Uncle Wally arrived to help his sister with her work, which included mentoring me. We Simonized Mother’s car upholstery before I understood that Simoniz was the name of a product and not a verb for cleaning seats. While we cleaned, Dad painted our house.
Before Mom’s car seats were dry, Uncle Wally taught me how to wax her car’s exterior. He dedicated a Saturday morning to applying Blue Coral. Carnauba wax was rubbed over the car’s paint in small overlapping circles, which created an appearance of dusty fish scales. Uncle Wally knew when to remove the film. Buff too soon, and the finish would streak. His test of success was my ability to see my reflection in the hood of her car.
While we waxed, Dad mowed the lawn in large concentric circles. I couldn’t see my reflection in any of Dad’s work.
After lunch, Uncle Wally taught me to string a bow and shoot an arrow. I learned to hunt, fish, and trap muskrats. If we were successful on our trap line, we’d skin our catch and stretch their pelts on metal frames. The skins hung like furry shirts from Mother’s basement clothesline. After pelts were cured, they were piled in the corner of our basement. Each autumn we’d sell our accumulation to a furrier in the city. He transformed our work into winter gloves, which he sold. Uncle Wally, the furrier, and I worked as a team.
Each autumn Dad raked leaves into a pile at the corner of our lot. He burned his work in solitude.
In many Native American cultures, uncles mentor their nephews. Each uncle has a specialty. Some are warriors. Others are farmers, hunters, artisans, or medicine men. Young men are assigned to an uncle to learn specific skills. Native American uncles educate and develop their nephew’s skills to meet the needs of their tribe. Native American fathers support their families and mentor their nephews.
“Momma, who is that man in the jungle?” I asked. “Why, that’s your Uncle Wally in Burma,” Mother replied. “Is it hot in Burma?” I continued. I tried to reconcile the photograph of a shirtless teenager with my new knowledge that there were more people in my life, who I had not met, than Mom and Dad. “Uncle Wally serves in the Army, and you’ll meet him soon,” Mother explained. “He’ll be home when the war is over.”
“What’s that word on the airplane?” I asked. Fortunately for Mother she didn’t have to explain the meaning of “Pissonya.” Uncle Wally’s team of Army airmen painted their off-color remark on the cowl of a Curtiss P-40 Warhawk fighter plane to taunt their enemy. Without her explanation, I knew Uncle Wally had an important role in our tribe.
Dad did not serve in the military. He held stateside jobs to provide for our family. After the war, Dad mentored his nephew.
Who cares for your personal development? How will you learn skills you need? Do you have kin to help you reflect on who you are and who you want to be? What do you need to do to find a mentor in your tribe?
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Richard Wilberg, MS, PLCC, ACC
Life Coach for Personal Fulfillment and Career Success
About the Author
Richard Wilberg is a coach, musician, photographer, and former business leader who lives in Madison, Wisconsin.