise choice. It turned out that O.K. was sponsoring about 40 other men just like me.
O.K. did what great mentors do; he helped me come to terms with who I am, warts and all. He helped me learn to hold myself accountable to the person I was destined to become, and to honor my dreams. He helped me develop a spiritual identity, and to take stock in all of the things for which I should be grateful. In short, O.K. helped me move away from my Peter Pan-like perpetual adolescence so that I could become a man.
O.K. was simply a great man. He was there for me in big ways and in small. Four years ago, for example, the night before I had prostate cancer surgery, it was O.K. who stayed with me and calmed my nerves. His own father had also had prostate cancer surgery, and at the same hospital, 4o years prior. He shared with me that the experience had become an opening to a much better relationship between him and his dad. Somehow hearing that story was comforting to me. That cancer could actually result in something good.
Yep, O.K. did what mentors do; they share their story and in the process help you develop and improve your own. Change, for most human beings, is seriously uncomfortable, and thus mostly avoided.
But change we must, if we are to evolve and grow.
I am still an immoderate person. Today, though, because of O.K., I direct my immoderation towards healthy things like being a good dad, husband, and friend. And that’s a change for the better.
Yesterday, after some complications associated with a stent in his heart, O.K., my friend and mentor, passed away. Though deeply sad, I am filled with gratitude for having known such a beautiful human being.
The best I can do is to honor his life by trying to be a mentor to others by sharing my story.